Monday, July 31, 2006

Following the man

I rode behind an asshole on the way to work today. The sidewalks between my place and the edge of the Microsoft campus are very narrow, so bikes and Segways can't really pass each other. There was a guy on a bike who got in front of me right at the beginning of my complex. He was riding really slowly—I mean, walking speed. I didn't really have any choice but to just follow behind him at walking speed. Half a block before the first intersection, I said "I'm going to pass you at the intersection." He just shook his head, darted into the intersection without using the crosswalk signal, and then came almost to a stop on the other side, waiting for me to get there. He did the same thing when we got to the next apartment complex driveway. Other than at intersections and places where I could pass, he never really went any faster than walking speed. He'd even look back occasionally with a cruel smile on his face. Finally, I got rather impatient, and decided to just pass him on the outside of the sidewalk, which is pretty dangerous—I never do that because it puts me about one inch from falling off the curb and into a busy street. I figured it was better than becoming increasingly angry at the man. So, I rocketed ahead at a blazing speed of 10 mph, all the way to the next intersection.

I made it to the main intersection on the edge of campus right as another slow bicyclist arrived. He recognized that I would be going much faster than me, so he let me ahead when the light changed. Then, all of a sudden, the other biker darted in front of the both of us to the other side of the intersection, just as he had done before when he was ahead of me. And then, he came to his characteristic slow crawl, but now he was preventing two people from getting to their destinations. The sidewalks on campus are much wider and nicer than elsewhere, but there are hills on both sides in some areas, making it impossible to pass others on the grass. So, he rode in the middle of the sidewalk, swerving back and forth. We had no choice but to stay behind him. The other biker came up and rode alongside me, as the sidewalk is easily wide enough for people to ride side-by-side, but not to pass someone trying very hard to occupy both lanes.

The non-asshole biker quickly became fed up with the asshole biker, and made a quick turn into the trees and into a parking lot. So, I rode another four blocks behind asshole biker before he turned into the Microsoft campus. My heart sank as soon as I saw him turn into campus; the asshole works at the same company as me. He finally ended up going another direction right in front of my building, right after the three of us met up on campus one last time.

And that is the biggest jerk that I've come across in the past two years.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Fighting the man

I've discovered that while I can't connect to my phone via Bluetooth, I can send my phone an email with an MP3 attached, and then save that to the phone. I guess I'll find out how much that adventure cost me when I get my first bill. I assume that 50 KB isn't a terribly expensive file transfer for a person with the most bare-bones plan possible.

Actually, I'm very curious as to what my first phone bill from Verizon is going to be. I'm on a really bizarre plan. I'm sure I'll have more riveting details once I get my first new bill from what I like to call my "Wacky Communism and Gambling Plan."

Crippled

As it turns out, the phone's Bluetooth connection is restricted to headset use only. The phone actually supports file transfers, but Verizon disables it to make more money on their own services. You can unlock the features if you connect it via USB and tweak some bits in the phone's memory. Sigh. I'm not normally one to modify my hardware (not even overclocking my CPU), but I almost want to do that. But not quite. I can live with a horrid MIDI ringtone... nobody calls me anyway. I probably won't miss my murloc gurgle ringtone that I made for my old phone too much.

Batteries

My new phone took more than five days to lose two of its three bars of charge, and that's being open far more than usual playing around and adding numbers. My old phone could barely last a day without needing another charge. I've heard that reacquiring a lost signal is a big part of phone battery life; perhaps the old one just sucked so much because of the crappy service, constantly trying to find a better tower.

World of Mathcraft

(This post is meant more for people who don't play World of Warcraft than those who do.)

One of the sick little pleasures of World of Warcraft is how much math there can be in the metagame of deciding your various strategies of how you're going to play. There are so many numbers that you can play around with.

The main character that I play in World of Warcraft is a healer when in large groups—out of a group of forty people, about a dozen are tasked with keeping the forty of us alive while the others kill our foes. Everyone has a number which represents how close or far they are from dying—their health. I have a number which represents how much magic power I have left to heal my friends—my mana. It regenerates more quickly if it's been five seconds since I've healed someone. I have various different spells at my disposal, all at different power levels. Each spell uses up a certain amount of my mana, takes a certain amount of time to cast, and restores a certain number of health points to my beneficiary. It's up to me to decide which spells are best used in each circumstance. If I choose the wrong ones, my friends may die because they're losing health points more quickly than I can restore them. If I choose the wrong ones, my friends may die because I've run out of mana points and can't cast any more spells to heal them. If I choose the wrong ones, my friends may die because a monster killed them in two seconds but that wasn't long enough for me to finish my healing spell.

But there's a lot more to it. The equipment that I'm wearing has a drastic effect on my abilities. I can put on equipment that gives me more health points or more mana points, or makes my mana regenerate more quickly, or makes each of my healing spells heal more points of damage for the same amount of mana. I don't get to just choose what I want; I have to deal with the equipment I've found, purchased, and earned in the game, and find the most optimal set of gear for every situation. Of course, I don't have to do those things, but it's a part of what separates a great healer from a good healer.

All of the math is very organic, because there are too many variables to pick an all-around best strategy, set of equipment, and complement of spells. I have to use instinct and my experience. It's a fun endeavor, tweaking numbers here and there to come up with new ideas on how I can more efficiently do my job in the game. I get to experiment with things to see how they work... it's a metagame—a game that takes place outside the real game. Building your deck in Magic: The Gathering is another metagame. I tend to like metagames because they give me an excuse to obsess about games.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tubes and dump trucks

Now that our society has been plagued with approximately 3,000,000 too many jokes about the internet being a series of tubes, the Daily Show has enlisted the help of the "I'm a PC" guy to clear things up. If you haven't watched this clip, you must see it.

The Daily Show on Net Neutrality (not to be confused with the other Daily Show clips about Net Neutrality)

Arrested Development via tubes

I hear that my company bought the rights to show all three seasons of Arrested Development on MSN.com later this year. It's going to be free but ad-supported.

Newsweek

Alice is perusing an article in Newsweek titled something like "What Makes Girls Girls."

Alice: It says that most parts of the female brain are larger than their male counterparts, except the amygdala.
Richard: Which is the part that controls violence and aggression?
Alice: That's the amygdala.
Richard: And that one's bigger in men?
Alice: Yes. That's why women are less likely to get into fights.
Me: So then the part of the brain that controls mud wrestling and pudding fights must be larger in women too.
Richard: And Jell-O! What's that one called?
Alice: It's only in the male brain, and it's called "imagination."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Simple Life

For a little while now I've been using Word with the Ribbon collapsed, just to see what it's like. It's a pleasant minimalist interface. I don't know if I'll stick with it; for common commands like Bold this ends up taking more clicks to accomplish the same thing, but I tend to use keyboard shortcuts for those kinds of things anyway. Maybe it will work out. I'm just glad that more customization options are appearing than there were in the pre-beta builds, when I couldn't stand the Ribbon.

Screenshot of Word 2007

Jingles

People remember some really dumb, insignificant stuff as long as it's catchy. One little thing that I can't get out of my head is a jingle from one of the excellent You Don't Know Jack games, either #2 or #3. YDKJ was a series of popular and very clever trivia games, and before each question, there would be a couple-second jingle to introduce it. One of the jingles for question 17 was a Cajun-sounding man cheerily singing:

On the big bayou in Loooooooosiana, Question Sev-onnn-teen!

That must have been like a decade ago, and that jingle still rings in my head on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes I catch myself humming it in my apartment.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

An ironic delivery

Only once in my life have I ever, to my knowledge, received a package from UPS or FedEx earlier than the "estimated arrival date" on the tracking information. That day was yesterday. Since I wasn't expecting it, I didn't make it back until after the office closed. (My packages are delivered to the main office. I like this service quite a bit.) So, before work today, I walked over to the office, only to find that they were closed for the whole day for painting. The one time that UPS delivered the package a day early, I'll be getting the package a day late.

Irony, definition #2: incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.

Big bees

I had a poster made of the photo currently used on my blog template. ("Bee" in my latest collection of photos.) Snapfish charges $20 for the service, so let's hope that it turns out well. I had some smaller prints made from Costco, which partners with Snapfish but costs less, and I was impressed. They only charge $10, which seems like a very fair price for a custom poster. But, they no longer service non-members, and I don't make nearly enough prints a year to justify a $50 membership.

Now that I have no officemate, my workspace is very barren. I'm going to bring in this poster, one of my Despair posters, and a whole bunch of smaller photo prints to personalize things a bit.

Of course, that poster wouldn't have flown a couple months ago. My ex-officemate passionately hates bees.

Verizon customer

Well, I've given up on Cingular and am now a Verizon customer. Where before I got 0 bars, I now get four, and since that place is my apartment, I'm pretty happy with that. I even get a bar or two in my office.

I just spent the last thirty minutes or so punching numbers into my phone. It recently occurred to me that I probably could have moved all of the numbers from my previous phone onto the SIM card and just moved that over, but oh well. Next time, I suppose.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Random Organization

I've just recently noticed that my organization scheme for certain things was determined pretty arbitrarily. I keep my wallet, keys, change, Chap Stick, incoming mail, and pens on a counter in my kitchen area. Why? Because when I moved in, I needed a place to put my wallet, and I didn't have any better place to put them, not having any sort of furniture. It's not even a convenient place to keep them, because it's out of the way of everything, unless I start dinner as soon as I get home from work.

In my living room, which I just use for storage because the real living room is the master bedroom (which contains no bed), there's a little alcove where I have a wooden chest. It's there because it's big and annoying, and the dimensions of the alcove happen to almost exactly match those of the chest. On top of that chest is a lamp, because when I was unpacking, I didn't really want to do anything with the lamp, but I didn't want it damaged, either. So, it's sat there for over two years, never once plugged in. Also on the chest are my light backpack, which I take to work most days, my camera backpack, and scattered camera equipment and a tripod. It's there because I keep my Segway over there, and those things (except the lamp) I generally only use when I'm going someplace. The Segway only lives there because I randomly chose that spot when looking for a place to plug it in to charge it.

I have a lot of organizational habits like that, it seems, with the locations of all sorts of objects snowballing from small, insignificant decisions I made long ago. Then again, the time and space that I would save from finding a better way to store these things probably isn't even worth it.

Junk

We love recycling

Recycle bin filled with trash and sticker that says WARNING NO GARBAGE

That's the newspaper recycling bin nearest my apartment.

Photography


I've got 18 photos up from my last two photography trips: last Thursday, and last fall.

Photos

My favorites are the ones titled "Bee," "Bird," and "Cross." Some of them have some noticeable technical problems, such as focus problems on the flowers. But, I'm slowly getting better. I just need more practice, whenever I can get it. I need to make time to get it.

I used SimpleViewer to create the gallery, and I'm very happy with the results. It's not terribly difficult to set up, and produces much more attractive results than Photoshop's albums or the photo gallery add-in that comes with FrontPage, SharePoint Designer, and Expression Web Designer.

I've found that trees do not seem to make good photos unless they are very far away, in some magnificent vista. Their beauty and detail just doesn't seem to translate well to a 3x5 print or even a 21" monitor. They have to be big and real. That's really too bad, because I love trees. I'm sure I'll pick up some more tree-photographing tricks down the road, at least.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

FRM: Friend relationship management

Sometimes I think of how convenient it would be to have a database of all of the random facts I hear about people. For example, if you find out someone's vegetarian, you could file that away in a database forever. Basically, CRM (customer relationship management), but for friends, not just customers. You can sort of do this with Outlook or any other program that stores contacts—I already store certain hard-to-remember things like birthdays and middle names there—but it's clearly not designed for storing peoples' dietary restrictions, religions, current significant others, last vacation spot, and so forth. A dedicated program, probably with some kind of mobile component (for your smart phone or PDA), would probably be better. (Or, perhaps an Outlook add-in.)

But there'd be one huge problem if such software became prevalent: suddenly, potentially very personal information about you is everywhere—on your friend's home computer, office computer, PDA, and cell phone. And maybe on his friends', depending on how easy it becomes to share this information. Maybe something that will happen in the future is that people will just give their friends access to a variety of personal information about them stored in some central location, and then increase access level as the friendship develops. Today, many people's phone number is a kind of token that proves that the person likes you at least somewhat. Perhaps other "tier 1" information could include a middle name and dietary preferences, but later on that person might allow you to know somewhat more personal information like T-shirt size. It would have to be simple, popular, and pervasive for that kind of system to work, and I don't think it will happen anytime soon. But it's something that may happen someday. Perhaps with social networking experiments like Facebook, we're on the first stepping stone to having a wide variety of personal information available someplace in a standard format, meted out to people who have earned trust and respect.

But people are fickle. While nerds love to adopt technology for technology's sake, the system won't really work if only nerds use it. Normal people would have to use it. (Well, okay, I could probably get by if only nerds used it, since I rarely talk to people who aren't at least somewhat nerdy.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stunned

Out of nowhere this afternoon, while I was standing outside during a Friday morale event dealy:

Marc's girlfriend: So, you going to be there tonight?
Me: Tonight? What's tonight?
Marc's girlfriend: A bunch of us are going to a Mariners game.
Me: I heard nothing of it.
Marc's girlfriend: Oh, I thought you and Marc were best buddies. I guess you're really just his secret friend that he plays silly video games with and refuses to talk about. Okay, have a good weekend! (walks off)

I was somewhat stunned by that.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Funny friends

Funny Friends, the English version of an unpronounceable German game that I played a year or so ago, is out, and it's as great as I remembered it. It's the rare game that has a fun, deeply-ingrained theme, but also is a well-thought-out game in its own right. The object is simple: be the first one to complete five secret life goals before the other players. Cards that help you attain those goals are chosen from a common pool shared by everyone, and the cards are auctioned to whoever wants them most desperately.

Condom Broke When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Eat Chocolate
Cards used to achieve your goals: Buy "Condom Broke" to have sex and a child with the person you're dating. Or, buy "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Eat Chocolate" when you're miserable to cure your misery but make you fat.

That could have been a decent, though somewhat dry game on its own—a bunch of statistics and relationships between players that are tracked on a mat and altered by cards auctioned by the players. But, any game in which on my turn I'm trying to decide which other player to date and subsequently have sex with so I can break up with them on my next turn for one goal (break up with three people and then become miserable), while simultaneously trying to become addicted to cigarettes for another (take up smoking so I can quit later), all while cheating on my current lesbian girlfriend... well, that game gets a thumbs-up from me.

Mac User
If one of your life goals is to become a Mac user, you need to have money and knowledge, be fat, and have at least four friends. When you become a Mac user, you make even more money and score one of the five points you need to win. If you're miserable but not fat, perhaps you should think about chocolate...

It's from two excellent designers: Friedemann Friese (Power Grid) and Marcel-André Casasola Merkle (Meuterer, Attika). But, more importantly, it's just a great game. The original German version was still a good game, but with only pictures to amuse you, it's not quite the same. Now that it's finally available in English, it's a keeper—a great game to keep around for when just the right people show up.

Also, I've now played it three times, and won every time. I guess I'm just great at life.

Time off

I took today off to go photographing with Louise. That was a lot of fun; I've still got way too much vacation time that I need to use up. (If only I had taken the day off a couple days ago when it was cool, instead of today when it was 90.) But, I've made one terrible mistake: I really could not be less motivated to go to work tomorrow. Now Friday, normally a happy day, is just an island in what I should have made a long weekend. Oh well. I'm gonna have to start taking off weeks at a time if I don't want to lose vacation time by the end of the year. (Hint: I don't.)

I'll post some pictures somewhere hopefully sometime this weekend.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Big Decision Escrow Day

This afternoon I decided that I would switch to Verizon, which seems to be the only carrier that can get a signal to my apartment complex, and also has some pretty creative plans that should save me some money each month. I'm tired of Cingular and how they seem to suck at everything.

I'm in Big Decision Escrow. I do this a lot when the stakes are relatively high, even though in this case it's mostly just annoyance and lost time if Verizon happens to suck as much—it would be difficult for them to suck more than Cingular. I give myself at least 24 hours to mull over the decision and cancel it if I change my mind. I sometimes make decisions too impulsively if I don't force some consideration time upon myself and I'm excited about the change, but if I spend more than a day, I'll obsess way too much. It's not a formal process: if by tomorrow afternoon I haven't thought of a good reason not to, I'll go ahead and switch cell phone carriers.

I guess it's pretty much the same thing as engagement. I've already decided that I'm switching, and I've picked out the plan and phone that I want. But, if I decide not to go through with it, at least it's not Till Death or Twelve Contractually Obligated Months Do Us Part.


The new guy on our team said that he couldn't decide between T-Mobile and Verizon, so he did what any reasonable man would do: he decided with his penis. He decided that it would be more proper to support the company that chose Catherine Zeta-Jones as their spokesperson, rather than the significantly-less-hot annoying guy.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Silver office

Office 2007 is now available in silver.

Screenshots of Office 2007
Another corporate-approved screenshot stolen from Jensen Harris

Personally, I still like the black theme best. I think the blue is maybe a little less garish than the Office 2003 blue, and the silver is a nice improvement, but the black is great. I use it on all of my machines.

Uninterruptible

I must have a minor power outage at my apartment a couple times a month. It's somewhat irritating, but it would be much more irritating if I didn't have my computer and various equipment all on uninterruptible power supplies. Not to mention how much anguish those babies save me every time my vacuum trips the circuitbreaker. Those were great investments.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A revelation in baldness

I just realized something.

My head is a light skin color. My hair is a medium brown color. I can't change the color of my skin. I can change the color of my hair. So, when my hairline recedes even more, or I develop a bald spot on the back, I can bleach my hair to make it (possibly) less noticeable. Everybody wins!

Surprise and mystery

I love receiving unexpected packages by myself. It's always fun to preorder or backorder something and then have it arrive three weeks later and have completely forgotten about it. You get double the pleasure of commercialism that way! Of course, this doesn't work for goods that require instant gratification. Or, you know, perishable food items.

Bite my glorious golden ass

I just finished watching the entirety of Futurama, thirty hours of pure joy broken into 22-minute segments. I don't know when I started watching it, but I think it was pretty early this year—many months ago. So great. I'm still ecstatic that it's coming back, eventually. Of course, it could be another two years before a new episode airs. I've got enough dinners to watch all of The X-Files by then.

Or maybe I could try some show I haven't seen before. I keep hearing good things about Deep Space Nine, the only Star Trek series of which I haven't at least seen a large chunk of the episodes. The biggest problem there is that I don't already own Deep Space Nine. And, I just finished Voyager before starting on Futurama. X-Files it is!

Double gross

Lysol toilet cleaner smells exactly like conversation hearts, not Lysol spray, as you might assume. I'm not sure which is more gross: that conversation hearts smell like toilet cleaner, or that toilet cleaner smells like conversation hearts.

Anagrams for kindergarteners

The short version:
Gotan Project—Lunático: 9/10


I just got the new Gotan Project CD Lunático last week, and I didn't want to wait another month before saying on the record that it is very excellent. Gotan Project makes some lovely slightly-electronic tango music, and if you loved their previous CD La Revancha del Tango, you'll love this one too, because it's pretty much the same. I don't really know enough about tango to be able to clearly say what makes Gotan Project different from "normal" tango music. Most of the tango I have is by Astor Piazzolla, and strongly accordion-based. The two Gotan Project CDs are more laid-back and have a more pleasant set of instruments than the meager few other tango CDs I have. The accordion isn't quite so in-your-face, and the production and vocals are excellent. I guess it's just modernized, more than anything.

Of course, the best way to get a feel for what the CD sounds like is to hear a few tracks. The sound is so rich and well-done that it feels like a crime to listen to it in 64kps (or whatever), but perhaps it will encourage someone else to buy the album. You gotta try out Mi Confesión, the best (and only) rap over accordion that I've ever heard. Also excellent are La Vigüela, probably the most electronic track on the CD, though still unobtrusive, Criminal, a fun little song with great bass, and Amor Porteño, one of the more laid-back numbers. (Note that Napster has La Vigüela and Criminal swapped.) You won't like this CD if you hate accordions. Otherwise, give some of those tracks a try. "A+++++ HIGHLY RECOMMENDED WOULD BY AGAIN."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bad luck

My friend Alexis has played four games of intramural softball at Microsoft. The first time, he didn't stretch beforehand, and tore a muscle or twisted his leg or something that kept him out of commission for a while. Second time was fine. Third time was fine. And, on Tuesday, he broke his leg sliding into the base.

He's not even an unathletic guy. Just unlucky, it seems.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

This is Travis on drugs

I started taking melatonin last night. I think it's working. About ten minutes after I took it, I started to become sort of drowsy, and it didn't seem to take as long to fall asleep as I'm used to. Then, at 7:00 this morning, I awoke of my own accord, well-rested. But, it was too early to get up, so I went back to sleep, and then I awoke a little later from the alarm, cranky.

I read that it takes a few days for it to come into full effect. So, we'll see if this helps to improve my sleep cycle a bit.

Claws for meeples

I make sure not to clip my nails a few days before Thursday nights. This makes my fingernails good for something, because Thursdays are usually the only times that I need fingernails: for picking up cards, tiles, and tokens off the table. (In practice, I usually wait until the end of the weekend, because sometimes I play games on the weekend too.)

Regret

I regret only that it would be mild copyright infringement for me to get that blown up to poster size. I'd finally have something to put in my office.

Hottie of the week

Professor Farnsworth
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama, "Crimes of the Hot"

Just thought that Professor Farnsworth and I would sexen up your week a bit!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Stone age dental care

I've run out of Glide® brand floss, and it'll be a few more days until I restock, so I just broke out the regular dental floss. Holy crap, it's like I'm flossing in the stone age. Glide is one of those products you can't live without once you've tried it, like my new silicone contact lenses, and DVRs.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Liquid

Washing your hands in a sink full of water, as opposed to under running water, is a weirdly pleasurable sensation. I know this because my apartment complex planned on cutting off water at 9:00 this morning for maintenance, and I got out of the shower at about 8:58, so I frantically filled the sink and my glass with water.

Violent tendencies

Well, I scanned all of the computer games in and on my game shelf at home, and all of them involve killing in some way. The only half-exceptions are Civilization IV and Space Rangers 2. In Civilization I tend to play a very peaceful game and don't start any wars. In Space Rangers I didn't attack the other trading ships. But, both do still involve killing. Every game on the shelf. I find that strangely funny.

If you leave the shelf for my archives, you can find a couple others that don't involve killing, or at least it isn't a primary focus: SimCity 2000 and 3000, two Monkey Island adventure games, Worms Blast, and the whole You Don't Know Jack series. Pretty much everything else in there, probably over a hundred games, involves killing other people, and for many of the games, that's a primary focus.

Meat is murder

Sometime I should look through the games on my shelf and see which ones don't involve killing in some way. The only ones I can think of right now are the You Don't Know Jack series, and they're no longer technically on my shelf.

One last time

I originally planned to write this post later, possibly sometime this weekend, but I decided to write it immediately so the euphoria was still fresh in my mind.

I've finished up with Diablo II, and I'm glad I took some time off to replay it. It's a great game, but one with a full head of grey hair. It wasn't a technological marvel to begin with, and now it looks pretty depressingly bad. The cutscenes fared better than the rest of the game's graphics, being shining examples of computer animation at the time, but they too are showing their age. That said, it's a near-perfect example of a game from the turn of this century, and one that hasn't really seen too many strong contenders for its crown in half a decade. The design and play of the game has held very solid, and is very clearly at the core of the successful design for World of Warcraft. The story is excellent and timeless. Despite being five years old, there are few problems in gameplay that stand out—you can say that about extremely few games. Entire genres have progressed in that time.

Diablo II
Diablo II (2000)

Until replaying Diablo II I hadn't even quite noticed just how much of World of Warcraft's gameplay is based on it. The obvious things are there, but more subtle things like a dependence on elemental resistance for certain fights I had forgotten. Were it not for the obvious differences in the way that encounters are designed for the two games (requiring up to 40 people for certain battles in World of Warcraft, versus everything in the Diablo II base game being able to be completed solo), World of Warcraft could have been Diablo III set in the Warcraft universe. Sometimes I wonder how much more similar World of Warcraft could have been to the more fast-paced action of Diablo were it not for Warcraft's need to generate monthly revenue. It could have been a happy medium between the insane 25-on-1 action you sometimes find in Diablo and the slow, tedious 1-on-1 grind you sometimes find in World of Warcraft. I refuse to believe that the massive difference in paces of two otherwise similar games are an accident, totally unrelated to business matters.

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft (2004-present)

I always think of going back and replaying games that I loved, and I almost never manage to. Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen may be the two games that I want to replay most often, but I never will. They're almost a decade and a half old now; the graphics are terrible, but even worse, the gameplay is very crippled by modern standards. What was an incredible triumph would now be nostalgia dotted with incredible frustration. The artform has advanced since then. Anyone remember when, in adventure games, you could make a mistake and then find out that you made it impossible to finish the game after already playing in that doomed world for weeks? Anyone remember... adventure games?

Darkside of Xeen
Might and Magic: Darkside of Xeen (1993)

I feel sad admitting it, and I don't want it to be true, but I don't see myself ever playing Diablo II again. Or any of the Might and Magic games III-IX. Or Betrayal at Krondor. Or Planescape: Torment. I tried replaying Might and Magic IV like five years ago, and even then the things that were standard or even innovative then were just annoying when measured against modern game design; it would be worse now. I guess that's where they belong, in memories. They're icons and idols to me, and I suppose they should stay that way. There won't ever be a dearth of new games for me to play.

Books are pretty timeless. Good movies and music can withstand many years before starting to fade. But games, being far more complicated beasts that the consumer takes a very active role in, are far more susceptible to becoming dated in a much shorter time.

In my ideal world, there would be more remakes of games. It's done in the movies constantly; I'd like to see it happen more with games, where it almost never happens. Any number of my favorite games could be redesigned with the same characters, same story, same world, same quests, and same puzzles, with new graphics, new music, and modern gameplay innovations like being able to turn at angles other than ninety degrees, and I'd call them a 10/10. I bet they'd make a lot of money too, with a proven core and an existing fan base. I've never been against the idea of remakes and second editions of art... I guess I'm with George Lucas on that one.

But I've droned on long enough. Diablo II is great, but it's time to get back to Heroes V, and then on to new things. I'm just happy to have defeated Mephisto, Diablo, and Baal one last time.

The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (2006)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Creepy

I think that next Valentine's Day, I'm going to get the corniest, most unpleasant valentines I can find, and slide one under the door of everyone on my team. If I can find some really hideous ones with ponies or something like that, even better.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Three nines make an excellent month

For those of you who enjoy hearing about the new stuff that I'm hearing, here's what I've been hearing for the last month here.

The short version:
Zero 7—The Garden: 9/10
Conjure One—Extraordinary Ways: 9/10
Nelly Furtado—Loose: 9/10


I've been extremely impressed with Zero 7's The Garden. If you're familiar with Zero 7, you can just skip the rest of the mini-review; just buy the CD, and you'll love it. But, in case you didn't take my advice and are still reading, this CD is a little faster-paced than their previous two albums, and a little less light and ambient, but it's still the same great combination of styles: electronic, jazz, and pop. The great thing is that their music seems to appeal to people who don't normally consider themselves to like all of those genres; myself, I don't really tend to like too much jazz, but this CD is gold. It's quirky and fun, without being nearly so bizarre as some of the other music that I like and few others seem to.

I feel that a lot of people who liked The Postal Service's CD would probably like this too, even though the sound is quite different. This CD is a more personal, relaxed experience, as opposed to jarring, weird vocals on top of a beep-boop-beep 80s video game soundtrack with a hyperactive beat. The Garden is soulful, beautiful, and exciting. Check out my favorite tracks, This Fine Social Scene, Throw it All Away, You're My Flame, and the opening track Futures. This album probably has more mass appeal than most everything I've talked about recently; I think just about everyone could like it.

After Zero 7, I moved on to Conjure One's second CD Extraordinary Ways. Conjure One is the solo band of one of the guys from Delerium, and it sounds close enough to Delerium that it could basically just be considered another Delerium CD, in the same way that Imogen Heap's work under the name Imogen Heap is pretty much the same as that under the name Frou Frou. Anyway, while the first self-titled Conjure One album I'd recommend to anyone who liked Delerium's music, this one is a must-have for those people but also great for a wider audience. Conjure One is more of the "female guest vocals over sweeping electronic chill-out music" genre that I like. But, that's a big genre, and this is up at the top. It's extremely well-done, from the beginning to the end. Check this out if you like Delerium, Balligomingo, Paul Schwartz, or any of the other bajillion similar artists. You also may like it if you like Hooverphonic or Frou Frou / Imogen Heap.

For a lovely representative sample, check of I Believe, Pilgrimage, and Extraordinary Way. For previous Delerium and Conjure One fans, it's worth noting that this album is almost completely missing the "world music" sound of previous albums.

Finally, I've been listening to the third Nelly Furtado CD, Loose. All of her albums have been radio-friendly pop, but all three have different producers and styles. This one is the most dance-pop of them so far, and that's no accident; it's produced by Timbaland, and it's dangerously catchy as a result. But, the CD is not completely shallow dance music; Nelly brings her own Latiny style to every track, and it still explores several different sounds over the course of the CD. It's the kind of CD that you want to play again immediately after it finishes, and it contains my favorite song of the summer so far, a track I've played countless times already. It's probably the only thing I've listened to on the way to and from work for the past week or more, twice in each direction. This song is All Good Things (Come to an End), and it's amazing, emotional, beautiful, and a perfect end to the album, not just because of the title. It's classic Nelly Furtado.

The CD starts off in full-on dance pop mode, with tracks like her first single Promiscuous, then moves on to the Spanish tracks like Te Busque (English and Spanish included on the CD), and then after a bizarre trip into the 80s with Do It, slows down a bit until All Good Things at the end. The way the CD flows from track to track is close to perfect; despite covering so many different styles, it's not unsettling, and still feels like a single album. Highly recommended. I would have probably given it an 8 were it not for All Good Things, but I like the song so much that it raises the entire album up a point to a 9. :)


So, with three albums rated at 9/10, as well as Poe's Haunted and the self-titled Brazilian Girls CD from last month, I've been pretty entertained. Definitely give those CDs a listen.

Friday, July 7, 2006

MPC

So Vista's got this thing where it assigns a number between 0 and 5 to the performance level of the components in your system, and then your system overall. I'm extremely skeptical of this... it just seems like an idea doomed to failure from the very second someone thought of it.

1. We already tried this like a decade ago. It was called Multimedia PC, or MPC, and it ranked your system with a number based on your components. Then you could just look at a game, see that it required a Class 1, and if you saw that you only had a Class 0, you'd need to upgrade. But, nobody liked the idea, because boiling a system's overall performance to a single number is fairly absurd. Of course, maybe it failed just because it wasn't backed by a single major company like Microsoft.

2. Nobody's going to agree to terms. Of course Intel and AMD are both going to say that their Processor Whobazz is faster than their competitor's Processor Zizzle Extreme and deserves a higher ranking than Microsoft is giving them; they practically have to.

3. Unless I'm grossly mistaken and we hired a bunch of industry experts, Microsoft doesn't have near the experience that long-time benchmarkers such as Futuremark have, and even their benchmarks aren't a perfect description of performance in a single number.

My prediction is that this system will be used by a couple big companies, they'll give up on it, Microsoft will ship it again in the next version of Windows regardless, and then in the following version they'll remove it because it's dumb. But, hey, Windows division, prove me wrong.

Pizza Hut

After my vision stopped going black from the pain, once it was possible to think of something besides just how much my stomach hurt, I thought of a good way to describe what I was feeling at 6:00 this morning:

Pizza Hut is playing pinball inside me and they just hit multi-ball.

They're out of quarters now, though, so I'm feeling fine now. Actually, I'm feeling a strange "lightness" (or perhaps "highness") at the moment; maybe I've got a bunch of endorphins floating around that I don't need anymore.

I guess I'm starting work early today.

The quotes file

As many of you already know, I keep a huge Word document of funny and interesting quotations I come across, from well-known people, authors, and my friends. (Right now it sits at 76 pages with small margins.) Several of the quotes from my friends aren't even remotely funny to me anymore, so clearly I have much to learn about gauging universality of humor. In contrast, most of the funny things I've quoted in there from Futurama and The Simpsons are still great, even out of context.


And now, to make this entry longer, what may be the funniest thing I've ever read on Slashdot, by someone going by the name "Waffle Iron":

“The DRU500A by Sony burns DVD-R/-RW, DVD+RW/+R, and even CD-R/CD-RW discs. At $349, you’d be wasting your money. I paid only $249 for a Sunbeam Gas Grill. At 40,000 BTU/hour, it will easily burn DVD-R/-RW/+RW/+R/ROMs, CD-R/CD-RW/CD-ROMs, floppies, Zip disks, Jaz disks, books, magazines, motherboards, DVD/CD drives, keyboards, hotdogs, steaks, dead rodents, old shoes… just about anything.”

But I swear it's funny

It's so frustrating when there's something that you find incredibly funny that you just can't share with people because it requires a bunch of context, and especially when it's a joke from some recorded medium and part of the joke is in the delivery. For the past couple weeks, I've been repeatedly laughing internally at a hilarious line in the new The Producers movie-musical-movie. I really have to keep it to myself, because no one else is going to get it. But, since I don't keep nearly enough things to myself on this blog, it seems, here it is:

Carmen Ghia: “I’ll take your hats, your coats, and your swas-ti-KAs.”

See? Not at all funny. But I look at that and can't help but laugh, becuase it's so funny in the movie. Sometimes you get a break because it's something from Family Guy, and so pretty much everyone knows the scene you're thinking of, and all you need to do is make the slightest mention, and suddenly you're funny. But most of the time you're not so lucky.

A big part of being funny is knowing your audience, and that rule directly translates to this situation as well. As amusing as that line is to me, that's not going to be funny to someone who hasn't seen the movie. Of course, it's not just humor; any story or anecdote needs to be checked before speaking to see if it's worthwhile. That's a skill I'm trying to develop just for lunchtime conversations and the ilk, but I've got a long way to go...

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Oil and water

Goals of replaying Diablo II and restoring a normal sleep schedule are polar opposites.

Rich creamery butter

Why is it that so many people, myself included, find it at least somewhat offensive when they find themselves picking up other peoples' expressions and mannerisms? I never said "oh dear" in my life before moving out here, and I find myself speaking the same way that my coworkers do now, not simply using their favorite words. It isn't the end of the world, but it does bother me a bit. On the other hand, I find it weirdly satisfying when I notice someone else picking up my bizarre vocal habits.

Is it simply natural absorption of one's environment, at odds with the instinct to be independent and unique? Is it some kind of jealousy that someone else has discovered a more interesting way of talking? On the other side of things, is it pride that you've made a lasting impact on someone's subconscious mind when you notice them picking up your favorite phrases and habits?

Why don't I mind similarly when I find myself imitating someone on TV?

And why hasn't "that's a load of rich creamery butter" caught on? That phrase is gold.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Helpful

Today I awoke with the image of little neon poster board pawprint cutouts leading from the Oval Office to the White House cafeteria so Bush could find his way there, just like we had in elementary school. I thought it was a pretty funny image.

Pawprints

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Happy independence

I celebrated Independence Day with more Diablo II (I'm right up to Act V now) and then board games. I did the fireworks show thing last year, so I wasn't too anxious to do it again so soon. I do miss being able to light off dangerous explosives myself, though. Maybe some year I'll have to go back to Nebraska for the beginning of July and celebrate independence old-school with the family.

My pals Hratli and Ormus

I spent today playing Diablo II. Pretty much all of today. It was divine. I've started up a paladin, and I'm level 22 now, at the beginning of Act III. They've really changed things around since I last played years ago; the skill system feels very different now, with synergies between complementary skills. And the vendors sell mana potions now! Oh how I would have loved that long ago.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Classic gaming

Yes, I think that instead of any of the many games that I already own and haven't played yet, I'm definitely going to try my hand again at Diablo II or Warcraft III. I'm still leaning toward Diablo II again. A Paladin, I think. Mmmm, yes. Maybe as early as tomorrow, though I have plenty of Heroes to go. Heroes is about as start-and-stop-friendly as games come, so it won't suffer.

The funniest thing I've heard in weeks

I had a couple friends and some amusing mystery strangers over last night. It was a lot of fun. It included, in fact, the funniest thing I've heard in weeks. (Warning: computer humor.)

Lincoln: So, you like black, huh?
Nyomi: It’s my favorite color.
Lincoln: Well, really, it’s all colors. FFFFFF.
Me: That’s white, you n00b! Black is 000000.
Marc: So really, you were only off by one.

(Someone correct me if I got who-said-what wrong.)

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Hack, slash

I've had a strong urge to play Diablo II recently. If it lasts long enough to still be around once I've put more time into Heroes of Might and Magic V, I may go back and play Diablo II. It's been years, and there hasn't been anything to really take its place in my heart since. World of Warcraft and Guild Wars are closest, but I still find the classic "single superhero character" setting where I'm the only person who matters extremely compelling, moreso than playing with 1-39 other people, which is fun in a very different way.