Monday, May 29, 2006

Spam 1, Travis 1

I have Outlook set to clear out my Deleted Items every 14-17 days. I got so much mail over the past couple weeks that Outlook reached the maximum allowed size for an Outlook 2002-formatted file. Almost every operation I tried, including permanently deleting mail from my Deleted Items folder, resulted in the error "the folder is too large." The only thing that worked was copying messages to a different file, so I had to create a new Outlook 2003-2007 mail data file and copy everything over.

I guess it's a good thing they fixed their file format in the previous version. Otherwise the spammers would have won.

Memorable weekend

I've barely stopped doing stuff this weekend. A lot of games of all shapes and sizes, some cleanup around the house, and that pretty much covers the whole thing. None of it was Oblivion, and little of it was Heroes of Might and Magic, too... but I played for about five hours yesterday, mostly last night, and that has calmed me down a bit, at least.

It's gone by so quickly... I can't believe that I'm back to work already tomorrow. I definitely need to spend some vacation time soon.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Turnip, blood

Half-Life 2: Episode One (also known as "Aftermath") is going to be four to six hours long, for $20, or $18 if you pre-order. That's movie ticket prices. That's insane.

I'm pretty excited about anything Half-Life, but that's absurd.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Green

Green markers seem to smell worse than other colors. This applies both to dry erase and permanent markers.

Telecommute

Being able to work from home from time to time is pretty nice. The apartment main office is closed for most of today, so I need to stick around for the FedEx guy to arrive. But, I won't have to take a day off to do it.

And now I must sleep

Of course, no midnight movie comes without a cost. Tomorrow I shall be kept afloat with fanciful imaginings of mutant superpowers, a new Snow Patrol album, fond thoughts of that fresh copy of Heroes of Might and Magic V awaiting me, and dances of sugarplums or somesuch.

Last stand

Well, the third X-Men movie is probably my least favorite of them all, but to its credit, it did have the most spectacular mutant superpower battles, and that's of course a huge part of the reason to see the movies in the first place. It was just sappier than the first two, with some really terrible lines.

Still worth seeing, I'd say. Plenty of Picard and Evil Gandalf and Halle Berry to go around. You're not going to see an X-Men movie and expect one of the great literary works of our time anyway.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

X3

I'm going to the X-Men: The Last Stand midnight showing tonight. That should be fun. My eyes are already feeling tired and it's not even 10:00, but that should come to pass...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lost heroes

Yesterday was Heroes of Might and Magic V's US release date; it's already available in Europe. But, there are reports that there wasn't enough stock, and not even the publisher, Ubisoft, had copies. If Ubisoft did not, in fact, ship a copy of the game to me yesterday, I will be sad. It is, after all, a three-day weekend.
[Update: they shipped it a day late, on Wednesday, so it will still arrive on Friday. Yay.]

On the brighter side, I've still got almost all of the main quest line in Oblivion left to finish. I've finished up the thieves' guild, mage's guild, arena, dark brotherhood, and as much of the fighter's guild quest line as is possible before the game is patched (sigh). But, I've barely touched the main quest line. I'm sure I've got enough to do for an extended weekend. :)

Celebrity can be fickle

Today as I entered my building after dismounting my Segway, the unusually attractive receptionist had her mouth open.

Her: Wow. You are officially the coolest person ever.
Me: What?
Her: You. I'd never seen one of those things before, and now I have. So, as far as I know, you're the coolest person in the world.
Me: Oh, thanks.
Her: You ride that every day?
Me: Yeah. I got this instead of a car because I only live a mile to the north.
Her: Oh, and now I hate you. That didn't take long.

She must live in Seattle. Sucker.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Office 2007 is here

Office 2007 (or 2007 Office?) beta 2 is now available to the public!

2007 Microsoft Office System Beta 2: Get the Beta

You can either have it mailed to you on DVD for the cost of shipping and handling, or you can download what you want from Microsoft.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Limited

I've done it: I'm now one of those people with limited basic cable. Not just basic cable... ultra basic cable. I get like 24 channels now. I guess I'll just wait to watch season 3 of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. The rest I can live without. I can deal with paying $1 a day less.

Relief

I haven't been posting much recently. It's mostly because I haven't really had anything that useful to post about. I was busy with one thing or another through almost all of Saturday, and I spent a large portion of Sunday playing Oblivion—I've passed the 75-hour mark now. Such a great game.

I've tied up a huge number of loose ends of all shapes and sizes at home and at work over the past few weeks, and it's a very lovely feeling. It's a strange kind of freedom. My top few tiers of to-do items are getting close to emptied out, and maybe someday soon I'll get to start on those "to do eventually" things.

I keep almost everything that I need to do at home on sticky notes on my desktop. I have one bright red note that lists stuff that I really need to do pretty soon. Then, below that, I've got a note with less important to-do items. One of the thing on there has, sadly, been on my to-do list for more than six months: to sort and process the photos I took on my mini-vacation back in the fall! But, I'm getting there soon. In the event that I finish everything on those notes, which hasn't happened once in the past two years, I'll get to work on my extended to-do lists: things that I'd do if I had more time, sorted by project or idea or program. I have a ton of these. That I have so many of them and they each have so many things to do is both liberating—tons of stuff I could do—and depressing—some of these things I meant to do years ago. (One of these things is a program I started writing a while back... so far back, in fact, that I used the number "2001" in the name, and that was a car model year—I started it in late 2000.)

Last time I took a vacation, I scheduled myself a ridiculous number of new things to do, places to visit, and et cetera. Next time I take a vacation, I'm going to limit it to one or two things, things that I can't otherwise easily do during the daytime, such as visiting places to photograph. I think that the rest will be spent playing games and relaxing, and making sure that I get every single sticky note off my desktop by the time it's over. Now that would be a nice feeling.

It lives

I still don't get why Windows Live has "Windows" in the name. It seems so bizarrely inappropriate. But whatever. I guess that's why they're paid the big bucks.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Katrina

I got a letter and some photos from my grandmother a week or so ago, showing some more of the damage from Katrina. I guess around these parts, people have kind of forgotten about Katrina by now, but down in Mississippi they certainly haven't. She points out in her photos that areas that used to be completely wooded are now completely barren, and in the background of a picture she took of my grandfather, you see a destroyed bridge and general devastation. One of the pictures is of a chainlink fence surrounding a pile of wood, stone, and trash, labeled on the back "the house across from the beach."

But, as she closes her letter, "the south will rise again."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Remember memory?

Well, the memory that I installed not long ago has resulted in some improvements. Web browsing in Internet Explorer and Firefox has remained the task most affected by adding more memory. It definitely helps in games when loading content; World of Warcraft loading times are significantly decreased, and Oblivion's are somewhat reduced. Photoshop gets use out of it too, though I usually don't have more than a couple hundred megs open in Photoshop.

Not a big change, but a decent enough one, I guess.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Martha Spomer's household tip # 00004

Replace your vacuum filters more than once every two years. You can feel the difference in increased carpety je-ne-sais-quoi.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I hate this UI

I hate this UI. It's just painful.

Screenshot of Windows Media Player 11 setup UI
Windows Media Player 11 setup

Which part is 50% done? I'm sure it was slightly more obvious at the time if you sat and watched it. But that UI is just dumb.

Expression

UPDATE: There was a problem with the download link when I originally posted this. It should be correct now.

Microsoft Expression Web Designer CTP1 is now available for free download. It's very nice; it's got great CSS and code support, and the best ASP.NET rendering around. It's not great for the kind of person who wants to create VB or C# classes, since it's a design and HTML coding tool, but you can certainly design a pretty website with it and then make it work in Visual Studio, or take an ugly website from Visual Studio and make it pretty in EWD.

EWD even features some of my own artwork. That's right; I drew this beautiful button used in the EWD design surface, which just happens to be nearly identical to the Office SharePoint Designer editing surface:

The Common Control Tasks button

Oh, the glamorous life of a Microsoft developer.

Lasting impression

Today I've been unable to get the image of a cartoon Don Knotts out of my head.

Why are there so many ostriches? The brochure said there'd only be a few ostriches.

(It's a Family Guy thing...)

Now everything is a nail

Diffs are something that I used only a couple times before starting at Microsoft, and now I use them each and day at work, and keep finding other uses for them in my home life. A diff of two files is essentially a composite view that shows what is different between two files. It's commonly used between an earlier version and the current version of a file.

The common usage scenario for a diff is this: say you have a file that contains the code for a class in your program. Something about that file changed since last Monday. What changed? Call up a diff between the current version and the version that existed last Monday. (Since you have access to a source control system, you have access to every version of every file in the product.) Now you know exactly what changed. A line toward the bottom was removed, so it's highlighted. An entire new method was added, so it's highlighted. Also, a couple lines were commented out, and a couple were reordered. You can easily tell what changed last week. It turns out that that one of those lines that was commented out is the problem—it should have been the line above.

Here's a screenshot that should illustrate things to the unfamiliar.

I knew diffs existed many years ago, but having rarely used them, problems that can easily be solved by them were usually solved in a less efficient way. The most recent time that I used them at home was when I was tweaking Oblivion's settings for better performance. I made a backup copy of my configuration file, and then edited the real one. One of the settings I used made the graphics look pretty terrible, and I didn't remember which one. So, I called up a diff between the backup copy and the live file, and saw exactly what I had changed. It took a couple seconds. In the past, I would have made a backup copy, and then kept a separate file listing everything I changed, hoping that I remembered to update the list.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But, some of the things that I thought were screws before really were nails all along. I just forgot I had a hammer.

One of the diff tools that I use is the free and open-source WinMerge. (At work I mostly use two unreleased internal tools that have more features.)

Visibility

Over the course of the last week, three separate people complained in conversation about how their managers were annoyed that they weren't visible enough. (Two were on my team, and one was from a different team. They weren't the same managers.) "Visible" in this sense means being outspoken in meetings, sending out email to the team, and generally ensuring that nobody on the team forgets you're there. I find it extremely disappointing that visibility is something I'm judged on, because I find it an undesirable quality in people, and from the conversations I had with those others, so do they. I've brought it up with my manager and his manager both, and my manager's response was something along the lines of "oh, well, I should work to change the perception that people have that it's not a desirable quality." I guess I would have hoped for "you're right, now that you mention it, it is shallow and pointless." But, you know, sometimes you don't get what you hope for.

Malcolm in the Middle

Malcolm in the Middle had its series finale tonight. It was a good show, but it's hard to categorize. I think what kept it from being a great show is that it tried to appeal to everyone, leaving it with stretches of time where it's definitely targetting an audience that doesn't include you. There was definitely a lot of clever writing there, and Bryan Cranston, the actor who played the father Hal, did an excellent job throughout the series. He should have an award.

One thing that I found interesting about the show is the fact that the main family is definitely hovering around lower-middle class. I found that very identifiable. In TV and movies, you tend to see people who are either very poor and that's one of the central themes of the film, or people who are at least reasonably affluent, even when they pretend not to be. Take the examples of The Simpsons, Friends, and Seinfeld. The main characters in all three of those shows have massive homes. Making ends meet has been the plot of several Simpsons episodes, but as Grimey notes, their home is practically a palatial mansion by comparison. When an outside shot of Malcolm's home is shown, the grass is dead, it's not kept up, it's small, and it's messy, but it's done very realistically, establishes the tone of the series, and reminds me a lot of home when I was younger. It was never intrusive, and walked a line between interesting backstory and an important part of the plot. I just find that appealing, because it's so rare that I actually identify with the characters or setting of stories that I watch.

Oh well. The show was good, perhaps not great, and if there's any show on TV that I watch consistently that I could afford to lose, it's Malcolm. But, I've seen every episode, and if I had missed one, I'd certainly go to the effort of tracking it down. It's still consistently funny.

A few of my favorite Malcolm in the Middle moments:

“If we only looked at things we could afford, we’d never look at anything but crap.” —Lois

“Piyama, I want to make sure I have the right pastels. What color are your nipples?” —Otto

“They say we’re stubborn; they say we’re closed-minded. But I say there’s nothing closed-minded about shunning ideas that make you scared and uncomfortable! And who cares if they say we’re afraid of life? Life is scary! Life is things… eating things. Well, I say, let everyone out there go ahead and eat each other.” —Hal

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dark omens

I found out from the front desk that my complex now has an automatic checking withdrawal system for rent, which I thought was quite exciting. So, I got my login information. Since that time about a week ago, I've visited the site three times, and gotten three different errors trying to log in.

I'm not so sure I want to give them my checking account information anymore...

The bearer of bad news

I've been loaning my Futurama DVDs to a guy on my team from Puerto Rico. He saw a lot of them when they were on TV, in Spanish. He finished up the third season, and I gave him the fourth one:

Guy: So, this is the last season on DVD?
Me: Yeah.
Guy: Do you know when the next one's coming out?
Me: (stunned)

I had to be the one to break it to him that Futurama is cancelled. He thought it was just a delay in translation. I think he was a little heartbroken. Then I became a little sad too...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Not actually all that bad

In Mission: Impossible III, there's a scene toward the end where Tom Cruise is running really, really fast.

Whispered...
Me: (drum roll sound) His athletics skill has increased.
Guy to the right: He should rest and meditate on what he has learned.

Outside the theatre...
Another guy: Hey, do you think Tom Cruise leveled his athletics skill at the end?

I can't go anywhere and avoid talk of Oblivion. Not that I mind. (That was one of many references, of course.)


So, I liked MI3 quite a bit. Good action movie. It was paced well, I liked Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Tom Cruise wasn't too bad either. I think I was misled about the quality of the movie a week ago. Then again, I went in with pretty low expectations, having already heard that it was bad, and having hated the first movie. (I never saw the second one.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why he will probably never buy another Mac

I found this article very interesting:

Why I Will Probably Never Buy Another Mac
We were told that Linux required you to edit endless configuration files by hand, that XP crashed all the time and was riddled with hardware problems from driver incompatibility. It defied all one's experience. It was simply false. But whenever one objected, a chorus of personal abuse followed... The fact is, they run Photoshop in emulation mode, and very slowly. Point this out, and you will be told how unfair you are being. Unfair to who or what? It's just a fact. If you want to run the package, it is all that matters. But on the forums, to allude to inconvenient facts has become an act. You are defining yourself publicly as an enemy of the people if you do it, on however small a scale.

It is exactly not like devotion to the Amiga or BeOS, which strikes me as a harmless, goodnatured enthusiasm we should all feel good about. It is a positive hatred of any sort of 'thinking different'. If you listen to the views expressed, they are in fact totalitarian and authoritarian. You will hear that choice is bad, it just confuses people. That it is good for you to have a limited and monopolised range of hardware that will run your OS. That all people want is one thing that works, not to be driven crazy by multiple alternatives that don't... It is in fact better for the user if Apple has a monopoly. They will only ever use their monopoly power to your benefit.

It's long, and, uh, a bit scathing, but quite interesting nonetheless. Of course, can the surprising number of Apple fans who read my blog say anything about this post without proving him right? :)

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Shall Not

I must also state for the record that the scene with the creepy old guy in Sunday's Family Guy was incredible. Definitely his best appearance since the first.

The shower brings clarity

I should have a shower in my office; I'd get so many things figured out. I always figure things out in the shower.

Just this morning I was mulling over the name of a guild on my World of Warcraft server, SARTUZS GELD OF HASWB. Sartuz is one of the other players, and that is his geld (sic), which exists solely for humor purposes. I realized that HASWB might be an abbreviation, so I thought about it for about two seconds, and came up with something. It turned out that I was very close to the real definition. I only got the last word incorrect; it's butter, not boys. I thought it might be the latter since Sartuz plays a priest.

Wet your pants

This Unreal Tournament 2007 screenshot doesn't even look like something that should be possible in a game. It's just disturbingly pretty.

Monday, May 8, 2006

8008135

On the way to work I passed a bus with an interesting advertisement. It consisted of a close-up photo of a woman's chest, wearing a shirt that said

Us-opoly.
OpenOffice.org

and to the right was the Sun logo and the word "share."

Er, okay.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Me, all me

I've registered the domain name travisspomer.com. You can now use blog.travisspomer.com as a permanent way to get to my blog, in case I eventually move it someplace else. Nobody will actually do this. (Don't use www.travisspomer.com.)

If it doesn't work for you right now, give it a day; the domain name might not have propagated to your ISP yet.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Arrrrr

It looks like I will in fact have to buy a new router thanks to Comcast's DNS server "up"grades. I tried a workaround that someone posted online, setting my router's DNS servers statically, but that hasn't helped. The problem is that DNS queries will either be instantaneous, or take so long that the browser times out—it seems that when the router receives the DNS information, it hangs for a very long time trying to process it, as it stops responding to requests on the local network during that time. The actual connection speed isn't affected.

Of course, I don't really know what I'm talking about...

Cultural ignorance

Until I looked it up, I was certain that yesterday was the Mexican Day of the Dead.

The Office

I finished up the BBC version of The Office, and while the second season was considerably better than the first, it just didn't do it for me. Laughs were rare, and the intentionally annoying character played by Ricky Gervais just destroyed my soul. Steve Carrell plays the character ten times better than Gervais; the only characters in the BBC version that are played as well as they are on the American version are the salesperson who likes the receptionist, and the boss's boss, and nobody on the British version is better than on the American version. And that doesn't even take into account the just-not-that-funny writing and the horrible accents.

Pass. There are a hundred shows more deserving of your time. I'm glad that the DVDs were very cheap. On the upside, each season is only six episodes, so you're only out two hours a season.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Rent, but not as in the musical

Well, I signed another apartment lease this morning. Hopefully this will be my last one before I move to a more permanent residence early next year. My rent jumped another $90 per month this year, which of course doesn't make me happy. I just don't like the idea that my rent can increase by some mystery amount, and the official response is just "well, that's what apartment prices are like around here. Actually, we're a little below average around here."

Of course, I'd miss the package service. That's really the only service of my apartment complex that I get much use out of, besides routine maintenance. I love knowing that my packages are being accepted by a person and aren't just sitting out in front of my apartment, though it was better a year ago when the front desk was open until 9:00 and I didn't have to get the package the next morning.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Giving me Fitts

Annoying: clicking in the upper-left corner of the screen doesn't close a window in Arabic Windows. You have to click one pixel to the right.

Picture of Arabic Windows

(Hey, Blogger supports PNGs now. Yay.)

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Napster

Finally, the solution for my troubles trying to post links to music: Napster's music library is now free to the U.S. public for the first five full plays of the song. That's noteworthy. After five plays, you can either buy the song for a buck, or subscribe to their service. (It's worth noting that a few albums I've stumbled across don't work this way; you still only get 30-second previews for most of the songs.) All you have to do is sign up for an account so they can track what you play.

One of the coolest things about the service is that the popup window that plays the song contains a permalink to that song that you can send out or post to your blog. Finally. It was always a hassle trying to find links to songs on the artist's website, on Amazon, or on some other site. (Don't they want people to buy the song? Why was it so hard?)

Let's try this out with some random tracks:
Jason Mraz—Plane (light rock/pop)
Amon Tobin—El Cargo (electronic/drum and bass/jungle)
Linkin Park and Jay-Z—Encore (rock/rap)
Madonna—Push (dance)
Imogen Heap—Cumulus (instrumental)
Okay, I had better stop before I hurt myself.

The sample quality isn't great, but at least it's on par with the usual 30-second samples you normally find. Probably 64kbps MP3.

Mr. A-Z

Jason Mraz—Mr. A-Z: Ehh, it's okay. I could probably live without it, but I don't regret the purchase. It's not music that really excites me, but it's not bad. Overall, it's very simple and light, which isn't usually what I listen to. It's just Jason and light instrumentation. There are a couple great tracks, though: Life is Wonderful, and Plane, and the oddly different Geek in the Pink. You'd probably like the CD if you were more into light rock/pop than I am.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Get a Mac

The Get a Mac ads are pretty amusing, if a little annoying.

Oh how the tables have turned

All through my life I've had memories of groups of people I've hung out with talking incessantly about sports, a topic that has never interested me in the slightest, and I don't imagine that it ever will. Now that I work as a professional engineer, shop talk during lunch is even more prevalent, and I find it even more distasteful, for even though I can occasionally participate in the conversation, it's not really what I want to have on my mind while I'm eating.

But now things are different. A couple weeks ago, almost all conversation topics eroded away, to be replaced with Oblivion. Everyone's playing it. It's all anyone talks about at lunch. It's all anyone talks about at Thursday game night. It's all anyone was talking about when I was playing Civilization. Sometimes I even pass people in the hallway, people I don't even know, talking about Oblivion. My manager even bought an Xbox 360 upon which to play it on Sunday.

The rare few who aren't are now completely out of the loop, alienated, and very annoyed. And I don't really care. For once in my life, something that I actually care about is the obsessive, all-encompassing, permeating conversation topic on everyone's mind. That's a nice change, no matter how brief it may be. In a month, people will be back to talking about the Mariners, just like how people were always talking about the Huskers or the Lakers or some other team I don't care about. The Dark Brotherhood and the Daedric shrines are far more pleasant.

The strange thing is... the conversations aren't even meaningful or fulfilling. I'm used to talking about things that I find inherently interesting or cool or funny. But this isn't like that. People basically just take turns talking about something fun they did. Most of the discussions on anything relating to Oblivion have been totally superficial. I found this guy and did a quest, and it was really fun. I'm grand-champion of the arena now. I really enjoyed the fourth Thieves' Guild quest. I found a bug where a person with disposition 100 was still yelling at me to get out of her house. And so forth. Maybe it's just the contrast to what kinds of things usually talk about at lunch that makes it still amusing. Maybe it's just fun to talk about and hear people talk about something that immediately invokes memories of gaming joy.

I don't know. Is this what it's like to talk about sports all the time?

Monday, May 1, 2006

The most irrelevant information I've ever posted

Today I was thinking about the different ancient graphics modes—mode 0 for plain text, mode 1 for CGA four-color graphics, mode 2 for that weird 640x200 resolution but only black and white text, and so forth. Those are the only ones I remembered correctly from my DOS programming days.

Here's the full list of BASIC-compatible DOS graphics modes!