Friday, December 31, 2004

Impossible statistics

I have a fascination with nearly-impossible-to-calculate statistics. Right now, I'm wondering what the total value of all of the abandoned technology sitting in the hallways of all of the Microsoft buildings is. I'm sure it's astronomical. Some people use the hallways as their own temporary storage, and a lot of people put stuff that they don't want out there in the misguided expectation that some technology fairy will come by and pick it up for them. (Usually one of the administrative assistants ends up relocating it when they need to pull a beer cart through, or sometimes an annoyed coworker will report it to maintenance to have it removed.)

Right now, there are four monitors, all approximately 21", and five computers sitting in the hallway visible from my office. On my way to the cafeteria I passed by two more monitors, one more computer, and an incalculable number of keyboards, mice, hubs, and KVM switches. There are three unused computers and two keyboards sitting around in my office... maybe I should give them company.

I really wish people wouldn't call my officemate at a time when probably 95% of the company is on vacation.

Spot the syntax errors

This took me a good five minutes to figure out. There are two syntax errors here:

class PersistentCache
{
    PersistentCache(CServiceDoc* pService);
    ~PeristentCache();
    // ...
};

class PersistentCacheFile
{
    PersistentCacheFile(PersistentCache* pCache, CString szRelativeUrl);
    ~PeristentCacheFile();
    // ...
};

...and Firefox has a horrid bug with Ctrl+C often not actually copying text to the clipboard that destroys me.

Blast!

I don't think anyone drinks out of the wrong side of a can as much as I do. I could just draw a calendar on one of my four whiteboards and put checkmarks on today each time I spill Diet Coke on myself. Of course, I drink ten beverages or so out of cans a day, so the basic laws of probability say that I should spill Diet Coke on myself more than other people.

Now I can't go get another one until I dry out. These four minutes are going to be hell.

Sidewinder

A couple nights ago my trusty Microsoft Sidewinder Game Pad pro broke, after half a decade of service. In all that time I still haven't come across a better controller for the PC or any console, so I just decided to snatch up another one. They're getting hard to find, seeing as they haven't been made in years. When you try to install the software you're warned that it hasn't been tested on Windows 2000 yet because the OS was not yet released when the gamepad was. Scary. But, it works just fine on 2000 and XP. Sometimes backward compatibility isn't so bad, I guess.

Why don't more companies make gamepads like this anymore? Microsoft doesn't even make PC controllers anymore, unless the rumors about the Xbox2 games and controllers being interchangeable with Windows turn out to be true. Granted, there isn't a big demand for gamepads on PC nowadays, but all of the current consoles have bad controllers, at least according to my limited experience with them. The Xbox controller isn't too terrible, but it's heavy and can't be used one-handed. The GameCube and PS2 controllers are awful. The Sidewinder Game Pad Pro fits my hand perfectly, and it works equally well with either one or two hands. This means that my left hand can use the pad and the left trigger, and my right hand can use a mouse. I just can't deal with WASD. I try to strafe left and I turn on caps lock, or I try to move forward and select weapon #2 or #3. Using the gamepad/mouse combo works extraordinarily well for every FPS I've played except for Far Cry, which requires so many keys that you might as well be writing an essay.

Not unlike the popular Wendy's treat

It finally hit 32 here last night (or, for those of you who prefer a more sensible temperature scale, 0). There's frost on the ground, along with the rain from last night. As I came into work today, I noticed that they had put up plastic warning posts at the center of various intersections to caution people about the dangers of ice (I don't remember exactly what it said... something like "CAUTION: ICE MAY BE SLIPPERY"). Coming from Nebraska, I thought that was kind of funny.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Syzygy

I've noticed that, more and more, while in my apartment by myself, I've begun saying totally random things out loud in the Unreal Tournament announcer voice. I mean, nobody else hears me yell out "eeeeee-lec-tricity!" or "panda furrr!" for no good reason, but perhaps I should be worried that it will soon turn into a public bad habit, and in the middle of a dev meeting in a few months I'll just yell out "turtle dick!" or something. It's like a nerd-specific version of Tourette's.

On a side note, I wonder why I originally mistyped "voice" as "avoid." That's quite the typo.

Pandas kick ass

The Microsoft proxy server apparently has this weird problem where it gets Blogger sites mixed up. You'll be typing anything.blogspot.com, and you'll get some completely random site that someone else in the company visited recently. This happened to me today, and I stumbled across this amusing story about a man in a panda suit (and tips on how to break into a Microsoft building during business hours):

Escape from the Island of Misfit Mascots

I have a pet panda in World of Warcraft, and it kicks ass too.

Inappropriately fun

Someday I'd like to be sitting in a bathroom stall, have someone else come into the bathroom, and then grunt out "Who... does... Number... Two... work... for?" This is something I've wanted to do for a while, but I haven't gotten the nerve yet.

Owned!

I just got bitch-slapped by Raymond Chen, one of the more well-known-in-the-real-world engineers at Microsoft (well, at least I had heard of him long before working here). Not quite crashing into Bill's car in the parking lot, but getting there.

I was lamenting publicly that the taskbar was not friendly enough to power users—for example, you can't reorder taskbar buttons... and he doesn't even like programs that minimize to the tray. Or, calling the System Notification Area the "tray," for that matter.

Lingo

I'm learning so much lingo playing World of Warcraft... most of it things that my vocabulary forcibly resists. Words, for example, like root and twink.

root I figured out on my own. It means to stop a creature in its tracks so it can be attacked at range. As in, "Root him!" This one made sense after I found out what it meant, as most of the weird lingo does. I might even be inclined to use it, though "stop" would work better. Then there are things like...

twink, a starting character who is made better than he or should be by gifts of powerful equipment from higher-level characters. According to Urban Dictionary, that is indeed a valid definition for the term... #9 (though specifically referring to PSO, which I assume is Phantasy Star Online). Definition #6 lets it be used against people who are not low-level characters as a stronger insult. Definitions #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 all refer to hot, young, gay men. Clearly there are either lots of hot, young, gay elves, or Urban Dictionary is not the end-all source of definitions for words you discover playing World of Warcraft.

Every time I play I learn new words that I wish I didn't know. I hate overuse of lingo. Maybe because I always seem to be the one who doesn't know it. I get enough of that at work.

Hooray haircuts

I don't know why kids (my old self included) hate haircuts. The only thing that sucks about them is having to go to get one. The extra rush of airflow to one's scalp is one of those rare, simple treats in life.

If only there was some kind of haircut machine that you could use at home. Then you could have tiny little hairs in your clothes and on the floor and making you itch all day, every day.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Don't look a gift in the mouth

This year, I offered an "opt-out" program for Christmas gifts. Anyone in my family who wanted to not exchange gifts with me anymore (for convenience purposes) was welcome to let me know and not send me anything. It turned out that both of my grandparents took advantage of this, which significantly cut down the amount of weird crap that I got this year (and, also, the amount of cash). The only things, in fact, that I received besides cash were: (1) two decks of Hawaii souvenir playing cards from my mom, (2) two pot holders from my mom, and (3) Napoleon Dynamite on DVD from my brother (presumably; he said he'd try to remember to ship it Monday). My mom has this clever trick that, after 23 years, I still fall for. She starts out with this elaborate story like, "I'm making the OT/PTs (occupational therapists and physical therapists; i.e., her coworkers) quilted pot holders for Christmas this year. Here are the ideas for designs that I've had. Which ones do you think are best?" So, then, I tell her which pot holder I like best, and voilà, I get pot holders for Christmas. I'd kind of like to think that, after falling for this trick nearly every Christmas, I'd eventually pick up on it, at not be surprised when I receive a package containing pot holders.

I actually put some effort into deciding what to give people this year. My mom lamented that, without my vast array of board games, they just have to rent a lot of movies to stay entertained now. So, I got her a variety of two-player board games that she could play with Dad. I even picked a couple themed ones, like a Hawaii-themed one for my Hawaii-obsessed mom and an insect-themed strategy game for my entomologist father. For my dad, I got Knights of the Old Republic, since he really liked Neverwinter Nights and does best at games where he doesn't need really fast reflexes (though he seems to be doing well enough in Doom 3, which surprises me a lot). For my brother, I got a CD and a Best Buy gift card... my least creative gift. He usually does a lot better job at anticipating what I'd like than I do for him, and it's even harder because he has two roommates that are likely to already have anything I'd buy for him. Finally, for my always frustrated, sleep-deprived, and perpetually stressed-out officemate, I got a Despair "desktopper" (desktop picture frame) of Adversity: That Which Does Not Kill Me Postpones the Inevitable.

And now the sad story. My dad's gift for my mom was to install a new counter in the middle of their kitchen, something she has been wanting ever since they got the house. To pay for this, he sold a portion of his collection of Magic cards on eBay. He sent them via US Postal Service... uninsured. He sent them more than two weeks ago, and the buyer still had not yet received them. It's... so depressing. I really hope the guy on the other end isn't just trying to scam my dad; scamming someone out of money for Christmas gifts is about as low as you can go, no matter what religion you are or aren't.

La la la

Since it's Christmas, and also because there haven't been enough random stories on here recently, I'm going to tell you a story from middle school, something that I normally wouldn't tell anyone... my Christmas gift to you. I've never told anyone this before, and it stands out as one of the embarrassing things about my past that I can't forget for some reason or another.

In middle school, my best friend was Günter. I can probably attribute quite a bit of my weirdness to him. He was a strange kind of popular; the unpopular kids loved him, and all of the popular kids couldn't stand to be around him. Anyway, that's irrelevant. I believe that it was seventh grade English, and we were sitting in the back in a corner far from everyone else. We had been given a whole-period assignment to finish, and as always, we finished in a couple minutes, so we were just talking and doodling and wasting time. Several of the 7th graders were upset that the school dance was just for upperclassmen—neither of us actually expected to have been able to acquire dates anyway, so we didn't really care, but it was still the hot topic of conversation. There were two exceptionally attractive girls in our class, and each of us thought that a different one was far hotter than the other... I somehow even remember their names. This is my best recollection of the conversation:

Günter: So you'd seriously take Molly?
Me: Oh yeah.
Günter: How can you think she's hotter? Andrea's even blonde.
Me: I don't understand you. Molly is way hotter. [Note the keen lack of debate skills.]
Günter: What if she humped you? [Another hot conversation topic.]
Me: Nope, still Molly.
Günter: [singing] Andrea's hot, Molly's not!
Me: [singing] Molly, Molly, la-la-la.
Ted: Dude, Andrea's hotter.

We quickly looked over and discovered that in the desk next to us, someone was sitting next to us and had heard our entire conversation. (In elementary school, Ted had been one of my best friends; in middle school, we drifted apart, as he was one of the "bad" kids, never doing his work, yelling at teachers, skipping classes to go smoke, etc.) Anyway, at that moment I was more embarrassed than I think I ever have been. I'm not sure why.

But that reminds me of another story, one that should have been more embarrassing. Our assignment one day in Drama class was to bring a tape or CD that we could sing along to, and then lip-synch as we "performed" the song on stage. (Yeah, that should be embarrassing enough.) I didn't know a lot of songs, and I only had a couple tapes, one of which was the Aladdin soundtrack. When I told the teacher that I had picked "A Whole New World" the period before, she told me to pick one of the parts, since it was a duet and I didn't have two voices. I only knew the lyrics to the female part, so that's the one I chose. Anyway, the day of our "performances," she decided to videotape us. I got up on stage, she started playing the song, and I proceeded to lip-sync to it. (I even had the clever idea of setting up a stage out of boxes forming stairs that I could slowly descend once my part started.) After class, she pulled me aside and told me that I didn't do the whole assignment, so I couldn't get whole credit. I didn't move my lips at all. Perhaps she just couldn't see; I knew I was syncing along, because I even practiced the lyrics. But, she showed me the video, and sure enough, I didn't move my lips once during the whole song.

That should have been way more embarrassing. But, for some reason, the "Molly, Molly, la-la-la" incident has stuck with me.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Duplicated conversation

I got a call this morning from my mom so the family could tell me Merry Christmas. After I got off the phone with her (and my dad, who primarily just wanted help getting out of Delta Labs in Doom III), I checked my email, and found two emails from them, sent last night. Between those two emails, I pretty much had a transcript of our conversation this morning. I hate it when she does that. When she emails me, she calls me to tell me the same things (but I've almost always already read it by then; tonight was a long night), and when I respond to her email, she calls me to ask the same questions without checking her email first.

Grrrr. Oh well; at least she doesn't call all the time like I was initially afraid.

With a guest appearance by Tyrael

Last night I had a dream about World of Warcraft. Not only about it, but I was my character (except I was human) in Azeroth.

I was a human druid wandering around in a party of about six in what looked suspiciously like Rohan. Even though the dream was not cartoon-styled like Warcraft, people still walked around with their names above their heads, and people who wanted to talk to me still had orange question marks and exclamation points over their heads. Anyway, it was a short dream: after I was there for a couple minutes, I heard people yelling, and the Horde had arrived. (The Horde in my dream were also humans... apparently the special effects department in my dreams can't afford orc makeup.) My party and I snuck out through a passage in the back, and then circled around to the front of the town. All of the buildings were decimated; equipment destroyed, people slaughtered, ground scorched. Standing out front was Archangel Tyrael from Diablo II (I love celebrity cameos) who expressed his distaste for what had happened. Once we were all free, he destroyed the town, and we ran into the hills, where the dream ended.

So, there we go. I'm only slightly embarrassed about having that dream.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas in Redmond

This is my first Christmas away from home. I figured that, having already gone home for Thanksgiving, there wasn't much use in going home for Christmas too. It would have been nice in some ways, of course, being there to open presents and see the family, and such. But, I think that it will ultimately be more a happier and more relaxing vacation here. I've gotten quite a few looks of shocked envy when people found out that I wasn't going home for the holidays, and one person has expressed his jealousness at my getting to stay home and play World of Warcraft all weekend long, which is almost certainly what I will be doing. Speaking of...

Lost in Azeroth

Yesterday I played games for a bit. No, let me rephrase that. Yesterday, I played World of Warcraft from 1:00 to 5:00, then played board games from 5:30 to until 11:30, then played World of Warcraft from about midnight until 7:30. Yesterday was lovely.

I didn't think that I could like a massively multiplayer online game, but World of Warcraft has changed me. There are some things that do suck—for example, you can't get through a hard part of the game by saving and reloading as necessary, and you can't use the same technique to try something new, free of consequences. I often like to do "what if" kind of things with RPGs... what if I bought the flint, steel, and wood required to make a campfire anywhere I wanted... would that be useful enough to justify the inventory slots? If not, I could undo that surprisingly expensive purchase. Also, death still sucks... as long as you're near the closest town you're fine; all you have to do is fly over to your corpse from the graveyard and reenter it. No lost XP or anything. But, when your corpse is a good three or four minutes of flying away, it gets extremely tedious. Your other option is to resurrect at the graveyard for (essentially) 25% of the total repair value of all of your equipment. So, death still sucks, but not as bad as other online RPGs, and not as bad as dying after forgetting to save your game for an hour and a half. There's also the part where people connecting to different servers cannot communicate to each other in any way, which sucks a lot, but I guess it's a necessary evil given the current state of technology and the genre.

Anyway, those are very minor faults. I love the game. It's already gotten Game of the Year awards, and it seems to deserve them. It plays extremely well, it's full of typical Blizzard polish, and is reasonably easy to control and customize. There's no reason for me to "review" the game; it's just fantastic, and any review will tell you that. Being able to instant-message other people you know who are playing the game is a HUGE plus, one that I never even considered. Finally, a game that combines my love of killing monsters to get shiny things AND my love of instant messaging.


My blog posts have reviewed far too many things recently. I guess it's that all of my recent interesting experiences revolve around products. My coworkers have all checked out for the year, and though I am working on something that I think is quite interesting, I can't tell you about it at all, and even once the first public beta comes out, I still can't tell you the whole story.


So, on that note, some very short mini-reviews:
  • World of Warcraft: Hot beyond my every expectation. Let it consume you now.
  • The Roots - Things Fall Apart: Good in its own right, but disappointing because their latest two albums are so much better.
  • Moby - Animal Rights: Sucks. Most tracks fall between "awful" and "bland."
  • Moby - Everything is Wrong: Much more what I was expecting, but his newer stuff is better.
  • Jay-Z and Linkin Park - Collision Course: I didn't expect to like this, but I did... quite a bit, actually. Each song combines elements (vocals, melody, beat, etc.) from at least one Linkin Park song and one Jay-Z song. Bizarre but fun to listen to, even if Jay-Z is one of your nemeses.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Suicide is Painless

On the way to work a couple days ago, I was musing about suicide. (Please note the distinct difference between musing and considering.) The thing that triggered this was that I started bringing music along for the ride—you'll see why that matters in a second. Anyway, I've never really understood why someone would want to commit suicide, except for people who are in extraordinary pain from an incurable medical condition. Then it hit me: something that might cause me to become suicidal. If I ever lost (1) my vision, (2) my hearing, or (3) the ability to use at least one of my hands, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't be able to take it. Those are the three things that terrify me the most: missing out on seeing people, pictures, and movies; listening to voices and music; and the ability to easily manipulate objects. Luckily, the chances of any of those tragic things happening to me is extremely slim. But, the very idea kind of does creep me out.

I'm not sure that I'd miss my sense of smell and taste that much. It would certainly make it much easier to eat healthy foods. Granted, it would suck... but I could definitely get over it.

An Avalon Community

My apartment complex was bought out by a local company recently. They've already made a mortal enemy of me. The front desk used to be available until 10:00 pm. Now it's available until 6:00 pm. If I don't leave work early to pick up my packages, they're not available until the next day. That's retarded. The package/desk service used to be one of my favorite features about the complex. It doesn't seem like it would cost more than a dollar or so per unit per month. I'm paying them one thousand one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. It seems reasonable for me to expect that I should be able to get my mail on the same day it arrives.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Don't care

I just had a flash of inspiration: maybe I care more than I think I do. I always think of myself as someone who generally doesn't really care where to go to eat, or what game we play, or blah, but maybe I do: maybe I just enjoy not making the decision so I can bitch about it later.

Monday, December 20, 2004

It's not instant runoff

In the comments regarding yesterday's election post, it was stated that my made-up election method was similar to instant runoff voting, and also that my idea made me sound really ignorant. I don't think that it's like instant runoff voting at all. I took a look at an article titled "The Problem with Instant Runoff Voting," and my plan does not appear to have the same fundamental problem as IRV.

The problem with IRV is that, as soon as one of the third-party candidates becomes better than one of the top two, the balance of power shifts to the "wrong" candidate, making it just as bad as a regular election. However, this wouldn't happen with my plan. In my example, there is a new party called the "Perublicans." The Perublicans are a lot like Republicans, so anyone who voted for one would be almost as happy voting for the other; certainly happier than if the Democrats won. Since the Republican and Perublican candidates were so similar, the votes between the two were split pretty evenly. In a normal election, Democrats would then win, even if the Republicans and the Perublicans combined had more votes. In my system, whichever one of those two would win instead of the Democrats, which seems much more fair. Here's how it works:

Republican: 20
Perublican: 30
Democrat: 35
Green: 10
Perot: 5
TOTAL: 100

First off is Perot. He's stubborn and doesn't like the other parties, so he just deletes his votes, so we've got the same numbers as above but with a total of 95. Now Green is the losing party. The Green party candidate likes the Democratic candidate best out of the ones left, so he transfers his votes to the Democrats. That leaves us with this:

Republican: 20
Perublican: 30
Democrat: 45
TOTAL: 95

Now the losing party is the Republicans. Clearly, the Republicans would want to give their votes to the party most friendly to their interests, the Perublicans. So, then we have:

Perublican: 50
Democrat: 45
TOTAL: 95

With just two left, the Democrats have no choice but to either forfeit their votes or give them to the Perublicans. Clearly a Democratic candidate would never vote for the enemy, so we end up with:

Perublican: 50
TOTAL: 50

Thus, the election pans out in what I feel is the most logical and fair way possible. Instead of the Democrats winning like in the current system of election, which would please 45% of the voters, the Perublicans win, which would please 50% of the voters.

Am I still missing something? I'm not saying that it's bulletproof and that we should all switch today, but I have not yet been convinced that my idea is as retarded as some of you may have me believe.

A poor place for sharp objects

Ever since getting contacts, one of the most frequent recurring thoughts I've had in the morning is "When did this X-acto knife blade get in my eye?" Of course, I later discover that what I thought was a knife blade was really a tiny, tiny piece of fuzz that felt much more significant when pressed against my eye by a piece of sticky plastic.

Not a question of utility

As is typical, my brother and I have yet to start our Christmas shopping. I called him today to ask if he wanted to contribute to getting my mom a GameCube and some kind of Mario game, since, well, she likes a variety of Mario games. His response? "Think about that. Is that something that she really needs? Does she really need more video games? Maybe you should get her a StairMaster or an ab-roller. Something she could really use."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

An electoral idea

I had a strange idea last night while lying in bed. It was particularly strange because I try to avoid thinking about anything political as much as possible. The idea was for a way to begin a transition to make third-party candidates more viable in the future. Here's the idea:

The winner of an election (I'm specifically thinking of the "important" ones, president and governor, but this could potentially work for any election) would need to get 100% of the votes that did not go to a candidate with fewer than some X number of votes... say, 100. This filters out the less practical candidates like Mickey Mouse. Here's the catch: once the votes are counted—nationwide, with none of this electoral college nonsense—the candidates are ranked by the number of votes they received. Then, starting with the most-losing candidate at the very bottom, the candidates must reassign their votes to a different candidate still in the running. Then we go to the next person, and they reassign their votes as well. Finally, it comes down to the Republican and Democrat candidates, and the #2 has to reassign their votes to the other, giving them 100%.

I think that the disadvantages of the system are clear. First, it gets rid of the electoral college and brings it back in a creative way all at once... the candidates themselves become the electoral college. But, best of all, someone could vote for, say, Howard Dean, knowing that they finally weren't just throwing their vote away, because now they're voting for a candidate to either become president, or reassign their vote so as to best match what they want from a president. This seemed silly even to me at first, but then I realized that it's not really a shift in thinking. When you vote for president, you're voting for that person to get into an office and make decisions that you generally would agree with. This plan extends the "and make decisions that you generally would agree with" to election results as well.

Of course, the plan isn't perfect. First, it requires a change in the election system, a fundamental part of our democracy that people are going to be understandably hesitant to change. It also requires all of the candidates to be available at the same time so as to finalize the results. Finally, some particularly insane candidates might refuse to pick another person for their votes to go to. I've got a couple workarounds for those too.

The candidates wouldn't have to be available all at the same time because they could choose their vote transfer ahead of time. Like, Dean could say on his "I want to be president" form that all of his votes should automatically go to the Democratic candidate if he didn't win. The candidates would only have to be around if they didn't pre-decide this, or if their failover candidate were already out of the running.

Then we get to the scenario where the particularly insane candidate might refuse to pick another person. I could maybe see Ross Perot being that way. In that case, votes for Perot would just cease to exist once he was out of the running. This would suck for people who voted for him, but not any more than it already sucks to vote for a third-party candidate today, and a candidate's preferred failover candidate (generally Republican, Democrat, or none) would be something that people could take into account when voting.

Suddenly, voting for party X isn't so crazy, because your votes will just get converted to Democrat in the end anyway. The initial benefits of this system are mainly just that the ancient electoral system we use today goes away. It won't mean that we'll see a non-Republican, non-Democrat president any time soon; perhaps not even in my lifetime. However, I think that, at least on the surface, it seems like it would have a positive impact in making third-party candidates a lot more viable voting option.

So, there's the idea. I haven't put more than a half hour of thought into it, but I already like it a heck of a lot better than the current system. I'm sure there are downsides I haven't considered, so feel free to tear it apart in the comments box.

ROTK favorite quote

I can't help myself... I must post my favorite ROTK quote. (It's not from the extended edition.)

Sam: What're you doing? Sneaking around, are you?
Gollum: Sneaking? Sneaking? Hobbitses always so polite. Smeagol leads them to secret places that no one else can find, and they say "sneak!" Oh, very nice, precious, very nice.
Sam: Alright already! You just startled me is all. What were you doing?
Gollum: Sneaking.

My second favorite would have to be:

Gimli: Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?

Return of the King Extended Edition

(This is a spoiler-free ROTK EE post.)

Well, my opinion of the Return of the King Extended Edition was a little better than that of the previous two Extended Editions. I liked the Fellowship theatrical version better than the extended edition, the additions seemed totally unimportant. The Two Towers extended edition I'd maybe put on par with the theatrical version; the additions didn't seem important, but they weren't bad. The Return of the King extended edition is the only one out of the three where I felt that the extended version had useful additional plot developments. (And, at least they didn't extend the ending, which is still awful.) Still, though, it's definitely no better than the theatrical cut.

In the future, when I decide to sit down and watch the Lord of the Rings movies again, I'll probably almost always watch the theatrical versions. That's heresy to a lot of my readers, but I have a reason. Part of the allure of the movies is their excellent pacing and balance... they fit plot, action, and humor all in, in just the right amounts, at just the right times. I think that the extended editions screw up this pacing, adding in more plot without the appropriate amount of extra action or humor (as I mentioned, ROTK EE is the best of the three in not screwing up the pacing, I think). Out of all of the new footage, there wasn't really anything that came to mind as "oh, I didn't just imply that from earlier scenes; that's a new and exciting surprise!"

The new scene with Gimli entering the Dimwalt was my favorite, and the part when they left the Dimwalt was, I think, the worst change made in all of the extended editions. Arwen is still way hotter than Eowyn. And where did Gandalf get staff #2?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Today vs. Today

When I write my own blog software, I'm going to make it so that there will be a configurable cutoff, and posts that happen before ~5:00 am will be listed as part of the previous day. It's odd having two posts from different logical days but on the same technical day right next to each other.

Rise and... shine

Today I woke to sound of the G-man saying "rise and... shine... mis...ter Freeman, rise and... shine." This, which I added specifically for waking up today, is the latest in my line of basically-worthless ringtones on my phone, right next to "sssssssssaaave me..." from Doom 3 and the "you just jumped on Yoshi" sound from Super Mario World and the synth strings from Toxic.

Remember today, little brother. Today, life is good.

An observation

Today I realized something: drippings from grilled chicken kind of smell like diapers once they've collected into a tiny pool and dried.

That's all for today, I guess... tomorrow I go on the Washington wine tour again, this time with Washington friends instead of Nebraska friends. Then I finally get to see the Return of the King extended edition. It's extra exciting for me, since I have no idea what parts of the story were left out of the theatrical version.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Karma

Tonight, I took a small card with the text "STUPID!" written on it with me when I went to play games. I come prepared. I waited all night, and finally the guy to my left misread the cards on the table, causing him to gain a lot of points (points are bad in 6 Nimmt). At this point I silently passed the card to him, which caused him to laugh and then crumple the card and throw it at my face. About three minutes later I made essentially the same mistake, and the guy across the table picked up the crumpled card from where it bounced off my face and passed it to me. I fell from being in first place for the entire game to third (out of five), with the guy to my left kicking my ass into the ground.

Karma. Seeing peoples' reactions when I pulled a card from my pocket that said "STUPID!" was so worth it, though.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Fear of commitment

So, I have two non-imaginary friends whom I will call J and P. I'd guess that J is in his late thirties and P is in his middle forties. Now, a quick recap of their lives:

J works as a senior engineer at Microsoft. He is not married, has never been married, and has no children. He lives happily (as far as I can divine) by himself. He has no girlfriend. He likes volleyball, board games, and video games.

P works as a technical writer at Microsoft. He is married to a woman in Canada but separated, lives with his only son, and has a girlfriend. He has various published articles, books, and games under his belt. He has been in divorce proceedings for half a decade, ever since his wife decided she didn't want him around anymore. Under Canadian law, if he doesn't pay his wife $3,000 a month in spouse support, which he can't afford, he has to settle, which means giving her complete ownership of their retirement account, house, and all of their belongings in Canada, valued in total between $400,000-500,000 CDN. He says she'll make a fine second wife for anyone who is interested in neither intelligent conversation nor sex and doesn't mind marrying someone who has no conscience.

Both J and P are very smart, pleasant people. My pessimistic view of the world tells me that I can basically choose between ending up like P and ending up like J. In this case, if I have the option of having loved and lost and never having loved at all, I will wholeheartedly choose what's behind door #2. Of course, those are not the only possible outcomes... I just see them as probably being the most likely for me. And, the prospect of ending up like J doesn't really bother me. Maybe it should.

Asperger's Syndrome

A couple times in the past people have suggested that I might suffer from Asperger's Syndrome, which is often classified as a mild form of autism. I was reminded of this from an anonymous comment a few posts back. I've investigated this before, though never actually being diagnosed, and concluded that it wasn't really me. But, I read a differently-worded description today, and it made me reconsider. Lois Freisleben-Cook's description of the disorder on this page (scroll down) seems to be a pretty decent description of me, actually. She hits a lot of my weirdness right on the head:

brilliant (I like to think so), eccentric, absent-minded, socially inept, physically awkward, clumsy (holy crap yes), preoccupation that seems like OCD but isn't

...and has a few misses:

doesn't truly understand the nuances of language (I've always been good with English, and was often 5+ years ahead in school), gaze avoidance (I don't really retreat from social interactions once they've already begun like she describes here)

After reading that, I think that there actually is a distinct possibility that I have this disorder. It would certainly explain a lot of my weirdness. Of course, finding out that I might have a mental disorder is kind of depressing. Maybe I should be diagnosed sometime. It's probably covered 100% by my health plan. :) (I wonder if there's some monetary benefit to having a mental disorder of this kind, like a Tax Break for Retards or something.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Birthday what?

This had to have been the least fanfare for a birthday I've ever had. I don't mind; it's just different. 21 is, of course, the biggest birthday since 16. 22 sort of matters because you're not 21 anymore. But 23 is completely insignificant, just like 24 will be. I guess that's something to add to the list of stuff that used to matter a lot but doesn't really matter anymore.

Snow Patrol, Keane

Yes, another music post. I've been listening to Final Straw by Snow Patrol a ton recently; it's the only thing that's been able to pull me away from The Postal Service. It's quite wonderful. I'd describe the style as unusually and genuinely emotional rock. I'm not talking about something that one would describe as "emo" or some pop group that's trying to make teenage girls swoon; this album seems to show a heartfelt soul that I guess I just wasn't expecting. In contrast, I've also listened to Hopes and Fears by Keane, and it's disappointing by comparison. It's okay—it sounds a lot like the group Travis, which I overall like—but it's more cheery and sappy and fake when compared to the other CDs I've recently been listening to by Snow Patrol and The Postal Service. I have to admit that I was pretty worried when I walked by Homer's while in Lincoln and saw a big Keane / Hopes and Fears poster in the window; I tend to not like music that I see posters of, especially when they're in record stores. I don't know why that is. Anyway, if Britpop is your thing, then you'll find something to like in the Keane CD. In fact, most of the songs will end up in my rotation, but I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from Snow Patrol. Great album, and I think that it would appeal to anyone who likes just about any kind of rock.

As a side note, I picked up Remixed and Revisited by Madonna, which is essentially an EP of remixes and reinterpretations of songs mostly from her last album. This particular CD is interesting in that several of the remixes make the songs less electronic than the originals, by replacing synthesizers and dance beats with guitars and more traditional rhythms. I'm kind of a sucker for non-retarded, non-techno remixes and alternate versions of songs; if I liked the original, I'll probably like an alternate version too, and it's nice to have the added variety. Anyway, it's decent stuff, but not something that I'd want to pay full album price for.

That's it for music for now. Next up are an older CD by The Roots and perhaps the new CD by Blondie... I have no clue what to expect from that.

He's doomed

My dad has begun playing Doom 3 through no convincing on my part. He's really bad at a lot of games, but especially those that require quick reflexes. I see this next month or so being extremely frustrating for him. But, hey, maybe he'll surprise me.

Nemeses

Every Thursday, I play board games with a group of generally entertaining people at Microsoft, the Thursday Evening Board Gamers. I always have a really good time. Recently, a small group of people, mostly recent graduates, started a smaller game night on Tuesdays a few feet from my office. I was kind of excited tonight to find out that one of the guys I can't stand was not in attendance, so I decided to stay for a game. About five minutes in, I heard the late-arriving awful whining voice, and he sat down next to me. I wanted to cry.

As soon as the game was over and I made a cursory attempt to help pick up, I retreated to my office. Apparently I wasn't hiding the fact that I was getting the hell away from those people very well; as soon as I walked in, my officemate (still there at 9:30) asked:

Joe: What's wrong?
Me: Just avoiding the bane of my existence. I was so happy when I found out he wasn't there, and then he showed up, and I can't get away.
Joe: Your bane is out there?
Me: Well, one of them.
Joe: How can you have so many banes already? You just started here.

It's kind of disheartening, because two of the people out of the nine were just fine (casino night guy and another normal-ish guy). I don't know. The rest are like chess club stereotypes; the type of people who make me sad that I usually use "nerd" as a positive adjective for myself.

During the game, my manager's manager, whom I called "Older Brian Kell" (because he looks pretty similar and reminds me of Kell in many ways, even down to owning a white shirt drawn with black marker) as an intern, stopped by and told me how much he's loving World of Warcraft. It's very cool that my manager and my manager's manager are both gamers. I can accept a lot of peoples' crazy hobbies, and am even finally getting to a point where I can sort of understand sports lovers, but I really don't get non-gamers. It's like not liking music or something.

Maximizing utils

One thing that I do a lot, and don't know if other people generally do, is try to anticipate what other people might say the next time I talk to them, and think of clever responses to it. It's really too bad that I can almost never successfully anticipate what people are going to say—I mean, except when I'm using my well-documented psychic powers—because otherwise I would seem extremely witty. Often this also results in me not saying something that I might have otherwise said on the fly if I hadn't planned it in advance. This is one of those things.

So, in preparing to schedule my little holiday party, I asked a group of friends to tell me which of the potential days (December 23, 24, 25, or 26) would work best for them. Before doing this, I didn't realize that, should conflicts arise, picking a particular date over another would essentially be choosing a person over another, since I had already said that all four days worked equally well for me. Luckily, it hasn't yet become an issue. The first "clever response" that I had thought of in case there was a conflict and we had to finalize a date was to say that I had assigned everyone point values based on how much they would contribute to the event, and I would simply optimize the date to maximize the utils produced over the course of the evening. I then realized that this (1) was only mildly humorous, (2) would make me seem like a huge jackass to anyone who didn't find it funny, and (3) wasn't really as clever as I initially hoped. With that potential line of conversation blackballed, I no longer know how I would respond to such a question.

But just now, I realized that I basically do exactly that internally; it's just not something that one would normally admit to. I mean, I can think of several times where I've thought things like, "well, if we did that, Luke and Wobbles couldn't make it, but Clay could, so I guess that's the best day." (Of course, those are completely fictitious names, but you can extrapolate that story to actual people that I know.) I'm not quite anal to the point of assigning actual point values to my friends, but I guess I really do have some kind of implied hierarchy set up in my labyrinthal [warning: may not be actual word] mind. I wonder if that helps to qualify me as a bastard.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Boob-jiggling, musing on

I just realized that boob-jiggling was featured in both holiday parties that I've been to recently. Does this herald exciting new things in the winds of change?

Like dinner, but with waves

So, the dinner cruise thing wasn't that exciting. I don't really know what the point of eating on a boat is if all you see outside is blackness with a skyline in the distance.

Tonight I sat with several of the Asian guys on the FrontPage team and their corresponding dates. There were so many cameras on the table at any given point that you just wouldn't believe it.

We got drink coupons, so I went up to the bar and asked for a Long Island, which is pretty much the only thing I drink. It turns out that drink coupons are valid for just about anything except a Long Island Iced Tea.

The boat arrived at the dock at about 10:10, and at around 10:30 one of the waiters came around to the group I was with at that point and started this exchange:

Waiter: Well, guys, it's 10:30. You don't have to go home...
Me: But we can't stay here?
Phil: Sounds like closing time to me.

Anyway, I was amused. As we stood outside the boat waiting for our turn in the valet line (this is the reason we stayed on the boat an extra 20 minutes), the girl I was with started jumping up and down. We looked at her, a bit puzzled...

Kristen: Jumping makes me warm!
Me: I avoid jumping. Jumping makes my man-boobs jiggle.
Phil: (starts jumping) Hey, I kind of like this. I used to have to pay for this!

Anyway, my new opinion is that dinner cruises aren't that exciting, as you may have guessed from this extremely mediocre post. They're kind of like dinner, except with waves.

Monday, December 13, 2004

At least he hates it too

My manager was making tea today as I went to get yet another Diet Coke, and I heard him singing from the Gwen Stefani CD. I commented that the CD was catchy but the lyrics hurt me, and he said, "Oh, you mean 'this my shit, this my shit, the shit is bananas?' I think she is the, you know, cocktease." It's good to have a manager who understands.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Didn't even know four-hour cruises existed

Oh, and I'm going on a four-hour cruise tomorrow. Office isn't having a Christmas party, but at least the subdivision that makes all of the server apps (FrontPage is considered a server application since it doesn't make much sense without a server somewhere, which makes slight sense) managed to put one together. I think the biggest boat I've ever been on is a canoe. I can't wait to spend an extra four hours with the same people that I spend every single workday with. Maybe that's why the devdiv party was fun... I didn't have to meet anyone (shudder), but I also hung out with three people I rarely see. Anyway, you can be certain that I'll post about it.

It's not just Amazon.com

I should have seen this coming. The first paragraph of my post entitled "Roll them Bones" has resulted in a variety of comments ranging from a gentle scolding about my choices of words to a Flash of a naked man dancing (think about what you're about to do for a good couple seconds before actually clicking that link). All I can say is that there's no reason to read too much into that paragraph. I mean, seriously; we haven't even made out.

But that got me thinking. I probably would be going through exactly the same things if I actually were trying to date some girl that I didn't work with (or, in the case of college, live with). Becoming friends with people I'm not around frequently is even harder than making friends with people I see a lot. In fact, that's the sort of thing that kind of doesn't happen at all for me. If it's someone I'm around a lot, I can usually do a decent job of figuring them out... I have plenty of data to work with. If it's someone I see infrequently, I've got to interpolate a lot, which kinda makes me crazy. It doesn't happen automatically for me... I've got to analyze everything I can and calculate how to respond and what to say and do. Maybe that's another personality defect I've been blessed with.

Having never dated anyone, I can't imagine the process being all that different than trying to befriend someone... disorienting and awkward. I kind of see dating as having to start with friendship for me. Everyone always says that you can't date a friend, and if that's true for me too, then I'll be single forever. But there's no way I could live with someone if she wasn't the type of person who would have still been my friend if we never dated. It just couldn't happen. Of course, this is kind of like me making a broad statement of fact about cliff-diving or parenting or airplane maintenance, but I feel strangely certain about this. People who are my good friends have to be smart, funny, and able to put up with my sarcasm, cynicism, and weirdness. It would be impossible for any romantic relationship with me on one end to work if the other end didn't meet those criteria. I don't want to spend my life with someone like that.

Apparently today is verbosity day. (When isn't it verbosity day for me?) Is anyone sorry they begged me to post more frequently yet?

Latitude

It was pretty much pitch black outside at 5:00 pm today. That's just crazy.

Alanis Morissette and Snow Patrol

I don't know how I failed to realize this before, but Alanis Morissette kicks ass. I got three of her CDs (Jagged Little Pill, Under Rug Swept, and So-Called Chaos), with the rest on their way. It's just all-around good—pleasant to listen to, intriguing lyrics, emotional, and just well-constructed. I was initially scared that there would be too much overwhelming girl power for me to like it, but I've added all but three tracks out of those three CDs to my permanent rotation.

One of the most interesting things to me about her music is that, while I have decided that I like it a lot, it's not really anything that can get stuck in my head. This is something that deserved closer investigation... back in the spring, I created a list of my 250 favorite songs, then my top 100, then my top 50, 25, and then 10. Out of the songs in my then-top 10, no more than half were songs that I obsessed about for a period of time. That's going to have to be a new side project for me: try to figure out what it is about a song that makes it a headcrab... something that sticks to my head, takes over my mental functions, and is nearly impossible to get rid of.

Not meaning to treat it as a sidenote, but I have also listened to Final Straw by Snow Patrol quite a lot recently, and I love it. It's actually fairly similar to Alanis in that it's rock, and pleasant, intriguing, emotional, and well-constructed. It's slightly more electronic than Alanis' music, and maybe a little more focused on rhythm. Apparently this group has been around for quite some time, which means that suddenly I have several more CDs to investigate.


The short version of this post is that Jagged Little Pill, Under Rug Swept, and So-Called Chaos by Alanis Morissette and Final Straw by Snow Patrol are all "highly recommended." If you're one of those people who only likes listening to female voices, go for Alanis, and if you're one of those people who only likes listening to male voices, you can go for Snow Patrol. Everybody wins.

Roll them bones

Well, I just got back from the Developer Division Christmas party. I had an awesome time. Now, FrontPage is part of Office, not DevDiv; DevDiv contains Visual Studio, the .NET Framework, and other developer-related products. I was the stand-in date... the girl that my friend was originally going with had to cancel, so he asked me instead. I've been obsessing about this ever since he asked me. On one hand, I'm really glad that he invited me, because I had a lot of fun. On the other hand, I couldn't stop thinking to myself, "I'm not actually the person he wants to be around right now." This is still driving me crazy, analyzing each little moment, trying to figure out if it's a good thing or a bad thing to be #2. I keep saying, "hey, #2's great. He obviously knows more than two people; I beat out all of those other people." But then I respond to myself, "well, maybe he did just invite me because he found out that Office isn't having a party, and he wasn't joking." I was finally happy on the way home, and as he dropped me off, I said, "well, thanks a lot! I had a great time. Sorry your real date couldn't make it." He seemed annoyed: "yeah... well. You win, I guess." I'm going to go insane. It really shouldn't matter so much, but it's really important to me to know how much people like me, and making sure that I'm reasonably pleasant to be around.

Chronologically, that's the end, but this post isn't chronological. There are more things I'd like to say about tonight. Tonight was quite the party—probably the coolest event I've ever been to. There were three floors of things happening in the massive conference center building: the top floor was set up as a dimly-lit restaurant, the middle floor was mostly a huge dance floor, and the bottom floor was casino games, as well as pool, foosball, and air hockey. (All three were heavily stocked with alcohol.) Having both already eaten, and not really feeling in the mood to, uh, dance with each other, we spent the whole night on the games floor.

At 8:30 we met up with two people I actually already knew from my weekly Thursday evening gaming sessions (in fact, I only know a couple other people in the whole division, so that was lucky). We had a blackjack table to ourselves for much of the next three and a half hours. Everyone got $30,000 in chips to start; at one point I was up to almost $200,000, though I bet an absurd amount on the last hand and lost, bringing me down to a cool $40,000. I'm still pretty happy with that... I played for three and a half hours and actually left with more "money" than I started with. I did some stupid stuff at the beginning (actually getting remarks of "are you insane?" and "I can't believe that you're sober" from the dealer), but I was doing well for much of the night. I was down to $2,500 halfway through and still managed to bring that up to my two hundred grand. Having never played blackjack in real life before, I was quite happy. I earned myself five raffle tickets, so I guess I'll find out Monday if I won anything.

At one point fairly early during the night, the three guys out of the four of us busted, and the other friend's wife (who was sitting next to me) won... The dealer, a woman, started this exchange:

Dealer: I don't know what's wrong with you men! She's a woman; she knows what I'm talking about!
Me (shocked): Wait, you're kidding me!
Wife: No, seriously! (jiggles her boobs at me)

In hindsight, making that comment probably wasn't a smart move, but it worked out okay in the end. Anyway, the boob-jiggling was apparently the cue to the dealer that she could be as casual as she wanted, which made things pretty fun. I have a problem with fiddling with objects placed in front of me, and the chips were no exception, even the ones that were part of my bid. I was doing this one hand in which I won:

Dealer: Hey! Move your damned hands so I can see what you're playing with!
Me: Man, if I had a dollar every time someone told me that...

The only thing that was kind of annoying is that the dealer would, when getting an Ace or a 10 on top (so she would look at the bottom card to see if they totaled 21), often then give us hints that round:

Dealer: 19.
Me: Stay!
Dealer: Try harder.
Me: What?
Dealer: Try harder.
Me: Oh. Hit.
Dealer: 29, bust.

The dealer then flipped over her cards to show that she had 20. Whenever she would do this, she'd just pass it off and say, "hey, this isn't Vegas." This sort of thing happened many times, and while funny the first couple times, it got really annoying later on. It made the game take longer, and it's not like you have good chances of getting an Ace or a 2 when you hit on a 19 anyway. I don't think that it actually helped me out more than once (maybe not even once), but it did still kind of make me feel like I hadn't really earned all of my chips. Still, I ended with more chips than could possibly be explained by the rampant cheating, so I'm still happy.

So, anyway, that was long. I really enjoyed myself. When I actually make my way to Vegas sometime, I'm going to have to play real blackjack now.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Forecast calls for flurries of posts

Wow, I can't believe how many times I posted today. Then again, I got up at 6:00 and had quite a bit of downtime.

Cha-ching

I'm doing the fake casino thing with a friend tomorrow. (Real games, real drinks, fake money, prizes for highest fake winnings.) His original date couldn't make it, so I was invited as a stand-in date. I'm trying to decide what that means. I'm also trying to decide what to do. As many of my readers may have noticed, I have the worst luck at anything involving chance. That leaves me with two options, I think: I can play blackjack, the only casino game that comes to mind that I like, and at which I am slightly proficient. I will quickly lose my money in this scenario. Or, there's baccarat, the game you can play without knowing how to play. This is because the game is completely noninteractive. There are no decisions to make other than the bet. You can bet that you'll win, that you'll lose, or you'll tie with the dealer. Betting to tie is an 8-to-1 payout, but something like 10-to-1 odds. Betting on yourself or the dealer is a nearly 50-50 chance, with roughly 1:1 payouts, with slightly better margins when betting on the dealer. If I were to bet every round that I was going to lose, the Hand of Fate wouldn't know what to do to screw me over... I can't lose the bet and the hand. Anyway, this route involves minimal risk and minimal excitement. I think I'll stick with blackjack, and play a few rounds of baccarat just to try it out. Having never played much in the way of casino games, I'll also have to try out craps and slots (the game that combines a zombie-like trance state with the excitement of flashing lights).

On the subject of games, yesterday the FP team played a few rounds of Quake III to commemorate one of our venerated elders leaving the team. I seriously do not understand how people can play with the WASD key scheme. If I had to choose between playing HL2 or Doom 3 with WASD and never playing them at all, I would be seriously considering never playing them. It boggles my mind how people can stand to move with those keys when it is so, so much easier to use a gamepad or joystick or pretty much anything else. But, I don't understand a lot of peoples' insane habits.

Liquor

Wow, the City of Redmond has one liquor store. (There's an online list of all of the liquor stores in the state that someone posted to an internal mailing list.) That's somewhat of a change from Lincoln.

I'm finally important

I just checked in my first major feature. Something that I built will be a part of Microsoft Office FrontPage version 12. That's pretty exciting.

No more late nights or working from home for a couple months now for me.

I was going to post this a week ago, but...

In the past month, I've noticed that I've started postponing (or just outright not doing) things a lot more than I used to. I put off going to the grocery store for weeks or more... I vacuum maybe once a week now instead of three... I just wait until the next day to do things that I might have gone into work (or logged in remotely) to do... I watch recorded TV a couple days later instead of immediately... and so forth. I haven't yet decided if this is because (1) I'm busier than I was before, (2) I'm lazier than I was before, or (3) I've just improved my time management skills. I'd like to think it's #3, and that I'm just using my time more wisely. If I don't need to go to Safeway yet, then I might as well do something else. It seems fair enough.

I am not the Breakup Babe

For at least a couple minutes just now, the URL for this blog took you to the "Breakup Babe" blog. Just so we're clear on this, there are no delightful sex romps on this blog. None are planned in the foreseeable future.

Force Persuade

Yesterday I was thinking about Knights of the Old Republic II and how I won't be playing it anytime soon, and I thought of something else: I wonder how many people will, at the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith opening, make a joke to the effect of "you don't need to see my ticket stub" while waving their hand. I bet this has to be in the triple digits.

Fixing bugs

Before I go to sleep, one more thing from today that I thought was particularly funny. The tester that has been working with my officemate had come by to ask about a bug that he had found:

Developer: ...I should look at that. Do you know the bug number?
Tester: No, but I know the name; you can do a search.
Developer: Okay, what am I searching for?
Tester: Search for "screwed"...

At that point we all started laughing. Then I thought to myself... I wonder how many bugs in Office have the word "screwed" in their titles.

A wedding announcement

Today in the mail I received a wedding announcement. It was on nice textured cardstock, with a sheet of white tissue paper and everything. I opened it up, and it was for AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless. I found this particularly amusing, and looked down at the bottom, and started laughing out loud at the mailbox: "Reception to follow immediately." Reception. How hilariously clever.

Speaking of social events, I've done it: I've sent out invitations to a Christmas party of sorts. Now, whether anyone besides me is interested in playing games on Christmas, that's the question.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

It's closer than the copy room

My office is right next to a conference room. Since I'm a lot closer than the copy room, occasionally people in a meeting will come by and ask to borrow a marker or an eraser. Well, today, I noticed that one of my pens had been borrowed, and then chewed on. Someone borrowed my pen when I wasn't around, chewed on it, and then returned it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Oh, how could I forget?

How could I forget Gwen Stefani's new CD? It's so retarded that it deserves its own post. I've really thought of myself as a big No Doubt guy, but I bought their last album and liked it a lot, so I gave Gwen's solo effort a try. It's weird; it's really strange dance-pop, I guess. And, I don't think I've ever had more mixed feelings about a CD. On one side, much of the CD is very catchy, interesting, and well-produced, and for some reason I enjoy listening to Stefani's bizarre voice. On the other side—the dark, filthy side—this CD contains what have to be some of the worst lyrics ever penned.

Seriously. I own a couple CDs that give me a slight amount of embarrassment: one, High Society by the Kottonmouth Kings. They crap out CDs at an astounding rate, and make sure there are a couple really good and radio-friendly tracks on each one, filling up the rest with steaming trash. I really can't help it if I love an awful song with lyrics that just brag about their really powerful sound system. The second CD that comes to mind is Britney Spears' latest full album, In the Zone. I probably should be more embarrassed about that, but it's a good dance CD, and I like most of the tracks. Sue me.

But neither of those would prepare me for Love.Angel.Music.Baby. (The actual punctuation of the title is debatable, as the periods are actually small Japanese characters.) As I've mentioned, much of this CD is actually enjoyable and catchy. I'm even usually pretty good about not getting bothered by awful lyrics. But some of these just hurt. The first track, "What You Waiting For?" contains the line "Take a chance, you stupid ho!" a dozen times. The first time she says that line, she says instead "Take a chance and you might grow," but goes with "ho" every other time, almost suggesting that she just forgot the lyrics and had to make up something awful on the spot. Then there's "Hollaback Girl." This song insults the intelligence of not just Gwen Stefani and myself, but indeed all of Earth. With lines such as "Ooo-oo-oh, this my shit, this my shit!" and "The shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!" repeated until vomiting is induced, this is probably the closest to aural ipecac syrup I've ever encountered. I absolutely can not understand why this song exists.

Anyway, the CD gets an overall negative rating from me thanks to that track. It's by no means an essential purchase for anyone but the most devoted Gwen Stefani fan. But, I've already paid for it, and I like listening to most of the songs, so I guess I'll get over it. But... damn.

New music

Well, I've started going through my new music for December (and very likely the first part of January). A while back I ordered >40 CDs so that I'd always have new music to listen to when I wanted to. So, I've been through the first few CDs, with mediocre results.

World of Warcraft soundtrack—I've actually been quite pleased with this. The compositions are solid and interesting... it's just too bad that it's blatantly obvious in parts that it's all synthesized instruments. I can pick out the General MIDI "Choir Ooh" instrument in one of the tracks.

Beyoncé - Dangerously in Love—R&B and rap are usually close to the bottom of the barrel for me. I got this CD for $7, which was about the most I'd want to pay for it. Overall it's okay; much of it isn't that appealing to me, but about half of the songs are pretty decent and worth adding to my permanent rotation.

Chevelle - Wonder What's Next—I really enjoy their most popular single (AFAIK), "Send the Pain Below." This was another $7 CD, and again, that's about what it was worth. That track is fantastic, and the rest are pretty evenly "okay." My biggest complaint about the CD is that the songs all sound too similar. Maybe I'm just not enough of a connoisseur of hard rock to notice the subtleties. Or something.

In between listening to those CDs, I've been playing tracks from the Postal Service CD, Give Up, with ridiculous frequency, especially "Nothing Better." There's a funny story that goes along with that, but it requires too much context to make it funny. Let's just say that it involves Matthew, Lincoln, and I, and yet another wacky "coincidence." I seriously can't stop listening to this song. I haven't been this obsessed with a song since "Good Luck" on Basement Jaxx's latest CD. Which reminds me...

The next CD in my listening extravaganza is Snow Patrol - Final Straw, which I bought after hearing a track on the airplane. I think this one has excellent promise. (In the meantime, am I right to think that there could be nothing better than making you my bride and slowly growing old together?) After that, I have eight more albums waiting for me, and ten more sitting on my desk begging to be ripped. I'm a bad person.

Now it's time for Dawn of War. One of these nights, I'm going to try sleeping.

Rebates

I'm always happy when I get a rebate check in the mail. It's always unexpected income, as generally by the time I get a rebate I have forgotten that the corresponding item had a rebate. So, when I get a rebate, it seems like "free money," which is probably dangerous, because it isn't—I already factored the rebate into the cost of the item.

Comfy socks

I got some new Nike socks a few days ago, and I have to admit they're quite comfortable. My first choice is Hanes, but it's hard to find large enough socks in any brand. It seems that if a particular store carries any socks larger than size 12, they only carry one style, generally crew. Nobody ever seems to carry quarter socks in size 16. These Nike socks are size 18, and even then, they're still tight at the end. I'm sure that they'll stretch out a bit once they've spent some time wrapped around my massive feet.

I'll try to avoid any more posts about body parts in the near future.

Don't mind me

I always feel kind of silly when I'm Segwaying home at night while singing, only to pass a bus stop and find out that someone heard me. (Matthew and Lincoln can guess what song I was singing tonight when this happened...) Then I realize that there really isn't any good reason to feel silly about it. People should sing out loud for no good reason more often. I mean, except when I have to hear them do just that across the hall at work.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Attack! Attack! ATTACK!

Yet another random musing (so I save 'em up... big deal...): who else tends to mash keys harder when they really want the computer to do something? This happens occasionally while coding (compile, DAMMIT!), but most frequently when playing older games. I would do this all the time when playing the old text adventure/RPG game DND (not to be confused with D&D, which would be a trademark violation) when I was quite young. I don't remember which key it was, but I would get to a point where I would press the Fight key SO hard... obviously I knew in my mind that pressing the key harder wouldn't make anything more likely to succeed, but it was comforting.

So, I've been thinking—what are the ramifications of this? Is it just some inexplicable psychological thing? Or, is it something simpler? One idea that just popped into my head is that perhaps... perhaps... it's the indication of a simple, effective user interface. The link between that key (probably "F") and actually attacking the monster (represented as an ASCII symbol in classic Rogue style) was so strong that, in my mind, they had become one. Pressing the key was attacking, and if I wanted to attack successfully, I would have to put effort into pressing that key. I don't really have anything to back up that guess, but I'm sure it will have me thinking for a while.

Like it's 1999

As far as I can remember, I've never really thrown a party, or realy much of any social event. My parents would put together birthday parties when I was younger, and a couple have spontaneously occurred in my room at Kauffman (I still, to this day, do not understand how this happens), but I don't think I've ever hosted anything, per se. Maybe I should do this sometime soon. I mean, I've used my dining table so few times that I'm at about $100 a use right now. I might as well put it to work for something.

My crazy ears

I'm sure most of you have noticed, my ears are quite messed-up. They're almost completely hard cartilage, instead of the mostly-soft ears of a normal human. They weren't always this way. It started happening spontaneously about five years ago, and even after surgery, they were much less noticeable than they are now—there was much more "soft" and much less "deformed" then. It's something really similar to cauliflower ear, except I was never a boxer or wrestler or otherwise punched in the ear. The weird thing is that everyone noticed back then. People in the grocery store would ask me if I was a wrestler all the time... probably a couple times a week. Every time I'd get a haircut from a new person they'd ask me if I was a wrestler, or at least "how it happened." Now, I get nothing. No one's mentioned it in the past couple years. I have two possible explanations: at first, it was just my left ear. Since my left ear was significantly different from my right ear, it seemed more odd. Now, my left ear sags down a little more than my right ear, but they both look pretty equivalent. Maybe it only looked strange by comparison. My other potential explanation is that since the deformity was more mild back then, it seemed more acceptable to talk about it. Now that it's more obviously deformed, people don't want to bring it up. Like, for some reason, it's okay to ask someone in a leg cast what happened to them, but one would never ask someone in a wheelchair "hey, cripple, what happened to your legs?"

What the #*@% does that mean?

One of the girls on my team uses the handle "PC LOAD LETTER" in FPS games. That's so awesome I can't put it into words. I mean, except these.

Monday, December 6, 2004

CinemaNow and television

When I got my Zen Portable Media Center back from Creative's repair department, they included a coupon for two free movie downloads from CinemaNow. I could pick any of the download-to-keep movies that were specially pre-resized for the Portable Media Center's display, which is almost all of their download-to-keep movies. I quickly became disappointed with their selection, which encompassed maybe 150 movies. The only one that I remember seeing in the list that I had even heard of before was Bumfights. So much for renting a classic that I haven't seen yet, like Citizen Kane or Magnolia, both of which have been recommended to me many times. The best I can hope for is homeless people beating the crap out of each other, which would probably be entertaining for a few minutes and then really unpleasant and depressing, like a Tarantino movie.

To their credit, their rental movies are much more extensive and current, like Saved! and The Day After Tomorrow. I could even rent them as pay-per-view from my remote, if I didn't want to walk the nearly four feet from my comfy chair to the desk. I might try it out sometime. But, for about the same price as three downloaded movies I could have significantly more through a DVD rental service, with presumably better video quality. Oh well; it doesn't matter in the meantime, as I have a vast horde of TV on DVD that I've already paid for and would rather be seeing.

And speaking of TV, I watched last week's episode of House tonight. It's on at the same time as Scrubs, so I've missed every episode but this one. I experienced something that I don't think I had before... I was enthralled by the main character, Dr. House, but didn't really care for the rest of the show. The show is a medical drama, which we certainly don't need any more of. The writing was decent (except House's lines, which were hilarious), but it's just not a genre I care about. Dr. House, though, is an excellent character. He's basically what Dr. Cox from Scrubs would be like if Scrubs were a drama. House is an extremely sarcastic, realist bastard. But, as long as it's on during Scrubs, it doesn't really matter in the end.

This Windows Media Center Edition has really made TV more pleasant... and, now it's really easy to save a show that I think was particularly excellent. I found a program that lets me trim commercials out of shows with a couple clicks, and then I can convert them to Windows Media 9 Video. Now I don't have to be content with snatching up more TV on DVD than I can ever manage to watch; I can save copies of the shows that I do watch too. Technology in the hands of obsessive people is a dangerous thing.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Pearl Harbor

Malcolm in the Middle was incredible tonight. Since I know that not too many people I know actually watch it, I thought I'd share a clip. Just reading the transcript can't do it justice, and the whole episode had me ROFLOLMAOing.

Malcolm: I got you something.
Reese: Hey, I got you something.
Malcolm: See, this is what I’m talking about. We’re being open, and supportive, and honest with each other. Here.
Reese: What’s this?
Malcolm: It’s called, “If You’re Gay, It’s OK.” It’s full of great resources. What’s this?
Reese: Naughty Pool Boys 3. I watched ten or twelve of these, and this one seems to have the most stuff you guys like.
Malcolm: Wait… I’m not gay; you’re gay.
Reese: No, I’m not; you are.
Malcolm: I’m not gay!
Reese: Malcolm, check out what they’re doing in that movie, and then tell me you’re not gay.

...Time

Well, I've finished Half-Life 2. That's the last of the big three blockbuster first-person shooters this year: Doom 3, Far Cry, and Half-Life 2. My verdict on Half-Life 2 was that it was truly excellent, but with an extremely disappointing first couple of hours. (Extremely disappointing in that it did not meet my excruciatingly high standards, but still decent in and of itself.) Now, the statement that Lincoln feared, and will shock many a gamer: I liked Doom 3 better.

Certainly, Half-Life 2 is deserving of a 10/10. It's innovative, exciting, and once I got past the first couple hours, the "hey, look at us, we have a physics engine!" part, as I like to call it, it's gripping and full of the delicious pleasure that is the essence of why I'm such a fan of computer games as a medium.

All three of the games had extraordinary graphics in their own way, and they all have their strenghths. Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 were extremely polished, down to the little details that just make you smile. All three had excellent graphics engines from a technical standpoint, and they looked great. But, each had its own way of looking good. Doom 3 was quite convincing in its depiction of an overrun Mars research station (and, eventually, Hell), Far Cry had exquisitely beautiful landscapes, and Half-Life 2 really made me feel like I was in a part of Europe that had suddenly had the crap beaten out of it by aliens.

Doom 3 was tense, frightening, and unnerving beyond what I thought could possibly be imagined. I always used to think it was stupid in movies when characters would turn around in shocked horror, firing blankly into the dark. After playing Doom 3, I can emphasize: I've done the same thing. It made it hard to sleep at night. I walked the halls at work fearing every corner, alcove, and footstep. I've never had a game that affected my life so strongly (not counting the many games I've obsessed about far beyond the point where it's remotely healthy).

Far Cry did a lot of things well too. It featured the best stealth combat I've ever experienced... crawling through the weeds of a lush tropical island, taking out my sniper rifle, picking my first target, steadying my aim... just fantastic. The selection of throwables (rocks, frag grenades, smokescreens, and flashbangs) was perfect, and you had to learn to use each one effectively. The night-vision goggles with infrared overlays, and the binoculars that pick up homing signals, were inspired. And, it's the most open-ended shooter imaginable... for about half of the levels, you have an objective, and hundred different ways to accomplish it. But, my problem with Far Cry was that there were too many painful flaws that ruined the game for me. There are no save games, only checkpoints. That's ridiculous, and regardless of the creators' reasoning, it's just unacceptable. This is not a console game. To pervert a line from The Simpsons, "here in PC-land we don't tolerate that kind of crap, sir!" That, combined with wave after wave of nigh-invincible mutants with rocket launchers, jumpy mutants that kill in a single hit, and enemies that you can only see with night vision or by seeing the splash they make through water didn't spell fun for me. Also, the vehicles in the game, which play a fairly important part, sucked way more than they should have. The game was put together extremely well, but I just couldn't overlook the horrible flaws.

Finally, we come to Half-Life 2. Like Doom 3, you have to experience it; it can't be merely explained. There's so much gaming goodness here that any verbal description fails to do it justice. My main complaint is that, in the first few hours, there are many spots where the action just comes to a complete stop. Whether it's climbing up onto precariously-placed boards so you can push a washing machine into a basket so that it lifts up a ramp using a system of ropes and pulleys, or spending five minutes looking for the ladder that will let you into the next area, or spending several minutes building a path out of garbage so that you don't walk through the radioactive waste, there were quite a few parts that really ruined the experience. Luckily, those were not the majority of the game, and the rest of the game is just so good that I can overlook them now.

Out of all those, why do I like Doom 3 the best? I think it's because of two factors: first, the non-stop intensity. From about ten minutes in to the very end of the game, my heart was racing, and I couldn't take my eyes away for a second. If someone were to have snuck up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder, I probably would have either fouled myself or decapitated them. The second factor is that there was very little about the game that I was annoyed with. There were very few parts that I had to replay (it was challenging, but not ridiculously so), and only once or twice in the entire game did I get the feeling that I was lost and just searching for some little button to press or ladder to climb, which I can't say for Half-Life 2 (again, primarily the beginning).

Anyway, that's enough for now. I'll certainly play Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 again in the future; they're the masterpieces of the genre, and worth a second time around. I don't know if anyone made it this far, but I like to think about why I like things (games, movies, music), and maybe that was interesting for you too.

On to Dawn of War. It seems to be another extremely well-made piece of art so far.

Saturday, December 4, 2004

Illuminati

I played a new game (well, new to me; the original is more than twenty years old) today called Illuminati. I can definitely see the appeal. Even if the game sucked, which it didn't, there's no other game where you can use the Democrats, funded by the wealthy Gnomes of Zurich and getting support from Chain Letters, to take control of California (and the Dolphins and Robotic Sea Monsters, which happen to be controlled by California) from the Society of Assassins. In Illuminati, that suddenly makes perfect sense. The point, in a nutshell, is that you are the leader of a randomly selected secret society with its own agenda for world domination, subverting control of various world organizations (everything from the United Nations to the Fast Food Chains to the Spammers) in order to achieve their goals.

Bills, bills, bills

I found this at the bottom of my cable bill.

This bill reflects a change in the FCC Regulatory Fee from $0.05 to $0.06.

Upon reading this, the only thing that came to mind was, "OH SHIT, NO!"

Sometimes I hate contract work

I'm currently rather annoyed at a major textbook company. I can't say who it is, as they want their plans to remain confidential right now, but I did a little contract work for them that was due November 30. The problem was that after I signed the contract, the person I was dealing with became pretty much unreachable, and didn't respond to any of my further emails or calls. This, of course, pissed me off. To make sure that I fulfilled my end of the bargain (only in a technical sense), I sent a package that met the requirements of the project to the letter, even though they hadn't answered my questions about what they actually wanted, as the contract was vague. (At least it wasn't vague in a way that could potentially make the project more complicated than it seemed.) I finally got a response today as to what they want... they had better not try to screw me out of payment by saying that it's after November 30 and therefore they don't have to pay. I really don't want to have to deal with that.

Friday, December 3, 2004

National Treasure

So, I just got back from National Treasure, and I'm shocked at how much it didn't suck. I mean, it's a Disney movie, a family movie, and has a very silly premise (the Founding Fathers hiding a vast horde of treasure for future generations). But it's exciting, it's funny, and I thought it was surprisingly believable. The adventure/caper genre is not one of my favorites, and a big part of that is that I usually find the plots and such of those kinds of movies so stupid that it hurts—like, there's a "computer genius" who hacks into some high-security computer system in under ten seconds, or something like that. But National Treasure was suspenseful, intriguing, fun, and I enjoyed it a lot, despite my very-low expectations. I didn't know I was going to see a movie, so I didn't check reviews beforehand, but it didn't do too well. It's most frequently compared with Pirates of the Caribbean, and I found National Treasure infinitely more entertaining, but I guess I can't universally recommend it based on its reviews. I think it's definitely worth seeing, though.

At a loss for terminology

What do you call people who work at the same company as you, but you don't interact with them for work-related purposes? For example, basically all of my friends here work for Microsoft, but I don't interact with those outside of the FrontPage team in order to increase shareholder value. For a while I would call them "coworkers," but I guess they're not really coworkers at all, any more than a person at McDonald's Store #020 would be for a person at McDonald's Store #032. I suppose that they're just people I'm friends with who happen to work at the same company as me, but it seems like there should be a word for that.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Frozen meat

Yesterday, as I was cooking up some six-week-old ground beef, I was thinking to myself how weird the concept of freezing food is. Just by lowering its temperature, we can somehow postpone the spoiling and infection of meat. After a day of thawing, it looks and tastes just fine. That just seems weird to me.

Wet, naked, confused

Today, after getting out the shower and drying off a bit, I went to my computer to turn up the volume so I could hear my music (the World of Warcraft soundtrack) better from the bathroom. As I was standing there, naked and somewhat wet, my front door opened, and someone called out "MAINTENANCE! Here to wipe down your windows and sinks." Startled, I ran back to the bathroom and called out that I was still here, had just gotten out of the shower, and was not yet dressed. He just said, "oh, okay, I'll start in the living room then." So, I had to wrap a towel around my candy zone and sneak back to my bedroom so I could get dressed, all while a man is in my apartment doing something or another. I still have no clue why he was there... he didn't appear to do anything at all, and he was gone in about two minutes. The only thing that was different when he left was that there was a weird chemical scent all over the parts of apartment where he had been. There was already a pre-announced sinks-and-windows safety check this past Tuesday, and I know they had been in the apartment for that, because their shoes weren't particularly clean.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

My Kryptonite

Several months ago, it was announced that pretty much all Kryptonite locks were being recalled because they could be opened simply by removing the cap from a cheap Bic pen and then jamming the now-hollow end into the lock. I have such a lock for my Segway, so about two and a half months ago I started the lock exchange process. It all worked through email, and was quite unpleasant, and by the end, they stopped returning my emails, and if you call their number, you just get a machine telling you to send them email. So, I was annoyed, but I eventually gave up on it. Well, yesterday, I finally got a UPS return label from them out of the blue... I was quite surprised. That was quite the turnaround time. So, anyway, I guess in a few more months I'll have a new lock for my Segway, having used my original one a total of one time.

In comparison: recently, I acquired a Creative Zen Portable Media Center. This is a weird device that not only plays MP3s and WMAs, but also videos, including AVIs, WMVs, and recorded TV. Normally, it isn't something that I'd buy, since it's at least twice the size of an iPod, and I don't care that much about watching TV on the bus, but I got it from a charity auction, so I technically didn't pay anything for it. Anyway, after a couple hours of use, it stopped working, and just displayed a picture on the screen that showed someone putting the device into a box and shipping it back to Creative, which was quite funny but also quite disappointing. I called them, and that picture indicates a critical hardware failure, so I had to ship it back. The same day that they got my old one they sent me a new one. This is from Creative, who I expected to have terrible support due mainly to my poor experiences with their drivers and their policy to completely abandon products after they've been in the market for a couple months.

There's no real point to the story... but, I mean, people keep telling me that I should blog more, even if it's something stupid. So, there you go. :)