Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Organic / orgasmic

Peanut butter is one of my favorite things in the world. I decided to try out some weird organic "all-natural" peanut butter that cost more, had to be refrigerated, and came with the oil separated out (you have to stir it yourself)... and it's just odd. I don't really like it. It's bitter and alien. It's also somewhat dry because I poured a little of the peanut oil out before I stirred it (oil kinda creeps me out)... but it sort of tastes like it's missing both sugar and salt. The ingredients are just "peanuts," so I guess I can't fault them there. Anyway, I will not be getting it again. I'll stick with Jif (or perhaps Skippy).

On the topic of peanut butter, I find it amusing that the best jam I've ever had is the Safeway store brand red raspberry jam. It tastes really good, and it's just the right consistency and texture, with little bits of seeds. They also make a mean stroganoff sauce mix. And, well, that's about it.

I'm cool

It took me the longest time to remember that the average temperature of the human body was 98.6 degrees (you know for health and science exams)... because mine isn't. I remember measuring it a lot when I was younger, and mine was always around 96.8 when I was perfectly healthy. I measured it twice over the past couple days just to see, and it was 96.8 one day and 97.0 another, so I guess things haven't changed. Anyway, as a kid, when I would get a fever of 99-100, something was really wrong.

An abrupt death

My phone battery very abruptly went from lasting four to five days to lasting a day and a half. Hopefully it was just a fluke, but I know that it was fully charged last time, because I charged it overnight.

CAPTCHA

I've decided not to take my chances with comment spam, so now comments pages have one of those silly little things where you have to type in the distorted letters you see in an image: a CAPTCHA, or a Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Which, incidentally, IOOTWAE (Is One Of The Worst Acronyms Ever).

I apologize in advance for the very slight inconvenience that this will cause. Blogger's tests seem to be much less difficult to read than a lot of others I've seen.

I've read that there are a lot of people doing research into breaking these things (which kind of annoys me, since they're pretty effective), and that we're up to like 70% accuracy or something like that even on a particularly hard version of the test. Oh well.

Dumb questions part 2

I found an interesting essay/FAQ/something on writing good technical questions. Not exactly the set of rules that a random person should go by when asking for technical support, these are definitely geared toward technically competent people who might not be good at asking questions. I thought it was at least worth a skim, and it's relevant, so I'm posting it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Fine

Well, the grandparents are doing OK. Their cabin wasn't severely damaged in the storm, though their property was hit pretty heavily from what I hear. They lost about half of their trees, and so the area is inaccessible by car; they had to hike to their home once they returned. Power is out, of course, for quite some time; I don't know about water.

Math will kill you

This actual exchange is fabricated (too much was going on to remember it exactly), but this conversation actually took place, roughly as follows:

A: He's going to be gone from the fifth to the fourteenth.
B: Right.
C: Does that mean you're going to be back on the fourteenth, or the fifteenth?
B: Square bracket. (gestures)
C: So you're back on the fourteenth?
B: No, it's inclusive. Closed bracket is inclusive.
D: His vacation lasts through, and including, the fourteenth.
B: So I'll be back on the fifteenth.
C: But isn't that round bracket?
E: You mean parentheses?
C: Yeah.
B: No, not parentheses. Square bracket is inclusive. I'm gone through the fourteenth, and I'll be back on the fifteenth.
C: Oh. Got it.
A: Glad we got that cleared up.

Devastation

My grandparents live half of the year in Petal, Mississippi, which isn't too far from New Orleans. They evacuated a few days ago, but I just remembered that they just got cell phones a month or two ago. I should call tomorrow.

Monday, August 29, 2005

It doesn't work

What causes people to ask for help with something and say that "it doesn't work?" I'd assume, perhaps incorrectly, that people don't call up their mechanic and say "my car doesn't work"; they tell the mechanic that there's a knocking sound from the engine, or it doesn't start when it's hot outside, or the brakes are grinding, or whatever. They don't call up the doctor and say "help me"; they say "I've got a stomachache," or "I think I broke my foot." What makes people think that it's any different to ask for technical support and include nothing in their text besides the three words "it doesn't work?" This completely baffles me.

Maybe I'm wrong, and people regularly do expect mechanics to have magic powers that allow them to diagnose problems without actually seeing the car.

Maybe computers are such a mystery to these people that they don't realize that there are a million things that could go wrong with something, and that simply saying "it doesn't work" is utterly unhelpful.

This is one of the great mysteries of life for me.

Box 4

Last week I got a new development machine (box 4) upon which I will build Microsoft Office. It's an Athlon 64 with a retarded amount (2 GB) of memory. It seems to be pretty fast; it's an upgrade from my 3 GHz Pentium IV from last year (box 2). I've been working on setting it up off and on since Monday. It takes a while to get all of the stuff needed to build Office up and running. Luckily, there's not much I have to do; once the machine has been "seeded" with the Office build environment, I basically just keep running an automated script and rebooting until everything magically works. If I had to do all of the things that this script does by hand, it would have taken days of concentrated effort. With the magic script, it's just days and days of not having to pay much attention to the machine.

This is my fourth machine. There's my "mail machine," box 1, which is everyone's crappy machine that they didn't have the heart to throw away. I have a very low tolerance for slow computers, so it sat in the corner unplugged until someone came by looking for spare screws and I let him cannibalize it. I just answer my mail and visit websites with the pre-beta builds of Office 12 on my secondary development machine, box 3, which isn't actually used to build Office.

Frankly, I think that it would be well worth Microsoft's money to just throw away those old machines and let people do their non-development tasks on something with at least 2 GHz or so. Time is money. I imagine that they'd make up the value of the machines in increased productivity in less than a year. But maybe not. I'll stick with my current setup. Sure, you don't need 2 GHz to write an email, but it doesn't hurt.

I bet they'd get a full return on investment in a lot less than a year if they'd improve the wireless network in our building, but that's a different story. I'm sure they're doing whatever they think is most cost-effective overall...

Subject to annoyance

I hate it when people send emails without subject lines, but I hate it just as much when people send emails without a message body. People at Microsoft use (end of message) at the end of the subject line to indicate that there's no body, and the rest of the world often uses -NT (no text) to indicate the same thing. Both of these annoy me, because I miss them. I'm so used to seeing stupid crap in subject lines at this point that I just filter it out. It's gotten worse since starting at Microsoft because dumb little text tags are used everywhere. It's reached a level of absurdity where the title of every bug in the FrontPage product starts with the four characters "FP: ". Oh, really? A FrontPage bug in the FrontPage bug database? Thanks for the helpful info! I never would have guessed that, or that a bug assigned to me might be in FrontPage. Crap like this is everywhere, and it's caused me to ignore abbreviations and tags in the subject lines of everything. But anyway, that's a side note. People who don't use the message body annoy me. I often find myself wondering where the message is; why hasn't it downloaded from the server yet?

The reason for all of this is that I just got a tech support email where a person tried to pack an entire message into the subject line, despite the "subject" box being tiny and the "message" box being huge. The result?

Download complete, was involved in doing a word list, s"saved", as suggested then found myself back in a jam of set-up. Help! I just want my word-list back!!

I don't even know what that means. That got translated into "I lost the word list file I saved," which is what I will actually respond to. I seem to have a pretty decent track record with guessing what peoples' wacky, nondescriptive sentence fragments were intended to mean.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?

I have quite the reputation for losing games very frequently. I don't know if this is justified; I've been winning quite a few recently, and I won three of five last night. Anyway, I have the reputation. I was playing Alhambra with Peter, the person who held this title before I showed up, and a three other people.

Peter: You know, Travis, you've got quite the lock on last place. I don't think you have to worry about anyone taking that away from you.
Travis: Well, what can I say? You've been a great mentor.
Peter: Yes, but it seems that by now the student has surpassed the master.

I did indeed come in dead last that game, tied with someone else. She wasn't happy.

"I tied with Travis! That's worse than losing."

However, in the second game, I utterly destroyed them. My palace was worth so many more points.

Segway Junior

Kid on my Segway

He's gonna be the coolest kid in school.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Crosswalks

My friend Clay has written a great post about crosswalks. I don't often make posts that are just links to other things, but I thought that this warranted an exception.

On Wetness and Nakedness

I'm a shower-in-the-morning kind of guy. I don't mind it when other people only shower at night, but I have to have a morning shower myself. Even when I take a shower the night before, it's absolutely mandatory that I have another one in the morning. If I don't, I just feel dirty and sticky and weird, even if I'm not. It's also much harder to spike my hair if it hasn't just been shampooed; if I wait more than a couple hours it can be too late.

There's one very nice thing about night showers, though... I get to sleep with clean hair. My hair, in all its spiky, glue-soaked glory, can sometimes become slightly sticky by the end of the night; by the morning, it's a creepy matted mess. That's one reason that I don't spike the hair on the back of my head (the more general reason is just that it's much harder); my pillowcase would have to be changed like every other day.

Those things aside, I just feel a lot more refreshed and awake once I've taken a shower, even if I'm relatively clean from having showered the night before.

It's just a necessity. I need those eighteen minutes each morning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Grrr

Pop is disgustingly expensive here. A 24-pack of Diet Coke is $8. That's not even because of a deposit or anything. That means that the Diet Coke I drank at work last year was worth over $500, which is somewhere around how much I'm paying in the same time to insure all of my worldly possessions against damage and loss.

Three Hundred Eleven

I finally listened to the new 311 CD, Don't Tread on Me, just now. Initial reaction: neutral. Wasn't all that excited by it. It deserves closer study, though. I wasn't a huge fan of their last one, Evolver, at first, and now it's probably my favorite.

Vacation time

Well, I'm finally using some vacation time: I'm taking the last week of September off. Should be a good time. One nice thing about working for a big company is that I can rent a car from Avis at a corporate rate for personal use, and not get charged extra for being a young'un. Where am I going with that rental car, you ask? Oh, places. Actually, I haven't really figured that all out yet. Most of my vacation is probably going to be spent at home anyway, but I might as well use the car while I've got it. I'm definitely going to go visit the Bloedel Reserve and commune with nature and stuff. I don't actually know what I'm going to do with all that time yet. I had few criteria for picking a time:
  • I'm tired, and I wanted to go on vacation soon.
  • I wanted to give a month's notice. The end of September is a month from now.
  • The leaves should be turning around then, which could potentially make for pretty pictures.

That's it. That was my whole decision path. As it turns out, there were a lot of other potential reasons I maybe could have gone with:
  • Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin release date
  • Serenity release date
  • Begins right after my little brother's 21st birthday
  • Begins right after my favorite Washington resident's birthday
  • MS confidential Windows-related reason
  • et cetera

But, the best one? I might—might—get accepted into the Heroes of Might and Magic V closed beta and receive my testing copy around then. I'm all tingly just thinking about it.

Actually, all of those reasons are kind of pathetic when listed in bulleted list form. That's all I got going for me in that week? Don't laugh at my sad, sad life.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Speechless

So, the rumors of a World of Warcraft collectible card game were true. Because that's exactly what the world needs. MMORPG players are just like Magic players: obsessive, willing to spend way too much money, and constantly complaining about balance and how each particular little spell or opponent's strategy is unfair. So, I guess it's the next natural step. Now you can spend your in-game gold bartering for goods at the auction houses in Ironforge and Orgrimmar, and then you can minimize the game and spend your real-life money trading cards on eBay. Insert a joke about server lag or long queue times here.

Of course, I'm one to talk. I just spent a ridiculous sum of in-game gold buying a new suit of rare armor, and a ridiculous amount of real-life money buying Heroes of Might and Magic cards.

Yet, I'm not that interested in the game just yet. The Warcraft brand doesn't automatically mean "purchase" to me just yet. Might and Magic is there; Warcraft is not. I did, after all, resist the Warcraft board game. No, right now, I'm piqued but wary. I'd certainly like to at least try it out once it's released. Then again, I really thought I'd be totally uninterested in playing World of Warcraft for any real length of time, too. I owned the game for months before even installing it.

1337

My annual review form was returned to me today (great turnaround time!) because I neglected to give myself a numeric score from 1-5 (I hate doing that). Guess how many words were in it. Well, the title of this post is misleading; there were 1336. So, before handing it off to my manager, I reworded one of my sentences to make it 1337. That's gotta be worth something.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Loading symbols

Never before a year ago did I have a phrase I hate as much as "loading symbols." I spend too much time looking at that phrase.

For those who don't know: FrontPage is a big project that uses a lot of code. In order to debug it meaningfully, Visual Studio has to load "symbols" for the various modules of FrontPage, as well as the shared Office stuff like the toolbar and menu system, and the various system components that we use. Basically, without the "symbols," all Visual Studio would know about the program being debugged is that memory address 8f8291ba just called into 10dbacb3, and passed it a particular chunk of memory. The symbols tell it that 8f8291ba is function A, and 10dbacb3 is function E. That's a bit rough, but that's the gist of it.

The problem is that there are just a ton of these things, and they're huge. I have a feeling that there's work that could be done to precache some of this information to make debugging a little faster. Then all I'd have to deal with is how slow a debug build of FrontPage is. It's like my 3 GHz machine is suddenly a Pentium II.

Happy, stupid

Sometimes stupid things make me happy... things that maybe shouldn't make me happy at all. I'm happy that I own at least one copy of every track released by Enya, even B-sides that were only available on one single in one country. I'm happy that I have all nine seasons of The X-Files on DVD. I'm happy when I find a new font that I like. I'm happy just hearing about an upcoming release of something in a series that I like, be it a Family Guy movie, a Heroes of Might and Magic game, or a Half-Life 2 expansion.

My instinct is to analyze and eliminate stupid things, because, well, that's what I do. Taking an example from recent posts, having a desire to own decks for all six factions in the Heroes of Might and Magic card and tile game, a game I've never played and might not even be good, is pretty silly. But I know that I'll be happier if I actually do own all six, because I know me pretty well. If I listened to the voice of reason and didn't buy a display case of the game, then I'd almost certainly be less happy in the end. So maybe it's inherently stupid to try to avoid being entertained by stupid things. Trying not to be entertained by stupid things would, at best, reduce the number of ways that I can find happiness, and perhaps give me more energy and resources to find other things that would make me happy.

Maybe there's a point where I'm finding things that amuse me at a certain rate... a rate where if I avoid doing those things, hoping for something even more interesting to come along, there wouldn't immediately be something fun to take its place. Of course, you could never measure that. Anyway, I'm pretty darn happy doing things the way I'm doing them. I can't imagine being much happier given my current position in life and status and finances. So, it seems to stand to reason that I might as well continue being amused by silly things.

I seem to have a nice balance of reasonable things that interest me and stupid stuff that I find entertaining. That seems sustainable, and it makes me happy. So, I should probably stop trying to pretend that I don't like Enya and fonts and Heroes of Might and Magic. Just give in. Of course, maybe that little pillar of logic is the only thing holding me up, and without it, I'll just crumble into a rubble pile of insanity.

Sometimes I forget that time is valuable

It's nice for my time to be valuable now. This really wasn't the case a few years back. A few years back, it was worth my time to search a dozen different sites for the best price on something. Now it generally isn't. Sometimes I forget this, and spend an hour or two Googling as hard as I can looking for a good deal, before I realize how absurd it is. I could be using that time to do something fun, instead of searching for deals, something only slightly amusing. I think that part of the problem is that I do enjoy shopping around for decent prices at least a little bit. Because it's mildly fun, I don't realize until it's too late that I could have used that time to do something much more fun.

Most of the time now, I just go to Deep Discount CD, Deep Discount DVD, GoGamer, NewEgg, or Safeway, and buy whatever I'm looking for there if they have it. In case they don't, I go to Amazon, who almost certainly will. I'm sure I spend a couple extra bucks now and then, but certainly not enough to go shopping around.

Not actually a vampire

It's no big secret that I dislike sunlight. I dislike being out in the sun, I dislike sunlight peering into the room, and I dislike the heat that it brings. Yesterday, I was trying to remember if I ever liked sunlight, and I can't really remember such a time. If there was such a time, it must have been when I was very young, because my eyes have been really sensitive to light for as long as I can remember. I enjoy unnatural, blue, and diffuse overhead lights of indoors, but outside, I like it dark or at least shady, and cool. Sometimes, on weekends, I make a conscious effort to not leave the apartment until it's dark out; for example, to take out the trash or recycle cans and bottles or get my mail.

Friday, August 19, 2005

It had to happen sometime

The web hosting account that I use to host www.greeneclipse.com / www.greeneclipsesoftware.com / www.eclipsecrossword.com has been upgraded from 50 MB to 1 GB of space. I used to use about 40 MB. Now I almost feel obligated to use more of that space, though I don't know what I'd use it for. I guess it just became a place to store photos, assuming I ever get a chance to take any more...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Did not think that through

You know what's stupid? Starting to assemble a bookcase when you know you don't have nearly enough time to complete it before you have to stop.

Boards and metal pointy things everywhere.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Money vacuum

I have not yet been able to shake the idea of buying a display case of the Heroes of Might and Magic card and tile game. The question that it really boils down to is this:

  • If I just buy two copies (four decks and plenty of terrain), will the agony of not owning cards from at least two of the six factions—perhaps even my two favorites—be worth the sixty dollars I'd save? Sixty bucks is a nice chunk of money.

To determine the answer to this, I need information that I do not have: I need to know if the game is fun or not. If it sucks, it's probably worth sixty bucks to just stay with a couple copies. If it's good, I'd never be able to live with myself for not owning all of the factions, because it's Heroes of Might and Magic, dammit. I can't find out if it's good beforehand, because no one else is going to buy it.

So, here's the sensible plan, as I see it: buy the display case. Remove two copies, the number that I'd like to own if the same sucks. Play the game with a few people. If it's just abysmal, sell the rest on eBay. That's the solution that minimizes both chunks of sadness: the sadness of paying too much for something that sucks, and the sadness of liking the game but not having the parts that I want. Assuming some kind of small discount for buying a whole case, I figure I'm mainly only out a bit of time if I have to eBay them. Maybe I could even just sell them directly to people on boardgamegeek and save some effort.

I guess that's how my mind works: when faced with a choice where I cannot predict the amount of happiness that I will receive from either of my two best options because of insufficient data, find a plan that best mitigates risks of unhappiness. Sometimes it really helps to think these things through out loud. Thanks for letting me unload, guys.

I'm a horrible person.

Vista update

So, today was my first workday using Vista. I'm beginning to enjoy the new breadcrumb bar in Explorer—you're ten folders deep but wish you were only four; just click on the name of the parent folder in the list and you're taken there. There are several similar little niceties that I'm enjoying so far, and it's pretty. But, its betaness is really starting to show. The icons on my desktop refresh themselves with ridiculous frequency, and the pretty new windows start to bog down when you've got a lot of them open. It doesn't seem to be any better at staying fully responsive when the hard drive is grinding away than previous versions of Windows; I don't know if this is a flaw or just something you have to deal with with current PC hardware architecture. Then, of course, there's the fact that translucent title bars are just not a smart idea; Mac OS X had them, but Apple finally admitted that they were dumb and got rid of them (at least by default), and Apple's even more stubborn than Microsoft.

But, I have to step back and remind myself that it's beta 1. Windows XP wasn't too much better when it was in beta 1, and XP is a lot smaller change from 2000 than Vista is from XP. Still, I worry. I worry about a lot of things. I have high expectations.

For the Horde

I was just in a game of Alterac Valley in World of Warcraft (that's the blatant cue for most of you to leave), and it actually ended, something that I've never experienced before. I've spent four hours on a Saturday playing with no significant progress to speak of, but tonight we went from just a little bit ahead when I joined to defeating the Alliance general an hour later.

Still way more interesting to me than Warsong Gulch, though I've found Warsong to have its moments when both sides are talented. Alterac just seems more exciting; you fight hard, you die, you respawn, and you run straight to the battle with thirty other people. As long as you don't let too many of the enemy through the front lines, you rarely have to worry too much about playing defense, and you're almost always in a big group. Non-stop carnage at the front lines. In Warsong you've often got to have people at the flag, and the side skirmishes are often 2-2 or 3-1, and are just a distraction from the real game. This happens in Alterac too, but seems to happen less, and even when it does, it's mostly irrelevant, because it's not a quarter of your entire team in a bar fight on the side of the map. Class imbalances and "odd" teams don't matter as much when there are 40 people per side versus 10 per side. And, of course, Warsong has nothing that compares to summoning an ice giant or equipping a squad of wolf riders to fight for your cause.

Too bad Alterac is almost never up.

Optimizing for image performance, not size

Despite how the last one turned out, another computer-related post...

I was thinking about something just now. Generally, we optimize images for size, or at least for a quality-size tradeoff. Occasionally, games will save screenshots in a format optimized so that it takes a minimal amount of time to save to disk so performance isn't degraded. But, I wonder if there are any image formats optimized for drawing.

This would only really matter, it seems, for images with an alpha channel—images that couldn't be drawn simply by copying bits, or even ANDing a 1-bit mask and then XORing the bits. I know that some translucent bitmaps are stored with the RGB values already multiplied by the alpha value to save time when calculating; I thought that was quite clever when I first read that. But, I wonder if there'd be an effective way to do more—to define certain blocks of an image as all-opaque or all-transparent, so that the code that draws the image can be optimized and not have to do any multiplication for those blocks.

My hunch is that, while initially intriguing, it wouldn't end up being fruitful in the end, for several reasons. One, this is something that can be hardware-accelerated these days anyway. Two, you'd have to draw the image in multiple parts (which would not be aesthetically pleasing in some cases) or double-buffer (which would negate any possible performance benefit).

But, maybe this is something that a video card could do. The textures would be compressed when sent to the video card, but there would be metadata associated with the image that tells the video card which rectangular regions are empty, opaque, or need to be alpha-blended. It's all buffered anyway, so the concerns I listed above would be irrelevant. Maybe that would make it less expensive to do alpha blending. Or, maybe it would cause a branch prediction failure or some other hardware thing that I don't understand or care to know about. It's much more efficient to draw big blocks of things than to do it in smaller chunks because the math is easier.

But, it probably doesn't matter anymore anyway. It was interesting to think about for five minutes. It doesn't really matter if it was interesting to read about, I guess, since you're done...

Monday, August 15, 2005

Time flies

Inspired by the upcoming board game about which I have already blogged, I decided to sit down and play a round of Heroes of Might and Magic IV today. This was roughly six hours (or about 200 game days) ago. Good times. It had been so long since I'd played; I think the last time I did was a year ago, but I'm not certain. I hadn't played since installing XP Media Center Edition, at least.

(For those of you who were puzzled by that comment, there is no connection between Heroes and MCE other than that I reformatted when I installed MCE and thus Heroes was no longer installed.)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Board games and computer games

Board games have a few things going for them that computer games don't. They're a social experience, and a physical experience. You're touching the pieces, holding the cards, and sitting right next to the people you're playing with. You're having a conversation, and it isn't just through a chat window or even a headset. Those things alone can have a tremendous impact on the quality of the experience. They also have one thing that I've overlooked until now: you know all of the rules, and you see them happening.

In computer games, you have some vague idea of the rules, like what all of the various statistics are for, and "you can't go here until you've been here," and "I'll do 100% extra damage if I get a critical hit," and so forth. Heroes of Might and Magic is on my mind, and Heroes is a curious blend between computer games. It's really a board game that takes place on a computer. But, the things that it simulates and keeps track of are way too complicated for a board game; the upcoming Heroes board game is vastly simplified in a lot of ways. Hit points, melee attack power, ranged attack power, attack damage, defense power, stack quantities, and a lot of math is condensed down into three numbers. The way that the computer game works is actually explained in the manual, but it's way too much stuff to keep track of in your head. But, there's definitely something to be said for knowing exactly how the rules work. Knowing this really helps the experience for me; I feel like I'm in full control of everything that I can control, and I know exactly where the points of randomness lie: the die rolls, the card draws, et cetera.

Of course, computer games make a lot more things possible, including a wide variety of other genres. I'm just talking about the computer games that work like board games right now, like anything turn-based.

Sometime before I die, I want to see table-sized electronic board games. I'd love to see some kind of computer game that everyone sits around, and the board does all of the math for you. You can kind of do this now with hotseat games, but it's not the same as sitting around a table and playing a game that everyone is watching basically all the time. You couldn't bump the pieces, you could pack it up and come back to the game later, and there would be sound effects. Right now, that would be way too expensive, but I think that it's reasonable to assume that it would be more feasible sometime far down the road.

Purdy glass

I took the plunge and installed Vista beta 1 on one of my computers at work (the one that I don't use to build Office). I only used it for a couple minutes before heading home—I was summoned to play Warcraft for a bit—but I was pleasantly surprised with the performance. It's a 3 GHz machine with a puny GeForce FX 5200, and it seemed to run very nicely with all of the glass effects turned on. I was kind of afraid that it would be really bad on a machine with a low-end video card like that, and would be sluggish in general just because it's a beta, but it really seems like it will be quite usable. Sometime this weekend I need to head in and install Office and Visual Studio and Firefox and StickyPad and all of the other typical goodies on it, so I can, you know, do my job. In doing that I should get a much better feel for how it runs.

The installer for Vista is pretty nice. You enter your product key, pick a computer name, and pick a partition to install to, and that's it. You come back half an hour later and you're at the Vista desktop. It seems to be quite a bit more streamlined than XP's installer, and at no point was I treated to a text-only screen or had to wait five minutes while drivers loaded from the DVD.

Mmmmmm... Windows Vista beta 1, Visual Studio 2005 beta 2, and pre-alpha Office 12 are all soon going to be running on the same machine. Let's see how that goes.


Update: I've now used Vista for a couple hours on my work machine, and my initial observations have been confirmed. Aero Glass is definitely slower than the classic theme or Windows Server 2003, at least with this crappy video card. It's just a little faster than the point where I'd be really annoyed; it's "acceptable." Now, if it ran like this at home, with a Radeon X800XT PE, I'd be quite upset. I haven't run into any major annoyances yet. My main problem, which I was aware of before switching, was that Windows Explorer doesn't have List view anymore, which is the view I used 98-99% of the time (the other 1-2% being Details). You can still use Small Icons, which is the same as List, except the icons sort horizontally, which just isn't the way that humans read columnar data. Have these people ever seen a newspaper?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Heroes of Might and Magic

Oh, and there's a Heroes of Might and Magic tile and card game coming out in a week and a half. I'm ecstatic. The tiles themselves look quite bad, and the cards decently reuse a ton of art from the fourth game but aren't anything special. The gameplay looks interesting, though. I always hoped for a Heroes board game of some sort, and always feared that it would be extremely fiddly and mathematical. I've read the rules to this one, and they seem to have avoided that, though the advanced rules (with morale, luck, terrain bonuses, and the whole shebang) are there if you want more numbers to add and subtract.

The downside, of course, is that you don't get a whole set when you buy the game. It's technically a collectible card game, but unlike others, the cards are all the same rarity and are supposed to be roughly equally powered. When you buy a set (tiles plus two decks) you only get two sides out of the available six, and you don't know which ones you're getting. You also only get enough for two players. So, I fear that I'm going to have to buy several copies, which I will, because it says "Heroes of Might and Magic" on the box.

If I were to buy two copies, I'd be almost guaranteed to get one of the three factions I like best from the computer game: Life, Order, and Nature. (The other three are Chaos, Death, and Might.) That would give me enough to play with four players. If I were to buy three copies I'd be set to play with six. But, what scares me is that I'm actually still considering buying a display case of six copies, which does guarantee that I get one of each of the six factions, and should theoretically leave me with a couple copies to sell off on eBay to bring the price back down. This doesn't subconsciously register to my brain as a warning flag before insanity because of a genetic disorder I received from both of my parents that forces me to collect things. My first thought is really just "of course I need to get a display box; if I don't, I might not get all six factions!"

I guess I have to decide if having all six factions is important to me or not, or if I could just live with fewer, since in reality it's not like I'm likely to play this game a ton. I can already tell you now that I will decide that it is, because it's Heroes of Might and Magic and deserves my money, but I like to pretend that there's more to the decision-making process than the title of the game and a read through the longer-than-I-expected rulebook.

Jungle shopping

Do you ever think it's terribly strange when you find out that Amazon.com doesn't carry a particular item? I do, and I didn't really realize it until now. I just expect that Amazon will have each and every thing that I could possibly want to buy. I may not want to buy it from them, but I just expect them to know how big it is, the retail price, who makes it, and so forth. I'm sure that there's a way that they can take advantage of that fact. Maybe they already are.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Referrers

Interestingly, the people who found EclipseCrossword last month were much more likely to have found it through The Knot (7.4%) than Google (6.3%). Google was the top search engine, with Yahoo (3.3%) and MSN Search (1.9%) not even catching Google combined. Interestingly, a third of the people who found my site through Google found it through http://216.239.37.104 instead of http://www.google.com/. A German ISP and a Korean blog site were also up there, which is surprising, because I don't even know if EclipseCrossword really works properly in Korean.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Get out the hair clippers, jerk

I may have created the world's first Cut the Mullet (Wesley Willis) ringtone. Bask in my aura of pride.

Don't know if/when I'll use it, though. I don't think it quite lives up to the El Cargo (Amon Tobin) and Good Luck (Basement Jaxx) and Riders of Rohan ringtones of yore.

eBay fever

Back when eBay was becoming really popular, there were reports of people with "eBay addictions," and I couldn't really understand the phenomenon. My dad was pretty hardcore into eBay, but mainly just to collect things and make a side profit, mostly Magic: The Gathering cards. Now I'm beginning to figure it out.

I now spend about 20 minutes a day in the auction houses in World of Warcraft. I find it quite amusing. It's my own little side business, except with fake money, fake money that I can actually use to buy in-game things. I'm part of this bizarrely elaborate economy, where the value of my alchemical transmutation really does vary with supply and demand, and where the savvy buyer can pick up enchanting reagents at cut-rate prices if he knows where to find them. I'm now generating a steady trickle of income, just like the spam says I can, and I can use that income to buy things for myself and friends.

Back in my freshman year in college, I was playing PimpWar, an online web-based real-time economic simulation of sorts (a little descriptive whitewash never hurt anyone). I guess this is basically the same thing. There's the thrill of profit and loss, without any potential for significant impact on my life. The only difference is that PimpWar was free, but not nearly as pretty.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Ghost functions

Here's something I'd like to see possible in code. I presented it to the C# design team (well, actually, my suggestion was a bit more limited in scope), but they weren't particularly interested because it goes against a couple of the language design tenets.

I want a way to call methods on a null reference. Not just any method, but just special methods. In fact, these special methods would actually just be static methods that you access through unusual syntax.

The .NET Framework string class has a nice static method called IsNullOrEmpty. With it, you can make your code a little less tedious:

if (username == null || username.Length == 0) return;
// becomes
if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(username)) return;

But, I really hate calling static methods and then passing in an instance of that same class. That's just silly. You're still doing something with username; the only difference in the paradigm is that username might not actually refer to a string. With what I'm calling a "ghost function" (a name I spent about thirty seconds coming up with), it becomes much cleaner:

if (username.IsNullOrEmpty()) return;

You wouldn't want that behavior on most methods; usually, you'd still want to throw if you call a method on null. Anyway, with my new imaginary syntax, not only does the code above become clearer, the actual definition of IsNullOrEmpty becomes slightly clearer too:

public static IsNullOrEmpty(string instance)
{
return instance == null || instance.Length == 0;
}

// becomes

public ghost IsNullOrEmpty()
{
return this == null || Length == 0;
}

(Note that in the ghost method, you can use the "this" keyword and instance variables, even though it's technically a static method and not an instance method; it's just syntactic pleasantry.)

In the end, using a ghost method versus a regular static method would have identical results; in fact, for languages that didn't support ghosts, you could make them equivalent in the compiled IL. But, I think that the object.action() syntax is much more pleasant than the class.action(object) syntax. The language design team's response is that this sort of thing takes away from the clarity of the code, but I think it's just the opposite. (My original suggestion only dealt with properties, not regular methods.)

Food for thought

The lyrics to Alanis Morrissette's song "Ironic" are largely not ironic, which makes the song itself ironic.

Was it intentional (making her one crafty woman), or like 99% of the world, did she simply misuse the word "ironic?"

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Paint it black

I used to dislike the color black. Quite a bit, actually. It didn't help that it was such a popular color; all middle-school guys love black. Now, though—as of the past year or two, really—I've come to really appreciate it.

Still not for informal clothing, though. Black jeans are just... no.

I'd actually consider black to be one of my favorite colors now... blue is still #1, and I still love brushed aluminum, if you call that a color. I think that black is #3 now. Wood would be next, though calling "wood" a color is really stretching definitions.

Just about everything in my apartment is black, brushed metal, or wood now.

On a barely-related note, one thing I've noticed is that almost every room in an apartment, house, or condo that I've been in since coming out here has had white walls. My officemate's condo has some yellow and blue walls. I can't even think of any other non-white walls. It seemed to be a lot more common in Nebraska, but maybe it's just a matter of being in a lot more houses versus apartments back there.

kthxbye

It disturbs me when I get an email from someone who says that they are teaching English to others, and it takes me like five tries to successfully read that email.

Intermittency

My connection to the AIM servers has dropped like thirty times tonight. Every time it comes back the buddy list window appears again. It's driving me batty. So batty, in fact, that I'm going to sleep—right now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Rogaine

One thing that I fear is hair loss. My hairline is receding a little bit... nothing you'd notice if I didn't spike my hair, but you could notice if you were looking for it. I'm not quite ready to lose my hair just yet. I like my hair. I guess it's probably time to start doing something about it.

Of course, if I just ignored it, think of the potential savings! Less hair glue, fewer haircuts, fewer bleachings. Cha-ching.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Bad UI around the home

My oven does something that really annoys me.

When you press the Bake button, it starts blinking, and 350 is displayed. Then you use the up and down arrows to set the temperature in 5-degree increments. (That really should have been 25-degree increments, but that's more forgivable.) Anyway, once you finish setting the temperature, you press Bake again, it beeps, and you're done.

Except you're not. When you press Bake again, 350 is displayed. What? It was blinking! It turns out that there's a separate Start button that's not even connected to the Bake button. Pressing Bake just sets the temperature to 350. This would be annoying enough as it is... except for Timer, they get it right. To set a timer, you press Timer, set the number of minutes (in 1- or 10-minute increments), then you press Timer again. To turn it off, you press Timer once more. This is exactly how I would expect it to work. It's more sensible, and only requires that one button and the up/down buttons. But for some reason Bake and Timer work completely differently. And, I use the timer far more often than I bake things, so after 13 months of living here, I still end up resetting the temperature to 350 half of the time, which is really annoying if you just pressed the up arrow twenty times to get to 450.

Eyewear conspiracy

Hmmm. Eye doctors (optometrists... optha... whatever the difference is) must make more money prescribing disposable contact lenses over glasses, because I'm sure a lot of people just always buy their contacts from their doctor instead of a third party. There's a financial advantage to prescribing contacts over glasses when both would work equally well. That must be why doctors always seemed to ask if I had ever tried contact lenses back when I wore glasses.

Fix it. Fix it good.

It might be amusing to work at a service center for MP3 players. There'd be rules against browsing or copying peoples' personal collections, I'm sure, and they'd be really hard to follow.

Monday, August 1, 2005

900KB holds a lot

The entire history of my blog (excluding comments) fits into 900 KB in Atom/RSS format. That's 580 posts. I'm coming up on a year of blogging (August 31), and even then it would still fit on a floppy disk. I mean, if I could find one. And a floppy drive.

Now I've got people that I don't even know reading my blog, and an old acquaintance from high school, and I'm sure quite a few people who list me on their blog but probably don't read mine much more than they actually post to theirs. Who knew random crap from my brain could be so interesting? I wonder what percentage of my posts are actually read, and which ones are just skipped over...

Sleepless again

I tried, and I failed. Saturday night, I didn't set my alarm, deciding just to sleep until I felt like waking up. This was about eleven hours. But, now it's 2:00, and I'm already taking my first steps into the familiar realm of sleep deprivation.

In fact, I'm not sure what I was thinking. I was very much planning to go to sleep at midnight. I remember it being about 11:55, checking in some code for tomorrow's build. I sent a couple emails, and then it was midnight. But then, for some reason, it became 12:45, and instead of rushing to bed, I started up World of Warcraft. I don't even remember those 45 minutes; it's as if they didn't happen. I had planned to just check my auctions and log off, and yet I managed to stay on for an hour. Sigh.

Thanks to my extended sleep last night, though, I did actually dream, and I remembered the dream when I woke up. It's been a long time since I remember dreaming last. This one was unusual because it wasn't insane, didn't involve me dying, almost dying, or running for my life, and lasted for more than fifteen seconds. That would be unusual enough, but even weirder is that it was romantic. There was a date, at Disneyland, a place I have never been... and for some reason my parents were with us (sigh). At some point we left them there, and ended up near a brook sitting under a rock cliff on a wooden ledge that someone had conveniently built. It was strangely reminiscent of a place I visited in Ireland... except with a wooden ledge. We cuddled, for some reason looking through a coffee table book of photos of the place we were in. The dream ended as we were going to kiss, I guess because my subconscious had reached its limit of details that it could extrapolate.

I can actually remember every single dream that I've had (and remembered in the morning) that had any kind of remotely romantic or sexual content... and that was just my third. In one, a friend of mine was nervously hitting on me; in another, I decided to make out with a very drunk girl at a party, and then there was this one. All in the last five years, and all countable on one hand, even after an industrial accident or two.

When I was a lot younger—like, before 10—I had many recurring dreams about this weird couple who were either severe burn victims, or the devil and his wife, or something similar. All I know is that their entire bodies were seared beyond recognition, they were bright, shiny red, and they smelled like hot dogs. They were nice people, though; I would always meet them in my great-grandparents' house, usually their kitchen. And, they were always naked, and they had far more genitalia than a normal human would have. There was nothing sexual at all about it; they just happened to always be naked... and have lots of genitals. I'm not sure what the significance of that was, but those dreams ended before I hit 10; probably around 8 or so. Anyway, I don't count those (or the clich├ęd naked-at-school dreams that I had many of) as "remotely sexual content," which leaves me with those three I mentioned earlier.

As I understand it, that's far from typical. But, that phrase describes my dreams anyway.

Blogging isn't helping my sleep schedule. I'm always full of ideas (blogworthy or otherwise) at the end of the day. There go another twenty minutes I could have used to ache less tomorrow.

(And, no, I'm not telling you who it was. Almost certainly no one you know anyway.)