Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wondrous coincidence

Ah, I remember a time in the December of ought-three when I awoke quite early in the morning one day of Christmas vacation, and couldn't fall back asleep. I turned on the computer, and noticed that Matthew was online, which was especially peculiar since it was an hour earlier where he was. He asked why I was awake so early, and I explained that it was because the fire alarm batteries needed changing and it was way too cold to go back to sleep. He then responded that the exact same thing had just happened to him.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Just for Andy

Just to keep Andy updated:

It stopped raining between eleven and noon today.

Just wow

As far as the couple people I've talked to know, it hasn't stopped raining in the last ~24 hours. Actually, right now, while not too windy, it's coming down harder than it has since it started.

Weather.com suggested: Chance of rain 60%. Rainfall around a quarter of an inch.

Come back another day

Good thing I didn't wait until the rain stopped before going into work.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I've braved the wind

I gave up on waiting for it to stop raining and came into work to get my highest-priority stuff checked in for tomorrow. All done.

When calculating the cost of living in the Seattle area, don't forget to factor in the cost of umbrella replacement. I knew it was raining, but I had no idea it was this windy from my cosy little apartment.

Whoa

I've just been informed by an innocent bystander that EclipseCrossword was chosen as one of "The best free software" products of 2005 by cnet Download.com. That's very cool. But, you'd think that they would have at least sent an email or something about it. I didn't know until two months later.

EclipseCrossword on Download.com

When it rains, it pours

Holy crap, it's still raining.

Rain, rain, go away

I told myself that I would head into work to check in as soon as the rain finally stopped. That was at 2:00. It's still coming down pretty hard.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Blast from the past

Know what I hate? Old-style numerals. Here's a picture to illustrate if you don't know what I'm talking about:

Illustration: old-style numerals

Besides the fact that I think they look ugly, I find them terribly unpleasant to read, though not necessarily harder to read. Even worse, they don't have one quality that I find very important in a good typeface: all of the numbers are exactly the same width. There are some particularly high-quality fonts, such as Adobe Garamond Pro in the example above, which include both styles of numbers, and I'm fine with that, of course.

I don't know why there exist modern, non-decorative fonts that have this feature. It's fine if you're Photoshopping a wanted poster and you want your text to look like the damned Old West, but they're still tacky.

Most of the typefaces on your computer probably have normal numerals. The only standard Windows font that comes to mind is Georgia. With Vista and Office 12, three more will be added, much to my chagrin: Constantia, Corbel, and Candara. It's too bad, because those three are all otherwise very nice fonts. All four of the Microsoft fonts that have this characteristic are designed specifically for readability, but in this case I think it comes at the cost of too much aesthetic appeal.

Do any of you actually prefer the old-style numerals to the normal ones? Don't be shy; I won't hate you if you do.

No bacon robots

I had intently planned to go to Crossroads, a nearby mall, and stand in line for many hours today to get a signed copy of Attack of the Bacon Robots, the new Penny Arcade book, and also hopefully a free copy of the PAX DVD or the Penny Arcade card game. But, this morning, I came to my senses. Why do I care if my book is signed? I would find that amusing for like an hour. It would be a huge waste of time.

So, I didn't go. I went back to sleep and got my eight hours. I think that was a much better use of my time.

Of course, my eight hours took me until noon. I watched The Mothman Prophecies with Louise... I'm convinced now that the movie is only interesting when you don't already know the story, and it probably helps to be in a large group. I liked it quite a bit the first time. This time we were both quite uninterested; she was already familiar with the legends the movie is based on, and could tell me what each next scene was going to be despite having never seen it.

Then, from midnight until a little before four, I got a chance to really play around with the Heroes V beta. Here I thought I was going to set it aside and wait until it's released, and not think of it until then, but then I found out that someone had hacked it to allow single-player and hotseat play. It turns out that there's a veritable ton of gaming joy in that beta, and it's just hidden by the horrible, laggy Ubi.com multiplayer. But, after this match, I fully intend to put it aside and wait until it's got a little more polish. I may have to uninstall it to be able to resist its charms. It's great fun, but it's definitely not ready for release in two months. The performance is awful. With the video settings turned way down, a scrolled-out view of the map runs at about 11 FPS for me...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Some like it wet

Water torture is a pretty effective means of persuasion. Why, just this morning in the shower, I was soaping up my legs when a lone drop of water ran down the side of my nose. It was so unpleasant that before I was done I had already blurted out all of our nation's nuclear secrets.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Heroes worship

Well, I got my fix of the Heroes of Might and Magic V beta, and it's fantastic. I can't wait until it's released. It's gorgeous, and they've kept true to the series' roots. Being a beta, there are certainly some interface quirks, but most areas are fairly solid already. The graphics are very nice right now, and the unfinished musical score is overall lovely as well. Like other games not focused on action, I'm not a huge fan of playing Heroes versus other people who aren't within speaking distance. It's a complicated board game, and board games aren't nearly as fun when your opponent isn't around.

The beta introduces a neat new multiplayer mode where you can just fight a single battle versus an opponent. If you have as much control over your character and army as you do in Etherlords II (produced by the same team), and it can be played against the AI, that will probably be a favorite feature of mine.

So, I'll probably play around with it a little more, submit a ton of feedback, and then push it aside until it's done and ready and more polished... and has a solo campaign. Until then, maybe you guys will be lucky enough to not have to hear about it anymore...

Hardcopy

I ordered a few test prints from Costco's online photo center, and I have to say that I'm quite impressed. My parents' photo printer wasn't too expensive and produces very nice prints, but it's not cheap to buy photo paper and cartridges. The results from the test prints I got from Costco were excellent, and didn't require me to wait for them to print and dry, and incompetently attempt to cut them out from a printed page. They were cheap, and shipping was free. Really my only annoyance is that they don't look exactly as they do on screen, which is to be totally expected, because I don't color-calibrate my monitor. But, I'm thinking about it. As much as I like to play around with images, I really should. There are frequently-updated printer profiles available for every Costco store printer, just in case I want to go nuts. But, the prints I got were certainly high-quality. I'll probably order prints of things more frequently now since they're cheap and it's always nice to have a few non-digital photos around. I've had the same ones up in my apartment for a year. They don't even mind printing pictures that clearly aren't photos, like that Mimefield Photoshop I posted a few days back, or some of the digital art I've made over the years, which I was slightly worried about.

I think next time, I'll get a 20x30 poster. I've always thought it would be cool to have poster prints of some of my own art. And, by cool, I mostly mean unbelievably pretentious.

Multiplayer

It annoys me that "multiplayer" is one word, but "single player" is two, sometimes separated by a hyphen. I'm not about to split multiplayer in half; perhaps "singleplayer" should become a word. Too bad it looks like crap.

Albeit

Sometimes I get stuck in a rut where I unintentionally use the same word far too often in conversation and writing. A few years ago that word was "albeit." I used it as much as I could... I couldn't stop myself. I'm sure that I could find a couple reading through this blog that I didn't even know about...

It is almost upon us



As any faithful reader already knows, I am very excited about Heroes of Might and Magic V. The return of one of my absolute favorite series of games, under new management, is just intoxicating. With the slightly delayed open beta slated to start tomorrow morning, I may finally get a small taste of what to expect. I doubt I'll play too much before it's released, since the beta is multiplayer only and I prefer single-player, and I certainly have plenty to do right now, but just a little should be enough to tide me over for a few months.

[Monday update: it's available at FilePlanet. But, subscribers only until Thursday.]

Heroes V is said to be a return to the Heroes III style of gameplay. Heroes III was an incredible game, but I don't think that Heroes IV deserved the bad rap it got. It made a lot of bold changes to a series that hadn't seen too many in a while, and ended up with something that I thought was beautiful and entertaining and awesome, though quite buggy until the final patch. I kind of look forward to the same thing from Heroes V, actually... it's being developed by a new group of people; fans of the series and turn-based strategy in general, but not the original designers nonetheless. If I'm not mistaken, something similar happened to Command & Conquer for C&C Generals, and it's my favorite in the series.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Caffeine free

For the last four to six weeks, I've been avoiding caffeine. Not for any particular reason... just avoiding caffeine. I wanted to see what it would be like, if I'd be tired all the time, or if it would improve my ability to sleep. I wanted to see if I'd be able to do it—if I was really addicted or just felt that way.

But it was easy. I don't have any kind of dependence on caffiene, it seems. I didn't quite stop "cold turkey"; maybe I should have. I mixed it half and half for a few days. But I've gone days without any caffeinated beverages at all now, down from at least six to as many as ten a day. I don't feel any effects, positive or negative. I'm not any more tired, and it isn't any easier to get to bed. I didn't miss it at all.

Oh well. I've gotten used to the taste of caffeine free Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi now; it's not really any worse than the regular kinds, just different. All in all, a pretty pointless little experiment. About all that I can anecdotally say now is that caffeine doesn't help me wake up in the morning after all. Any couple cans of something cold is fine enough.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Confused

Sometimes I just get confused at random times of the day. It happens much more frequently in the mornings, but it happened again just now. I was sitting at the computer, and I got up to go swap my laundry. Instead, I picked up the empty Snapple bottle from my desk, went into my bathroom, put it next to the sink, closed the door, and sat back down. Then, I realized what I just did.

The classic example of this that some of you are familiar with is that one Sunday morning back in the dorms, I got up to take a shower. Instead, I picked up the bar of soap next to the sink, threw it into the toilet, and just stood there wondering what I just did.

My brain is broken. :(

Curse you, Puget Sound Energy

It cost me $95 to power my apartment last month. I don't even keep my place that warm, just at around 70. Someday I'd love to know how much of that is heating, how much is the oven, how much is my computer and sound system, and so forth. I think it would take a lot of equipment to tell me those things.

Minor to major

I've been listening to the Fort Minor album pretty constantly since my initial run-through yesterday morning, and I'm ready to upgrade my rating to "quite good." All of the tracks except the standard rap-album fillers are now in my permanent rotation. I don't really know who to recommend it to, though... plenty of rap fans won't like it, plenty of Linkin Park fans won't like it, and plenty of pop fans won't like it... and I'm sure that plenty of any of those three groups will enjoy it a lot.

[I guess now with Google Video I don't need to put much effort into finding links to music.]

Here's a good one... Fort Minor - Believe Me

Mike Shinoda is an unusual rapper. I don't know what exactly it is that I enjoy about his voice, but I think that a good part of it is that He Clearly Enunciates Each and Every Word. Part of this comes from the Linkin Park "let's yell everything," which is a bit irritating. He's kind of the opposite of Kanye West, who stretches and distorts and slurs words like there's no tomorrow. Or, perhaps Imogen Heap or a lot of female singers, who seem to have personal vendettas against consonants.

Anyway, good gift. The video I linked to above, Believe Me, is one of the better tracks. My favorite is High Road featuring John Legend, which has Shinoda rapping and Legend singing over piano and drums. Legend's got an excellent voice, but his CD is R&B, a genre I still have a pretty low tolerance for. The most interesting is Kenji, a song about Japanese internment in World War II.

Office humor

I wasn't a big fan of The Office at first. (The American version; I haven't seen the British version.) But, it had Steve Carrell, and I gave it a chance, and I've fallen in love with the show. It's so awkward and painful to watch, and until you accept that as part of the humor, I don't think you can enjoy the show. That's what did it for me, at least. This week's and last week's episodes were just so great. I see so many horrible characteristics of myself and people I know in the characters, and I just can't help but laugh at how uncomfortable and depressed everyone in the show is. Everyone's so defective and realistic. It's so different from the comedy that I'm used to. It reminds me a little of Arrested Development, but it doesn't have the absurdity and unpredictability of that show... and that's fine. I laugh more at Jim's facial expressions and Dwight's tone of voice than I do in most other sitcoms.

Because I can

Seeing me on the way to work—on the Segway in the rain, wearing my long, flowing black coat, holding my black umbrella, with my bleached blond hair and headphones—makes a lot of people smile. Usually I can't tell if their amusement is at my expense or not. When in doubt, I generally assume it is. But, it makes me smile too. It's silly. A year and a half later, it's still silly. It fits me.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bacon robots

I'm looking forward to the Attack of the Bacon Robots book signing next Saturday. I don't know what to expect in terms of lines. I'm sure it will be unpleasant. Maybe I should call before I go-go.

Plants

My apartment complex has finally gotten around to putting some plants in front of my place, after living behind a muddy moat since the fall when they redid the drainage systems in the complex. It looks much nicer now, though they're all small and a little sparse. I'm a bit surprised that they did it in the middle of January; I figured they'd wait until spring to deuglify the place.

Cold

Something strange happened tonight. This morning, it was a pretty typical Seattle morning: raining, slightly cool, and grey. Then, around 7:00, a fog swept in, in just a few minutes' time, and within a couple more hours, it became cold.

I guess the difference was only ten degrees, from upper 40s to upper 30s, but it seemed like a more dramatic change, perhaps due to the sudden 98% humidity.

I'm already beginning to lose my tolerance for extreme temperatures, after a year and a half. It's 20 in Lincoln right now, and here it's above freezing and I still think it's cold. It hasn't been that long since I dealt with the fun of below-zero temperatures.

Fort Minor

Well, I've finished listening to the Fort Minor CD. It's not bad. It's nice in that the topics of the tracks are somewhat less cliché than a typical rap CD. A rap about Japanese internment is a welcome touch. Mike is a decent rapper, and the album is extremely well-produced.

I don't normally listen to rap when I'm working because it becomes distracting after a while, but I made an exception for a gift.

You can definitely make the connection to Linkin Park; it's all depressed and in a minor key. The lyrics could be from Linkin Park songs too. They're okay... they're nothing special, but "okay" is fine for rap, I suppose. Basically, it's just Linkin Park without Chester singing and without guitars.

Yes, I'd imagine

My lotion (Lubriderm Advanced Therapy) has, in bold letters on the back, this message:

For external use only.

I guess I can only think of a couple internal uses that people might be contemplating. I wonder what the danger is... overmoisturizing? Whenever I see instructions and warnings like that, I always want to know why. Sometimes it's obvious (do not put Listerine into eyes), but in this case, it's not.

The internets bring me pretty things

No, no, no; I'm not talking about pornography.

Today the menu screen of Guild Wars changed to a very beautiful island scene with some great music, to celebrate the Guild Wars: Factions expansion pack preview that starts tomorrow. It's awesome how I can just start up the game one day and have a different menu and even different theme music. I certainly appreciate the more cartoon stylings and rich character of the Warcraft universe (though admittedly when the Warcraft III beta first came out I didn't like it at all), but I'm also a sucker for the prettier-than-reality stylings of what I've seen so far of Guild Wars.

The internets also brought me the Star Wars: Empire at War demo yesterday, which I haven't really played yet, but it also looks pretty, and is put together by veterans of the now-sadly-defunct Westwood Studios, which means that they may automatically receive even slightly more unrelenting love than I would assign to a Blizzard project.

Happy Hanukkah

I just got my Hanukkah present from my brother. I suppose that, since it's a Hanukkah present, it's less late. Clever lad. It's The Rising Tied by Fort Minor, which I hadn't heard of. It's Mike Shinoda's solo project. Should be interesting.

I'm reminded of another lovely Simpsons quote, by Kent Brockman:

"Yes, whether you're Christian, or just non-Jewish, everybody loves Santa Claus!"

It... well, doesn't quite fit, but everything comes back to Simpsons quotes, and that one sort of involves Hanukkah and Christmas...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

What was that?

I wonder how often people mistake my forgetfulness as me not paying attention to them when they speak. I really do pay close attention to people who are talking to me.

Don't take it personally.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I suppose they're brownouts

I've had a few brownouts tonight. I don't know if that's actually the correct term; my lights have flickered out and my UPSes have kicked in, but just for a split second.

That's really all I got.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Battlestar

Oh, and last Friday's Battlestar Galactica? Absolutely excellent. This little Pegasus story arc has been just exceptional. I guess it's good to occasionally watch something that's intriguing and interesting and exciting instead of "just" funny. I'm just a comedy guy, I suppose.

Move over, compulsion

I realized something not long ago, and it's a step toward combating my compulsive need to organize: there's no need for me to sort and file my bank statements, bills, and other documents that I get. I've already got a huge pile of unsorted junk, thanks in part to going many months before I got around to buying a file cabinet and the properly-sized hanging folders. Organizing those things now has no benefit to me. I might as well wait until I need to find a few of those documents, or I at least move to a new place or need the that they occupy. At first it was my burning need to organize things pitted against the lack of time I have to do the things I want to do, but now I've safely prevented myself from organizing prematurely. The same kind of thing happened with my music collection around then: I realized that there's no longer any reason for me to store my CDs separately from their cases (the original reason being that I wanted them with me at school, but not the bulky cases). But, there's also no reason for me to put them back in their cases. I might as well wait until I either need the binder or re-rip everything into a lossless format. Neither of those things is particularly likely to happen anytime soon. As long as I can keep my obsessiveness in check, it won't bother me too much that I currently have some CDs in cases and some in binders. If I think about it, I'll be annoyed (I'm a bit annoyed right now), but if I can just ignore it, I'm fine.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bonus

After having a stable weight for many months, I lost six pounds in the week and a half I was sick. And, rather than gain that back, I lost another pound or two the next week. Hey, I'll take what I can get.

Cute like Kaylee

Kaylee from Firefly

I can think of at least three different classes of things that I consider "cute" just because I don't have any better word to differentiate them.

Cute like panda cubs—Certain animals, like panda cubs and kittens, just have an irresistable feeling of cuteness. I'm willing to deal with the stark unmanliness of thinking these few exceptional things are adorable just because I can't help myself. It feels as if it's impossible not to like these animals.

Cute like Kaylee on Firefly—Kaylee, the engineer on Serenity on the show Firefly, just radiates cuteness. It's extremely attractive, not even in a sexual way, but just in a mystical way that forces me to be interested in the character, and forces me to like her. I don't know too many people in real life that have this, but I do have a few friends of both genders that radiate this cuteness to certain levels, and it makes it difficult to even imagine not liking that person. People who have so much cuteness just feel maximally likable, as if nothing they do could be unpleasant. It's a decidedly feminine quality, and women are best at it.

Cute like Precious Moments figurines—Then there are things that are engineered to be cute, and I find them almost without exception to be absolutely repulsive. Precious Moments figurines, Hallmark cards, ballerina costumes, stupid "heartwarming" email forwards, and so forth all just disgust me. They're trying to mimic the cuteness of pandas or Kaylee, and they fail so miserably that I have an incredible negative reaction toward these things. People can also be cute like Precious Moments figurines if they're fake and pretend to be pleasant but really aren't.

Of the three, the one that I'm most interested in is the second. I don't know what it is about this quality, but it seems so pure and desirable. I suppose that it's some synergy between a combination of characteristics that I'd consider pleasant on their own, which when together form this potent mind weapon. I think that if a presidential candidate had this cuteness, I would vote for him or her without even really considering alternatives. I'd think that he or she (oh, who am I kidding, he) was doing a good job. I'd probably be willing to overlook mistakes and indiscretions. I probably wouldn't even notice that I had completely lost my objectivity. Or, maybe this quality is something that only develops once I've already judged a person as good.

Is this just charisma? I don't feel like it is. Charisma is an attribute that I'd assign just as readily to an unscrupulous person as a friend. It's something beyond charisma that somehow includes goodness.

I don't know what it is. I don't know if other people even experience this. I know that there are a lot of people who very much like pandas, a lot of people who very much like Kaylee, and a lot of people who very much like Precious Moments figurines. It's another mystery, and one that I can't even write about well, let alone understand at the moment. I'd need to think about it more.

Happy birthday

I went to a birthday party for a friend today from noon until six, and I had an amusing time, though there were more children there than I would have liked. It was also educational: I learned that with two more tables and some extra chairs, I could uncomfortably fit twenty people in a space the size of my living and dining room, and by the end the floor would be filthy and there would be chips and pizza ground into the carpet.

An interesting cast of characters was present, including friends Marc, Louise, Jim, Dante, Mike, Kai, Mejal, and Bob from Thursday board games, the family that I spent Christmas with (carriers of the death spores), a woman who refused to play games competitively and instead sacrificed herself to help her husband, a woman with a lovely Australian accent who brought Scrabble so she could destroy everyone in her way, the fifteen-year-old girl who desperately wanted to prove that she was a well-behaved adult, and a smattering of other oddballs. Good times. And, despite it being played twice while I was there, I was never able to get in on a game of RoboRally, a game in which you program out robots with cards to try to complete a race through a factory, a game that I've been trying to play for years now.

Parties with games are just far more amusing than parties without. A side benefit is that I met a bunch of new people without the usual stress and horrors of standard human interaction.

They're not quite that stupid

I was pretty shocked to see four keys left in mailboxes one night. Then, over the next few days, I was continually surprised to still see them there. So, finally, I took a look, because I saw that they all had the same keychains, and then I read the text on the tag:

You have a package in the office

Oh.

Old classic

I made this back in 2004. I'm rather proud of it.

Caution! Mimefield

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I don't remember feeding an army

$1,140 pizza

Sometimes Microsoft Money is not very good at correcting my mistakes. Apparently I switched the check numbers of my pizza bill (makes five great meals when you're too sick to want to cook!) with my rent bill. When my electronic statement came back, it assumed that $1,140 check was for Papa John's.

Papa John's doesn't take credit cards online now, or at least the one near me doesn't. That annoys me greatly. I guess I've only ordered three times since coming out here, but that was probably the last time now that they don't accept credit cards. I hate checks, and I never have appropriate amounts of cash for anything.

Quotes make good lazy posts

Mike: ...and most of the time, there's a good male/female ratio at these things, though sometimes there are more guys.
Jim: Well, see, that's no good.
Mike: Unless you're gay.
Jim: Sadly, no.
Mike: Well, I wasn't sure; you're 37 and you've never dated since I met you. What about you, Travis?
Me: Sadly, no, but there's also no data to go on, so that's just extrapolation.
Mike: Well, no shit. Let's not kid ourselves.
(we were just then arriving at my apartment)
Me: Well, thank you, gentlemen.
Mike: So, just so we're clear on this, you're going to sit at home instead of going to the event with the single women you so desperately need?

Friday, January 13, 2006

OMGWTFBBQ

Heroes of Might and Magic V open beta starts next Thursday, January 19.

Sweet! Interested parties will be able to find details at mightandmagic.com then.

Can't talk; peeing

Recently on the topic of social etiquette...

People here don't follow the unwritten "absolutely no talking in the restroom" rule. I had always thought this rule was pretty steadfast and universal, but it clearly isn't. There are certainly people on my team who respect the sanctity of silence in the restroom, but I'd say a good two-thirds of the people on my team who I see in the restroom say hi, to which I can really only awkwardly return the gesture. Some people even start conversations at the urinals, which is doubly odd to me. Strangers, though, do follow the rules and remain silent.

So, unless it's a regional thing, I guess the rule is really that guys can't talk to strangers in the restroom. Apparently I've had it wrong all my life.

Save

I sometimes wish that we could come up with a new icon for the Save command. This icon is a 3.5" floppy disk. It's always a 3.5" floppy disk. I think it's probably pretty safe to assume that it's going to be a 3.5" floppy disk in Office 12 and Vista too. And now the memories of floppy disks are fading away, like cassette tapes. I wonder how long we'll stick with a floppy disk.

Probably a while. I don't really know of any great alternative. The current analogies to a floppy disk are USB keys and CDs. But most normal people don't use USB keys, and you don't burn your documents directly to CD every five minutes to save your work, so a CD's pretty inappropriate. Maybe a picture of a hard drive with an arrow or a checkmark. The biggest problem with that is that fewer people know what a hard drive looks like than a floppy disk, I'd bet. Maybe something even more generic, like a green circle with a checkmark in it. Or, we could stick with the file metaphor, and make it a file cabinet or something like that. Making it a picture of a file being put into a folder would be too similar with the New and Open icons; Save needs to be very distinct.

We're in a world where there are more and more storage media... hard drives, USB keys, optical disks, network shares, flash memory, web storage services, and the more esoteric stuff... it's a shame that we didn't stick with the (so far) timeless file metaphor for the Save icon too. I wonder who's responsible for the New, Open, and Save icons as they exist today.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Stupidity

There are so many things wrong about posting at night, but probably the top two are:

1. It has a tendency to cause me to stay up longer than I meant to. Posts yield follow-up posts, and I always spend more time writing them than I expect.

2. It, far too frequently, gives me too many things to think about when I'm trying to fall asleep. Like, just now. I think about the phrasing I used. I think more about the topics I posted on, which often are pretty fresh from the mind and haven't really had time to percolate before being posted on the internet for all to see. I have a hard enough time clearing my mind and falling asleep. Writing about something that I thought was interesting is the last thing I should be doing.

But, if I don't post at night, I'd probably almost never post on weekdays. Conundrum.

Taboo with a purpose

Thinking about it further (when trying to get to sleep), something came to me, and I decided that it was easier to type than write down to type later.

Maybe lifting the ban on certain taboos that don't need to be taboos just isn't a good idea. Maybe people in general aren't mature enough to discuss peoples' salaries. There are so many assumptions you can make about someone if you know their salary, and with those assumptions come preconceived notions, perhaps based on something that isn't even quite true. Weight... certainly your weight can bring about negative connotations, deserved or not. Age brings even more assumptions.

Maybe these things are forbidden from conversation out of politeness for people who would have to give out information that could be heard or overheard by someone who would use it improperly, or refuse to answer and then look like they have something to hide. You might think that you could know the answer to that question and treat that fact objectively, but the person asked may have their doubts, or have personal issues arising from the commonly held societal views on that fact. You don't ask those questions because it's generally impolite to make someone feel socially uncomfortable, and you don't often know how someone is going to respond. I guess it's even worse when you ask the question and you already know the other person would not want to respond.

Abandonment

Wow, has it really been that long since I've posted? It's been a busy week. It's not even due to a lack of things to babble about; I've got a page-long list of stuff I'll bore you with someday.

Tonight, there will be sleep

I’m actually going to bed, pretty early for me. I'm tired. I always set a goal of being in bed by midnight, and that of course never, ever happens. I never remember to respond to email at an appropriate time, so I’m stuck doing it at two in the morning… but tonight, I did it right after dinner. Last night I was up until after four trying to recover a server whose hard drive died back in Nebraska, something that many of you are keenly aware of. Yes, again with the failing hard drives—this one had a good excuse, though; it was a six-year-old “massive” 20 GB hard drive that’s been running for close to 50,000 hours. I think it’s done its duty. I managed to escape with only losing uploaded images; the database was recovered and the configuration was rebuilt. SQL Server is a pain to fix if you lose a hard drive and don’t have a replacement and don’t have the slightest clue what you’re doing, let me tell you.

Bluntness and secrecy

I’ve always been blunt and honest. I’d like to say that it’s some noble quality that I’ve nurtured over the course of my life, but a lot of it is that it’s just who I am. It takes conscious effort to control it. I’ve gotten to a point where I do a pretty good job of sitting back and considering things I’m going to say before I say them, so I don’t usually say stupid stuff. But, sometimes things just blurt out. One of the areas where I still need work is in asking forbidden questions. I’m definitely better, but it doesn’t immediately occur to me that certain things are socially unacceptable just by convention. Like a woman’s age, or someone’s weight, or how much money they make. A lot of people are offended by those questions. My parents would never tell us kids how much they made or allow us to know anything about the family finances. Stuff like that is just off-limits. I don’t know if I’ve ever been protective of things like that. I certainly don’t mind telling people that I’m 24 and weigh 275-280 pounds, depending on the weather. I think I might be discouraged by contract to post my salary, but many of you know what it is anyway.

Despite always being blunt, and generally not minding the "socially unacceptable" questions at all, there have always been some things I’ve kept secret. My middle name is probably the best example. At some point when I was pretty young I kind of resented sharing the same middle name as my dad, Mark. I like the name Mark. I think it fits Travis and Spomer very well. But I didn’t like that it was his. I don’t know if I just felt that it wasn’t unique enough, or if I didn’t like being associated with him, as he was the stern disciplinarian, the parent who couldn’t control his temper (neither could I), and the doler-outer of nonsensical rules (they really were stupid). Or, it could just be that my middle name was some secret word that my mother would use as leverage to put me under her mind control spells. By invoking my True Name she could command cosmic powers of obedience I didn’t even know existed. This was certainly nothing unique to me; I knew from experience that many of my friends’ mothers could do magical things with middle names.

Whatever the reason for wanting to keep my middle name a secret, now lost to the scratchy sands of time, I did. For as long as I can remember I’ve written my name as Travis M. Spomer. People would always ask me what the M stood for, and I would always say that it stood for M. (Maybe I just liked the attention that writing my name differently from everyone else would occasionally get me.) But M remained a secret. I revealed its secrets to a few trusted associates. In fact, I think that M remained mostly a secret until at least a year or so into college. I had kept it a secret for so long that I guess I never bothered to reevaluate why it was a secret.

I still keep a few secrets. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t sugar-coat things my managers ask, or occasionally talk behind peoples’ backs, or things like that. I'm still good at keeping other peoples' secrets, as long as I know they're secrets, which has caused a few people to tell me some surprising things. But sometime around half a decade ago I stopped keeping most things to myself. I stopped hiding my emotions, for one. I’m less restrained. I’m still not outgoing by any means, but I guess now my secrets are a lot closer to the tip of my tongue than they used to be. That’s probably the source of the increased amount of consideration that I try to put into things before I say them.

You just can’t ask someone their salary or any similar kind of question. It’s just rude. I’m careful with what I say most of the time, but it slipped out tonight... I asked someone a question that directly translated to salary. I felt dumb as soon as it happened. Sometimes I still don’t speak as carefully as I wish.

Sunday, January 8, 2006

I should have been an apprentice

Today I learned that water boils faster when I change the knob that says "OFF" to say "HI." I am like the Martha Stewart of boiling water.

I suck at movies

MetaCritic is a site like Rotten Tomatoes that aggregates the reviews of many critics to provide a score for a movie or game. I've never used it before, being a Rotten Tomatoes guy myself, but it seems like a nice site. Anyway, what disturbed me a bit is that out of their list of the top twenty movies for 2005, I haven't seen a single one.

The top five:

The Best of Youth
Capote
Nobody Knows
Wallace and Gromit
Brokeback Mountain

Out of those, I haven't even heard of The Best of Youth or Nobody Knows, and I'm totally uninterested in seeing Wallace and Gromit. But, there are all sorts of movies on the top twenty list that I kind of wish I'd seen. I don't really feel like I've seen that many good movies this year. I guess my top three are Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Serenity, and Batman Begins. But, really, I guess I haven't seen too many bad movies this year either. Episode III was the last movie I saw in a theatre! The grind at work has really taken a toll on after-work amusement with coworkers; nobody ever wants to do anything anymore.

Well

Today was the first day that I've felt well in a week and a half. The ear infection in my left ear hasn't left entirely, but it's getting better each day, and my throat is still a bit rough and my voice a bit weird. But, I'm feeling well now. If tomorrow were a work day I'd happily show up. (Well, for far too many people on my team, it is a work day, but I'm not getting into that.)

I've been so tired recently, and I was sleeping from midnight until noon a couple days ago. Now my sleep schedule is messed-up, even though I've been getting enough sleep. It's 3:00 and I feel like it's midnight. I'm going to have to work to get back on schedule now.

But... I'm well. It feels great.

Grave responsibility

I really just realized the extent of the responsibility I put on myself in supporting the free software that I have on my website. If I keep doing what I'm doing, for years and years to come, I'm going to be answering questions about my software. If I kept it up for five years and then it disappeared from the face of the internet and I never answered another question about it, that's still at least five hundred hours of my life that were occupied responding to peoples' questions about something I provide for free. That's never really sunk in before.

So, what's the solution, if it's really a problem? First of all, my sites could use a facelift and a redesign. I haven't really touched them in years. I know from experience that improving the website and the download and installation process reduces the amount of email I get. If people could help themselves more easily, I'd mostly just get email from the people who are truly lost. And, people would be happier if they didn't have to wait for my response.

I could try ads. I've never put ads on my site. I've had a website for close to a decade, and it's never had ads. Ads don't even really solve anything. They're a response, not a solution. If I'm spending so much time on something, maybe I'd be happier doing it if I made money from it. Then again, money is not really my limiting resource right now; time is. It's with more useful time that I gain more happiness.

I could try paying less attention on purpose. This would work in combination with the more helpful website. I could maybe set up a community of users of my products, and the burden of helping people could be shared with others. I honestly don't know why this works—why there are people who care so much about certain pieces of software that they visit forums and answer questions—but they're there. I'd get rid of the email form on the website, and never answer another question again about where the Start button is. But there are many problems with this model. First, I'd have to accept that there are people who would never search or post to forums, or even search the web, and they'd end up never using my programs. That computer-phobic single mom who wants to make a crossword for her home-schooled son would give up on the idea, frustrated that she didn't know what to do. I know this from experience. I know this from working with people, and from answering peoples' questions.

And in the end, I think that fixing up the website and helping the so-inclined to help themselves is all that I should do. While expensive in terms of time, supporting my software has been an incredibly valuable experience. There's no better way to get in touch with real people, people who don't really even understand how to download and install a program they find on the internet, people who just want to make a crossword puzzle. Building and supporting my software has probably been the most useful thing I've done for my career. I've learned so much; far more than I did in school. It's like an internship with the world.

It's an unbelievable time sink. I'd have so much more time to play games, or socialize, or work, or even build new versions of my software if I didn't spend so much time answering email. But doing all that has helped me realize that there's so much more to building software than a nice class hierarchy, an efficient algorithm, and proper commenting. Had I built something like EclipseCrossword that "normal" people would want to use just a few years back, I might be a very different person now.

Confessions on a dance CD

Here's my photo review of the latest Madonna CD, Confessions on a Dance Floor:

Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor CD, broken

No, just kidding. The CD arrived that way. Needless to say, I got a replacement. You could actually tip what was left of the case at an angle and find dust and shards from the disc itself trickling out.

Overall, I'd say that the CD is pretty good. It's got plenty of catchy songs. It's all dance music, instead of the more "normal" pop music of her previous albums. Dance music normally isn't my cup of tea... it usually just seems so shallow and pointless to me. But, this I like. I like her previous couple albums better, with more guitar than synthesizer, but this one's decent too.

I don't really consider myself a Madonna fan. I don't like any of her albums before Ray of Light, the "classic Madonna" stuff. But, her last few have been quite good in my opinion, and based on those I decided I'd give this one a try as well, and I'm glad I did. Some of the songs are kind of annoying at first, like the first single Hung Up, but I've grown to like almost all of them. Even I Love New York, which has lyrics so stupid that the English translations of the "numa numa" song Dragostea Din Tei sound poetic in comparison.

Other cities always make me mad
Other places always make me sad
No other city ever made me glad
Except New York

Congratulations, you've passed first grade. I feel kind of bad, though, because I still sort of like the song.

My favorite song, though, is Push. It's got a catchy tune, a great beat, and excellent production. I've already posted a little bit about Push; it's the one with the chorus that's probably a little too similar to the quintessential Sting song. Sorry and Jump are quite good as well.

Anyway, the CD is good. Not unique or memorable, but it doesn't have to be. If you like dance music, you'll love it. If you like electronic music with female vocals, you'll at least like it. If you dislike Madonna or pop music in general, your feelings toward this CD are going to be strikingly similar to the picture at the top of this post.

Heroes and Oblivion loom, but not too closely

The past month was a good time for games; I'm glad I managed to fit so much in. None of the three I mentioned in my previous post are particularly long; Undrentide and Pariah are about ten hours apiece, and Underdark is long for an expansion pack but shorter than a full game. Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow was the other game I played recently, and it's pretty average length. All of that adds up to quite a bit of playtime, though. Getting sick didn't really provide me with extra time to play games; my time that would have been spent at work was mostly spent sleeping or at least resting. Once the pinkeye hit, it was hard to play most games because of the sore eyes.

But, anyway. I'm glad that I'm making it through the queue of games. I've still got Quake IV, Knights of the Old Republic II, Silent Storm, and Civilization IV on tap. I think I've had enough RPG and FPS for a while, so I think that the next time I find myself needing a gaming fix, I'll probably break out the Silent Storm, Civilization IV, or maybe even some more Winter Assault skirmishes. Heroes of Might and Magic V and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion are still a few months away, so I have some time to fill. Or, at least whatever chunk of free time that Office 12 beta 2 leaves me. I am going to try to manage my time a little better than I did around Office 12 beta 1. I'll see how that goes.

Three games in one post

I haven't really mentioned any of the games I've played in a while. Heck, I haven't even mentioned World of Warcraft in a while, as far as I can recall. So, the last three games I played:

Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide—Kinda boring and uninspired. Way too easy; I'm not sure what level this was designed for, but it's some number below what my character was already at. Story doesn't get interesting until the very end, and the whole thing seems like some fan-created module and not a game expansion pack. But, it sets up nicely for...

Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark—I had a lot of fun with the second expansion to Neverwinter Nights. It's epic, it's interesting, and it has a story you can get interested in. The first hour or two actually sucks quite a bit, so I was really worried, but it picks up steam and doesn't let go. The story has interesting twists and turns, people die, people turn sides, and if you travel with the kobold bard Deekin, he slowly transforms into a dragon. Lots of interesting possibilities, not to mention that your character reaches "epic" levels that D&D-based games don't normally touch. I was a level 28 paladin by the end, and I could just tear through stuff with my +10 sword. My only real complaint is that it seems like you really need to switch over to a "prestige class" once you hit level 20 or so, because they haven't added enough high-level content for the base classes. Through both expansions and 10 level-ups I never learned a single extra spell. There was no real reason for me to remain a paladin; I should have picked a second class, but the game didn't really urge me into it, so I just stayed a paladin waiting for that next batch of spells to become available. Oh well. Lots of fun. Better than the original game.

Pariah—Kinda sucks. There's a lot to dislike about the game. It was hailed and hyped around its release, but apparently I should have paid more attention to the reviews. The story is boring and makes no sense, and is told through cutscenes recorded at some hideous 320x200 resolution. Why aren't they in-game cutscenes? Well, they are. They're in-game cutscenes that have been pre-recorded and then stretched to your screen, so they're blocky and awful. They're not even anti-aliased. Enough about them. You'll get to see them a lot because the game doesn't have savegames; it uses the same kind of idiotic checkpoint mechanism like Far Cry or pretty much every console game. The checkpoints are, for the most part, placed pretty well, but the bad part is that they're before cutscenes. You get to see the cutscene every time you die, and you can't skip it. The vehicles don't control well at all, and the only fun you'll have in one is when your sidekick is driving and you just shoot stuff. There are roughly three different enemies in the game, though some of them have accessories like a helmet or a riot shield. Some of the levels are repetitive, too. The whole game feels like some port of a mediocre console game. In fact, it feels quite a lot like Halo; amusing enough, but far from good.

The only upside to Pariah is the selection of weapons. All of the weapons are distinct and useful, though fairly stereotypical. I enjoy when starter weapons like your pistol do not become "obsolete" at the end of a game. In fact, I used nothing but my starter rifle against the second-to-last boss. The absolute best part about Pariah is its upgradeable weaponry. Throughout the game, you collect tokens that let you upgrade one of your weapons. The first upgrade costs one, the second costs two, and the third costs three. Each weapon does different things when you upgrade it. For example, the first upgrade to your sniper rifle adds heat-sensitive vision to the scope. The first upgrade to the grenade launcher gives you remote detonation capability. The starter rifle gets accuracy and damage upgrades. You can also upgrade your medkit, giving you faster heals and more health. You only spend the upgrades on the weapons you use most and think you'll get the most benefit out of. It's a very cool, light-RPGish system. But, one cool gimmick is not enough to make a fun game. Pass.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Delightful tension

If ever there were an episode of Battlestar Galactica that could follow up last half-season's cliffhanger, it's yesterday's.

This product blows

It's 3:30 and I should go to bed, but I couldn't resist posting this...

I bought myself a hair dryer. I thought I'd try it out after soaking my hair in glue; maybe it would help it to stick up better once it gets longer and gravity has its way. The box for the dryer, though, it just hilarious to me. It's a Vidal Sassoon® Professional Ionic™ 1875W Professional Ion Dryer, an Ionizer™ part of the Ionity® line of styling tools by Vidal Sassoon. Among the features of this fantastic device:

ION On/Off switch—turns hair-conditioning IONS on or off
Airflow concentrator—for precise styling
6 Heat/speed combinations and Cold Shot button—for total drying and styling control
Removable filter—for easy cleaning

In case you're having difficulty imagining what an airflow concentrator is, it's a funnel that you can stick on the end. Very high-tech.

Besides the overwhelming prevalence of "ion" all over the box, often in red, the most amusing thing about the box is that it's part of the Hair Hydration Series™. Who wants "hydration" as an adjective for a hair dryer? I guess the deal is that you don't rob your hair of inner moisture while you get rid of the water that's actually making your hair wet. But, wow.

Quick huzzah

Let this be my "hooray for the return for Battlestar Galactica" post.

That is all.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Better

Well, anyway, I'm feeling better. The pink eye seems to be gone; I can look at a computer screen without discomfort now. I'll be back in contacts Monday or even this weekend. The flu seems to be mostly gone now; I mostly just have a residual cough. I'm still a bit sore and tired, but that will fade. The ear infections are still here, but at least I don't have to be on maximum dosage of pain killers around the clock.

I'll be ready to go back to work on Monday. Ready to go back and find out how far behind I am now.

At least I'll have gotten some rest out of the deal. And, I get way more sick days than I need anyway. Had my sick days not reset in the middle of my great illness, I'd still have three left for the year, which is about how many I'd used in all my employment at everywhere I've ever worked before two weeks ago.

I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller...

I wish Blogger would let me use PNGs and GIFs. Those pictures look so bad in JPEG.

At least nights and weekends are free

Phone bill usage chart

That's a pretty typical cell phone usage chart for me; maybe even a bit low. That's what I used on my December bill. A single night or weekend minute. Was it a night minute, or a weekend minute? I must know! If they counted the time I spend listening to my voice mail (please don't leave me voice mail), that number could be as high as 4 or 5. Actually, 3 or 4 is pretty normal for a month.

When not in person, I communicate by IM or email. I dislike phones. Perhaps if I got reception somewhere I'd feel a little differently, but both my apartment and my office are zones almost completely devoid of coverage. The rare time that I get a call when I'm somewhere else, it's fine.

The worst cursor I can think of

Crop cursor

That. That's the worst cursor I can think of, excepting those stupid cursor replacement packs where you get animated dinosaurs or pulsating blue crystals or other nonsense. It's the Photoshop crop cursor, and it's evil. Whoever designed it has some serious problems. You know where the hotspot of that cursor is? Right in the middle.

The hotspot of a cursor is the single point where the mouse cursor actually "is." For the standard arrow cursor, it's at the tip in the upper-left. That's the part you click with, not the middle of the arrow. For a crosshair cursor, it's at the intersection. For the text I-beam cursor, it's at the base of the beam. But for that cursor, it's right in the middle.

Never mind the fact that there's nothing in the middle to indicate where your cursor might be. There's no intersection, colored dot, or anything. Never mind that there's so much junk around the middle that you can't see the ten pixels surrounding your cursor.

Here's an example. With your imaginary mouse, using that cursor, try to crop out the dialog box from this screenshot:

Screenshot

Hmmm. With a single-pixel crosshair you could probably do it right now. Let's zoom in.

Screenshot, zoomed in

You still don't know where to put your cursor. Were you to click there and start dragging, you'd notice that you got a couple extra pixels around the border that you didn't want. So, you press escape and try again. Maybe you get it that time, maybe you don't.

If I posted about every thing about Photoshop that's unjustifiably stupid, I'd never have to post about anything else again. But this example is one that drives me particularly nuts, because I use the crop tool so much. I should really just select an area and then crop to my selection; the selection tools aren't nearly as bad.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The most spamderful time of the year

I don't know why the amount of spam I get per day fluctuates so much, but it's up to a thousand right now. Sometimes it's as "low" as half that. Outlook's filters miss about 10% of it now, because a huge portion of it is either disguised as non-delivery reports with the actual spam attached, or actual non-delivery reports from people using my email address as the From field. So, it looks like real mail.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Blur

The pink eye has made it a bit more difficult to look at a computer screen for a length of time, which is unfortunate considering how many of my typical activities require that. It's fine from a distance, so I can still watch TV. It's also fine if I turn the brightness down, but then it's hard to read for another reason...

Note to self: avoid getting sick in future.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Back from the doc

Well, the doctor didn't prescribe me any cool drugs. He said that nothing I really have is all that treatable. There was nothing he could do for the flu (flu drugs only work immediately upon the onset of symptoms), eye drops weren't an option for the pink eye (they'd interfere with my other illnesses), and all I can do about the ear infections is gargle warm water to try to unplug my eustachian tubes. I got antibiotics, but mostly because my immune system is weakened; he didn't think they'd actually help.

One thing I did like about the guy is that he took time to explain a little bit of the "why" of my illnesses. For example, I got the ear infections because the mucus from my flu got into the tubes, which becomes much easier if you have had an ear infection in the past, and I've had several as a kid.

Sadly, it looks like I'm stuck with being sick for a while, which is what I expected anyway. I have a feeling that the pink eye will be the first to go; it already has shown some signs of dying down in my first eye. At least then I'll be able to see properly, and not wake up with eye goo everywhere.

Hung up with the flu

One of the symptoms that hasn't subsided yet is my inability to sleep without waking up constantly from pain or blocked airways or something else. I look at the alarm clock, and I'm always shocked to see that it's only been an hour since I last woke up, even though it feels like much longer. It seems that when I'm sick, time goes by so slowly.

The meek shall inherit it

Booking doctor's appointments more than two hours in advance is for weiners.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Nutrition facts are sometimes useless

It's great that foods are required to come with nutrition facts printed on them in a standard form, but sometimes that information is just useless. I'm reasonably certain that a glass of apple juice is better for you than a can of Mountain Dew, but if you just look at the nutrition facts, they're basically the same. The nutrition facts for orange juice are basically the same as Mountain Dew Fortified with Vitamin C. Does the FDA not know what the good things are in those juices? Shouldn't they be on the label?

Whoops

The ibuprofen bottle says not to take more than 6 per 24 hours unless directed by a doctor.

Oops. I've been taking about 10. Then again, those directions are probably for someone half my size. My dentist told me once after having a wisdom tooth removed to take two every four hours, and then two ace... aceta... Tylenol every four hours between ibuprofen doses. So, I'm sure I won't die. I think I'd be pretty happy dealing with whatever non-coma side effects there might be from a slight overdose of ibuprofen when compared to the screaming pain in my ears if I don't. You know, unless my heart stops. That would suck.