Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slippery when... covered in sheets of lumpy ice

Of course, my problems with the weather right now would all be solved if apartment complexes would just shovel their damned sidewalks. As soon as I get to the Microsoft campus, everything's great. The half mile before that is a tundra wasteland, and takes a surprising amount of time to traverse.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I was going to post something about the weather outside, but Something Awful has done it for me. Safe for work, even.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

D'oh

I wish I would have read my work email before coming in today and discovered that the cafeteria is closed and most people are working from home.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Congratulations are in order

By the way, congratulations on the new house, fiancé, or fiancée; whichever one or more of those applies to you today. If you're one of the people to whom none of those apply, um... I hope lunch was delicious.

But the world is not ideal

In a more ideal world, I would have awakened at 12:00pm on Sunday and 7:33am on Monday, not the other way around.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Casino Generale

I awoke this morning at 7:33am, considerably earlier than I had planned, feeling quite refreshed, other than the aching in my shoulders and legs from a workout, and despite falling asleep about five hours before that. I couldn't fall asleep again at that point, so I decided to consider today my lucky day, and I got up and made myself breakfast. I had awoken from an interesting dream that I thought I'd share, since I now have all the time in the world to do so.

I have this strange thing where I just know details from the beginnings of dreams. I don't know how this works. Maybe the setting and early details of the dream are just inferred during the course of the rest, or maybe my brain gives me a quick trailer before the movie part of the dream starts. Or, maybe the early details actually were part of the dream, and I just don't have the faintest memory of them anymore. (That one's probably most likely.) But anyway, I don't know how I know the following paragraph of setup details, but I do.

I had been invited to a celebration and awards show honoring people who do interesting things that most of the world doesn't know about. Hey, it's my dream. Shut up. I remember that the first thing that came to mind is that it sounded an awful lot like those yearbooks that gullible parents are offered—the ones that contain pictures of kids whose parents were dumb enough to buy one or more close-to-$100 books of pictures of kids with other stupid parents. (I feel like I've blogged about this before, but I can't find the post anywhere.) Anyway, it was a free flight and hotel to a place I'd never been before, so I decided to go. The city was the headquarters of IBM, wherever that is—or wherever my sleep-deprived brain completely made up that it is.

The dream, as I remember it, started out with me driving around in this city. It was icy, and the IBM fall/winter interns had sanded the roads using colored sand that spelled out distracting phrases like "IBM INTERNS 2006" on the roads. Don't worry; this is an entirely useless detail; I only mention it because I was driving for quite a long time through this dark, foggy city. I made it to the building where the event was to take place around dinnertime, having skipped the numerous intellectual presentations that afternoon, from other nominees who were interested in various academic topics in math and sciences. Symposia just ain't my thang.

I arrived at the registration desk, and suddenly my "scam" lights turned on once more. The evening's "welcome entertainment," which had been glossed over in the brochure as an "exciting surprise," was a casino night. Except, unlike a typical "for fun" casino night, this one was for real cash. There was a required $500 buy-in, with a requirement that you have an extra $4,500 on standby in case you want more funds. Those who did not gamble were not eligible for recognition at the ceremonies the following day. Scam! Scam!

But I did it anyway. I've never actually gambled with real cash, so it seemed like an interesting thing to do. I charged the $500, and took the stack of cardboard tokens that I was handed. These tokens had to be traded in for actual gambling chips at a different table. So, essentially I used my plastic card that represents money to buy cardboard tokens that represent money to be traded in for plastic chips that represent money. Anyway, I showed up at the exchange table, and the banker asked me how many chips I wanted to buy. I wasn't required by the event rules to spend any particular amount for chips, so I decided to start out with $200, saving out $100. The cardboard chips had bizarre denominations like $45 and $55 and $3, so I started trying to count out $200 in chips. There were a lot of people in line, so I went quickly, and wasn't sure if I ended up with $190 or $200, but clearly the other guy would recount them, so I just handed him the stack. Then, I decided it was silly to spend so little on chips up front, so I counted out another $200 and handed them to the banker. He said I was ten short, so I gave him another token for $10. I was then given two red chips. I examined these, and they said $50 on the face. I asked the banker what was up, and he said, "That's one hundred dollars. You gave me ninety dollars and then another ten; one hundred." Now, I know that's not right at all. I gave him way more than $90 to begin with. Just two of the tokens were worth that; I remember them quite clearly, because they were yellowish-tan and had a picture of a fish on them. I gave him two of those, plus plenty of $55 tokens and lower denominations. I asked for my tokens back so I could recount them, but he had already added them into his stacks, so there was no longer any proof of how much I gave him. I was quite frustrated at this point, much to the annoyance to the jerk behind me in line, and I was just about to complain when the dream ended.

Dreams should not require math skills.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pox

A pox upon all TV-on-DVD producers who do not put a chapter break directly following the opening credits. I have seen the stupid opening credits for your show a million times. I do not want to watch them again. Don't make me fast-forward; DVDs have chapter breaks for a very good reason.

Corn

I didn't have corn at Thanksgiving. Had I imagined that there would not be corn, I could have brought it; I always have a dozen cans of corn sitting around. Who has Thanksgiving without corn?

To me, it's as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and mashed potatoes. But, I guess corn isn't as big of a deal outside of Nebraska...

Fish Market

Recently, I've mostly been listening to a bunch of the same stuff from previous months, but I've finished passing judgment on two more albums.

The short version:
Chali 2na—Fish Market: 4/10
Newsboys—Go: 9/10

The first album was Chali 2na's Fish Market, essentially a compilation album of collaborations with this Jurassic 5 rapper. Now, I love 2na's voice, and this album obviously has plenty of it, and his band Jurassic 5, but this "official mixtape" just isn't doing it for me. (I debated even giving it a 4 out of 10; I was pretty close to a 3.) Most of the songs just aren't very good; good vocals won't save a track that's not worth saving. Some aren't just bad; some are outright obnoxious.

The best tracks here are probably Join the Dots with Roots Manuva, the annoyingly-titled Frgt/10 with Linkin Park (which I already had on the Linkin Park CD Reanimation), and the just-as-annoyingly-titled Whose 2 Blame with Don Coleon. It's tough to find samples of many tracks on the disc; it's not on Napster, there are no samples on Amazon, and the back of the case doesn't even have a track listening. But, it's probably not worth your time. Just skip it, even if you're a big Jurassic 5 fan.

The second one was much better: Go, by the Newsboys. It's somewhere around their twelveth album, so they know what they're doing by this point, and it's very well constructed from start to finish. Their last two released albums weren't even in their normal style, and this one is their return to the realm of pop. They're one of the very first groups whose CD I purchased (possibly the second), and I even got a signed copy of this one. They're a Christian band, and while that usually seems to mean festering crap-pile, these guys are quite talented, and their music is neither sappy nor horrible.

This one was another tough one to rate. On one hand, it's definitely not my favorite album they've released—maybe third or so. On the other hand, every song on the disc is at least good, and some are excellent. So, compared to all albums, it's still a really great CD. I was listening to one of the tracks, Something Beautiful (:30 sample), about ten times a day for a while—it's delicious pop music candy that did not lose its flavor. Other favorites from the disc are Wherever We Go (full song), Your Love Is Better than Life (:30 sample), and The Letter (:30 sample).


I've made it through most of the CDs I've bought now; I'll probably check out some of the instrumental discs now... maybe some Mozart and that multi-disc collection of movie score favorites.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Chaos Theory

I finally finished Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory today, taking maximum advantage of my time off from work. Good game; equal to Pandora Tomorrow. Sometimes, you just feel like sneaking up behind someone and putting a dagger to their throat, interrogating them, knocking them out, and throwing them in a bathroom stall.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Extended family

Well, Thanksgiving was fun. Definitely my first one with such an eclectic group of people; usually the family back home will have one boyfriend or girlfriend at the table and that's it, if any. This time, I was four degrees separated from a couple of the people. (Kevin Bacon couldn't make it.) But, it was still a good time; we watched Finding Nemo and the last part of Shrek 2 before the toddler left, and then moved on to State and Main, which I seem to see once a year now.

Diagram of Thanksgiving visitors

On the... bright... side

One nice thing about having six lights in your bathroom is that when three of them go out, there's still little reason to replace them.

Happy Thanksgiving

This will be my first Thanksgiving away from Nebraska. I went back last year and the year before with the not-so-secret secondary motive of visiting with old friends while there. Now, many more of the Nebraskans I knew have left, and I already planned to go back for Christmas this year. That was before Grandma died; had I not already promised to return, I'd have waited until next Christmas to go back. Oh well.

I took the first part of this week off as vacation, and it's been nice, as always. I've still got quite a bit left to use up before it expires at the end of the year. As is typically the case, I start off well, getting eight hours of sleep a night and being proud of myself for doing so. Then, after a day or two, I go back to my usual schedule of five or six, and waking up wishing I'd have gone to bed earlier. I don't know why. Somehow I delude myself each and every night into thinking that I can get one more little thing done before bed, whether that's writing one more function, or finishing one more quest, or reading one more article. One thing leads to another, and suddenly it's been hours since I planned on sleeping. I need to become more disciplined; when it's time to sleep, it's time to sleep. I'm sure I'd be a happier, more effective person if I could manage that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ouch

Right now, I feel like someone punched me in the ribs this afternoon. It is not a pleasant feeling.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bond Begins

The new Bond movie, Casino Royale, is a good movie. But is it a good Bond movie?

Charismatic Bond: The new guy isn't bad. But Pierce Brosnan was definitely better. Also, I can maybe believe women seeing Pierce Brosnan in a Speedo and at least not being repulsed, but the new guy is gritty (ugly) and creepy, and there's no way those hot beach chicks would have been checking him out... 6/10.

Attractive female characters: Pretty good in this department, but no Halle Berry either. 8/10.

Awesome gadgets: Bond has some incredible (and Sony-branded!) technology at his disposal, such as phones that can send and receive text messages and email, and a GPS system to help him find places while driving. Wow! It's like I'm gazing into the future! The only cool gadget that even comes to mind is a phone attachment that lets Bond send a blood sample to MI:6 for analysis over the internet. There's not even a Q. I've seen documentaries about the Amish showing off more cool tech. (Well, not really.) 2/10.

Explosions and action: But of course. Well done in this category. 8/10.

Ridiculous supervillians: WHAT? Not even one supervillian? 0/10.

Ridiculous superweapons: WHAT? Not even one superweapon? 0/10.

Ridiculous storyline: They dropped the ball here too. The story wasn't actually that bad. Definitely a good spy movie. 3/10, because it wasn't very ridiculous.


Anyway, it's a good spy movie and a dubious Bond movie. I'm glad that I went in with the knowledge that this one's a bit different and not like a typical "Bond movie," because I think I would have been disappointed if I were hoping for another Die Another Day. Definitely worth seeing... just don't expect any lasers.

The Shadow of Death

In high school I had a great computer teacher, Mrs. T, with whom some of you are familiar. I took a few classes with her, knowing that they were essentially free credits requiring essentially no effort, in which I could download stuff using the school's high-speed connection and save it onto Zip disks to take home. I was also her TA, which was more of the same. (I actually don't remember how this worked. I don't recall actually doing the tiniest bit of work for her as a teacher's assistant.) When Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Shadow of Death was released, she let me skip out on my TA period to head to the mall and pick up our two pre-ordered copies of the game, which I then brought back just in time for the subsequent class I had with her, where I tried out the game on the projector screen for the hour. Normally I wouldn't have been allowed to leave the school grounds, but I was a TA with a pass and an important errand for my teacher, so everything was A-OK.

High school was a very enriching time. I only wish that I would have discovered the wonders of classes with Mrs. T before my junior year.

Advanced Civilization

If you come in last place, but only by a margin of about 1.5%, and you successfully pull off the most diabolically fraudulent act of the night, is that really still a loss?

Well, yeah, I'd say so. But it's a loss I will happily accept.

(If you know the game, I offered one player a gold, a 1, and a 2 for three cards that were great for me. I actually gave him a 1, a 2, and I believe iconoclasm / heresy. I was then free to trade that 9 to another player for more cards that were great for me.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Do what you love

There's a bit of old wisdom that says that you should do what you love doing, and that you should never be unhappy with your career for long. I work with some people who say that they do do exactly what they'd most like to.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is, sheesh, you really need better hobbies.

I think that there are a few lucky occupations that are, indeed, exactly what that person would most like to do in the entire world. I'm thinking things like high-profile scientists for a fusion research lab... things that you're passionate about and can only do in that setting. But those kinds of jobs seem like a small minority. The other thing that comes to mind is a stay-at-home parent; if that's what you'd most like to do, that's something that you can generally manage (at least on a technical level) with a few nights' worth of effort.

It's hard for me to really imagine why one would want to be a semiproductive member of society if you don't have to be. I mean, I love my job; I love software. But... I could sit at home and write software. It wouldn't be as big, or as complicated, or affect the lives of nearly as many people... but I could do it. In fact, if that's all I did, I bet I could write something pretty great, and the internet would let me share it with the world. Or, if I felt like it, I could take a month off and just play games for an entire month. Maybe I could work at Microsoft, but not have to ever do what my manager wanted me to do... just come in when I felt like it, leave when I felt like it, and do whatever I wanted.

All of these fantasy scenarios seem better than a realistic one... like my current life. The mere existence of them as very unlikely possibilities makes me scoff anytime someone makes the remark that they already do what they would most like to do. Sure, in the realm of realistic jobs, I'm pretty darned pleased. But I can certainly imagine something much more appealing.

So, maybe if those people don't need better hobbies, they at least need more active imaginations.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No smoking

Think of someone you love; someone who you're certain you could spend your life with. Now imagine that they smoke, or have some other habit that you just absolutely can't stand. Do you still love them enough that you'd want to spend your life with them?

That's an interesting threshold, at least for me. There are few people I know who I think I could spend my life with as it is, but with the gotcha that they smoke, that number drops to maybe one or two. It's something that I've really not thought about until now. It's nothing inherent to smoking; there would be several habits that would make someone similarly unpleasant to live with. There are people who love those who are chronically untrustworthy, or who cheat on their loved ones, or are alcoholics... and there are those who thought that they loved someone before those habits developed, and found that they no longer do.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting how one little everyday habit could so dramatically affect something so important and profound.

Crisp

Mmmmm, few things feel quite as nice as a fresh pair of contacts.

Maybe lying down and having a dozen kitties snuggle with you. That would probably feel pretty great. But that's not really on the table.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

IOU

When five of us went to Ireland for Spring Break of my senior year in college, there was a lot of debt to keep track of. Rental cars, lodging, and meals really added up; I'd say a couple hundred dollars of expenses to keep track of each day. Splitting each little transaction five ways was out of the question; it would have been a terrible amount of effort. Now, if it were just two people, it probably would have been pretty simple to keep things fair. But, with five people, you're practically guaranteed that the honor system is going to be very nice to at least one person and really shaft at least one person. I was determined not to let this happen. So, I tracked every little thing each person paid for in a little book, whether it was a ridiculously overpriced (and not very tasty) Irish Coke for one person at the St. Patrick's Day parade, or the whole gang's stay at the bed and breakfast. Then, it didn't matter at all if one person was mooching hardcore and one person was paying for everything.

After the trip, I typed all of the numbers into Excel. Then, with just a totals row, I had a number that quantified each person's generosity (positive number) or mooch factor (negative number) in an exact dollar amount. These could then be paired up, and with just like four or five transactions, the dozens and dozens of debts could all be rationalized and paid off, and everything was fair.

I was very pleased with how it all worked out in the end. Both of the extremes in my example—the quiet, generous person and the major mooch—tend to annoy me. Now, none of the people I went with would have intentionally been the one to pay a hundred bucks less than everyone else, but it seemed silly to me to have someone who got gypped out of a hundred bucks when it was completely unnecessary and extremely easy to prevent.

I imagine that at least one of the other four people thought I was needlessly obsessing over money a little too much, but nobody said anything, and I didn't see it that way. I don't like being indebted to anyone, even if they never expect me to pay them back. Besides being fair and easy to keep track of, the system brought me peace of mind; I could be sure that I wasn't cheating my friends, without just dumping cash on the problem.

Dead celebrities

I don't frequently like to make predictions into the future, at least not past a few days. But, I'm willing to make one. Sometime in my lifetime, businesses will exist that try to duplicate celebrities' voices, including those of the deceased, for computerized speech synthesis. Finally, you could have Majel Barrett read your email to you, or perhaps Fran Drescher for the so inclined.

I would love this service. There are many peoples' voices, celebrities and otherwise, who I'd love to hear more often. For example, I love the voice of the guy who did the voiceovers for the ancient books you'd find in Diablo (it might be this guy; I was thinking it was Tassadar himself, but didn't realize it was also Cain)... I'd love to hear that voice give me all sorts of idiotic status updates, like "you can't delete that file; it's in use by another program" or "you have two thousand three hundred and seventy-six new emails." Or, hey, it's the future; "your pot roast is ready."

If such a service existed today, I think that Sean Connery would be a very popular model, as would various Simpsons and Family Guy characters.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jump and shimmy

I've been playing Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory recently. It's the third game in the series; I played the second one a while back and it was tasty, and this one features the music of Amon Tobin, which makes it even more excellent. But the one thing that drives me bonkers about the game is a problem I have with many games in many genres: at some point you just get stuck. You just can't figure out what to do next, so you either spend ten minutes backtracking and looking for things you missed, or you open up a web browser and find someone else who already figured out what to do next. Even open-ended games like Far Cry and less story-oriented games like Doom 3 suffer from this.

I guess they think it sells those Prima Official Strategy Guides. I've played a few games with built-in hints and cheats, like The Seventh Guest, and they're always appreciated. There's a line between an interestingly challenging little puzzle and an annoying waste of my time. I'd love it if some game developer would invest in building a game system where you wouldn't get stuck, or if you did, you could immediately become unstuck. Then everyone else would just rip it off, and I'd be a happier gamer.

Of course, games are getting better at eliminating these sorts of player annoyances all the time, and for that I'm thankful. King's Quest V (1990), I'm looking in your direction, Mr. making the game impossible to complete because you forgot to buy the pie at the very beginning of the game like twenty hours ago.


The post title is in reference to the particularly annoying room I was stuck on. Oh, of course you have to climb up on the truck, face the opposite wall, jump, hang onto the pipe on the ceiling, and then shimmy across to the opposite wall. How silly of me to not have noticed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Without reason

One thing that always drives me up the wall is a rule without reason. If you're going to tell me I should do something, or shouldn't do something, or that something is good or bad for me, you're going to need to tell me why.

When I was in, I believe, kindergarten, I used to enjoy flipping off the other kids. A lot of us thought it was pretty entertaining to go around giving each other the middle finger at every opportunity. At one point, one of the paras saw me—not any of the other kids, apparently, just me—and pulled me aside. She told me to stop doing it. I asked her why. She didn't have an answer. I finally got her to say that it was a stupid rule and a silly thing for people to care about, which I was pretty proud of myself for, talking some sense into that para as a mere kindergartener. But, she got back at me; she said that since some people were offended by it, and if it really didn't mean anything, then it wouldn't be so bad if I stopped doing it. Ahh, Travis 1, Ms. Paraeducator 1.

So finally I had a reason not to do it, and I stopped. But I do not enjoy following rules without a reason, or at least ones where I can't even think of a reason to. A lot of people like this, though there are certainly people who don't mind not having a reason to do things. I don't really understand those people.

End-of-year resolution

I have a goal for this week: write one post per day on a backlogged topic that I've been storing for rainy days for the past year or two. It's rainy now, and it's gonna be rainy all week, so it seems like a wildly appropriate time to do it.

Goal, not commitment.

Public transportation is for jerks and lesbians

One of the things I use Google for most is to make sure that I'm getting a quotation right. For example, I wasn't sure if the title of this post was an actual Homer Simpson quote or if I was mangling it. It turns out that I was correct.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Huge... Winamp playlist

One very odd thing about sending my data to last.fm is that everyone can see exactly what music I'm listening to. That's, of course, the point, but it's just kind of unnerving. Then I get IMs like this one:

OK, I don't understand how you can have Hans Zimmer - The Battle and Linkin Park - My_Dsmbr in the same playlist

that is just wrong
(I added the links.)

Hey, they're good tracks. Sometimes I feel like listening to everything. My playlist of all of my favorite songs has hit 230 hours.

Search boxes

I dislike search boxes in browsers. I generally use Firefox for my normal web browsing nowadays, and I have a very minimalist toolbar layout without a search box:

Firefox toolbar

It's nice and clean, and I normally have my browser window wider than that, so the address bar is a nice size. By default, Firefox has a lot more buttons and a search box, but I removed those things because they're useless. When I want to search, I type 'goo "rime of the ancient mariner" drink' in the address bar. I'd much rather type "goo" and a space than type my search in a special box (the default was "g" but I changed it to "goo" because I was already used to that).

In Internet Explorer 7 I can't get rid of the box:

Internet Explorer 7 toolbar

So much wasted space. (In fairness, if I had more than one site open, Firefox would have a tab bar too, but I keep it at the bottom of the screen.) This wasn't a problem in IE6; it was customizable, and I modeled my Firefox layout after how I had IE set up. Internet Explorer does have a hidden feature that lets you do quick searches with keywords like "goo", but there's no UI to configure it (mmm, hidden registry settings), and unlike NetCaptor and Firefox, you can't set up those kinds keywords to work without a search string. For example, I have "s" set up to go to Slashdot in Firefox, but I can't do that in IE.

So, the wasted space is one irritant. But, even as great is the annoyance of having whatever I searched for last appearing in the window for all of my tabs. What if it was something embarrassing? Here are just some of the things in my actual Google search history that I probably wouldn't want to haunt me in that box...

"dragostea din tei" video
madonna "hung up" lyrics
tall quarter socks
"burst of speed" effect kotor "turn off" graphical
"tiny muffins spaced so far apart"
kitty "hair down" "glasses off" "arrested development"
annoying flash ads with close button

Nor any drop to drink

A recurring event in my dreams for the past six months or year or so is being in a situation where water is in limited supply. The setting changes—last night, it was in the Redmond area, and it was due to some disaster that contaminated the water supply, so it was shut off. In the past I've been stuck in a college cafeteria due to a blizzard, and probably a dozen other situations with the same theme.

I don't know what the source of these dreams could be, if there is one. I don't wake up thirsty, or really having to go to the bathroom, or soaking in a mess of my own urine. There appears to be no real-world correlation.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Deli Idol

My (delicious, by the way) Land O' Frost Sliced Honey Smoked Turkey says it's "America's Favorite 1 lb. Deli Pouch." Now, is that the prime time lunchmeat awards show with Billy Crystal, or the prime time lunchmeat talent show with Simon Cowell? I can never remember.

Toothbrush fellatio

The last batch of toothbrushes that I got (some subbrand of Reach) have an intriguing feature that I'd never seen before: little rubbery grooves on the back of the head meant for scraping your tongue afterward. They do an excellent job at cleaning up the tongue; my mouth feels cleaner after brushing now, and I'm pretty sure that this feature has also resulted in reduced morning breath. I'm very pleased.

There's only one drawback. Whenever I use the back of the toothbrush, I cough. Not just some little cough; an unpleasant, gagging cough with enough force to turn my eyes red. I've actually gotten to the point where just thinking about flipping the toothbrush over is enough to make me gag, and that's not an exaggeration.

At first I had hoped that I would simply get used to performing nightly toothbrush fellatio and the coughing would stop, but I'm annoyed that it's actually getting worse, because it actually is a very nice toothbrush feature.

IntelliMice

It seems that Microsoft has realized that their latest mice kinda suck, so they've gone back to producing the classic IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 again. This makes me happy. I was not looking forward to tracking down another one when my current one reaches its end of life.

Postal spam

I think I get a piece of mail from Fidelity about a dozen times a month—sometimes two or three separate pieces of mail each day. I'm sure they're required by law to send me all of this crap, but I certainly don't read it, and could hardly care less about it. I've checked every "please just send me email and not crap through the postal service" option I can find on their website, but I still get another thing from them almost every time I check my mailbox. No wonder the fees are so high.

Maybe if, instead of "Fidelity® Export and Multinational Fund Shareholder Update (Pages I to VIII) and Annual Report (Pages 1 to 48) August 31, 2006" it were titled "MIDGET PORN INSIDE" it wouldn't go straight to the trash can.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Greedy

Microsoft is paying Universal $1 per Zune sold, because "the Zune can play pirated content, so this helps us recoup our losses" (paraphrased). Wtf. That's just greedy.

I expect this deal to produce an extra $150 in revenues for Universal.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Release



Today it was announced that the 2007 Office System has been released to manufacturing!

It's a pretty exciting day for me. I have, after all, spent nearly 10% of my life working on it. In June of 2004, I joined Microsoft working on Microsoft Office FrontPage 12, and when that product ceased to exist, Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007, to which pretty much everything I did for FrontPage was ported. It's a pretty great little app, and I got to be a part of it.

In the reasonably near future, I'll talk a little more about what I did. But for now, I'm content to know that I played a small part in building what's got to be the biggest suite of business software in the world.

Oh, and I skipped work today—they gave us three days off to relax, which is lovely, because the office probably smells like liquor and mildew after the celebration on Friday. It looked like a proverbial frat house. The carpet was so warped from buckets of water being thrown around that it was sticking up four inches from the ground in places. There was standing water in the kitchens and bathrooms. There were bottles and cups everywhere. There were extremely drunk people sitting down in the hallways singing and playing guitar. There was a man in a bright orange kilt directing traffic. It was... weird.

I do not envy the cleaning crew.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

One and a half

In World of Warcraft I play a shaman, a type of character who is proficient in melee combat, offensive magic, healing, and support, and master of none. There are mods that you can download which will keep track of how much damage you do, or how much you heal your comrades, and then display this information in a scoreboard of sorts. I'm developing a reputation in my guild of friends I play with for being the one who tends to top the healing charts nowadays. Today when I was playing, another shaman was looking to learn my secrets.

He asked how it was that I was able to be so much more effective than the other fifteen or so healers in our group of forty. It caught me a little off guard, and he seemed pretty disappointed that there wasn't some secret—that I wasn't using a fantastic mod that somehow automatically made me heal better than everyone else playing normally.

At the end of the evening, the healing "scoreboard" was published, and as the lead healer in the guild put the numbers up on the screen he said, "Once again I'd like to thank Vger [that's me] for making us all look like fools and healing 50% more than the person in second place [that's him]." It may just be a game, but I'm not above being pleased when I do well and someone else tells the world. :)

Cause of death: idiocy

Sometimes when I finish stretching I find myself doing something dumb like pretending to break my own neck. Someday I'm going to be at home, innocently stretching, and then someone will find me a week later, having accidentally broken my neck for real.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Dysfunction

I've been watching Help Me Help You on ABC, and I think it's actually pretty good. I like dysfunctional characters (Arrested Development, The Simpsons, Family Guy, ...), and that's the focus of this show—all of the main characters are in group therapy for their unfortunate conditions. That includes the therapist, Ted Danson's character, who has issues of his own and attends group therapy for group therapists. It's a reasonably clever, light little comedy. Check it out!

Squishy itchy

Don't you hate it when the squishy pink area on the inside corner of your eye gets an itch? This one's been driving me mad for more than a day now.

I've heard better

The short version:
Hybrid—Morning Sci-Fi: 6/10
Métisse—My Fault: 3/10
Scissor Sisters—Ta-Dah: 5/10
Zero 7—Simple Things Remixes: 2/10


On the plane and on my trip I had quite a while to check out some more CDs I'd ordered. One I've been listening to is Morning Sci-Fi by Hybrid, another Pandora discovery, one that I may not have purchased had Napster's free service existed when I bought it. It's hard to rate this CD, because there are two different styles, one of which I like much more than the other. Half of the CD is what I consider pretty standard and bland techno. The other half sounds a little more creative, but is often peppered with vocals that I don't like all that much. I don't know what it reminds me of... maybe The Cure or Fischerspooner or something.

The highlights are Marrakech, a nice little faux-world-music number, I'm Still Awake, great electro-pop with a nice beat, and and Higher than a Skyscraper, full of very synth strings. Most of the rest is pretty standard techno fare like Visible Noise, which I could easily live without. To me, there's not really enough on the CD to recommend it. But, I think that the CD has helped me realize something: I think that I like electronic music that's almost danceable but not quite. The songs I like best on this CD are the ones that wouldn't quite work in a techno dance club. But, then again, everything on Madonna's latest CD is dance-friendly, and I loved that. Hmm.

Next is My Fault by Métisse. The standout track here is Boom Boom Bâ, the only one that I'd heard before, and sadly it's the only track that I really like. Some of the music has potential, but it's not produced very well, and a lot of it is just awkward and mildly unpleasant. If you like Fool Inside you might like the rest of the CD. Some part of me makes me think that I should like it for some reason, since it's fundamentally similar to music that I do like, but I just don't. Hopefully the fact that you have to order the CD from Ireland will help to discourage you from bothering with this one.

The latest Scissor Sisters album, Ta-Dah, is another tough one. I loved their first one—it was so unexpected and silly and interesting. I don't know what to say other than that there were a million directions they could have gone after the first album, and they picked one that I'm not too excited about. The first single I Don't Feel Like Dancin' is probably a good indicator of what to expect from the rest of the album, and I don't really like it all that much. The album comes with what is probably the most awesome CD case ever—kind of like a pop-up book—and another upside is that there are are eightteen tracks on the limited edition, so there's variety. I like I Can't Decide, the delightfully wacky Intermission, and the dirty Kiss You Off... the rest of the album gives me mixed feelings.

I'm not unhappy with my purchase, but I am a bit disappointed, and this isn't the kind of album that would make me a fan of the group. Get it if you liked their first album, and probably pass if you didn't.

Finally, I checked out the EP of five remixes from Zero 7's album Simple Things. They're not very good. Don't waste your time.


Quite the disappointing bunch there. Next on my plate are Chali 2na—Fish Market, which isn't that exciting so far, and Newsboys—Go, which seems pretty decent.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Yet another post where I mostly just bitch

I hate travel.
  • I hate how it destroys a full day going east, and two-thirds of one going west.
  • I hate the physical discomfort.
  • I hate packing.
  • I hate unpacking.
  • I hate sleeping in a place that is not my own bed.
  • I hate not having a constant internet connection.
  • I hate not being near my desktop computer. That's where my everything is.
  • I hate how I still have to respond to email when I'm on vacation (or, as the case may be, bereavement leave).
  • I hate how frickin' expensive it is to fly.
  • I hate airports.
  • I hate how I forget something every time I go someplace, whether it's leaving dress socks at home or my favorite vinyl-coated thick wire hangers at my destination.
  • I hate it when I leave my passport in my coat at a hostel halfway across Ireland.

I just really hate traveling.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

I read a book!

That's right... I read a book. Planes will do strange things to a man. I finally got around to reading Joel on Software on the flight back, which was actually quite good. (Two, if you include Penny Arcade Volume II: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings.) The full title as listed on the cover is:

"Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity."

To save my fingers, I'll continue to refer to it as "the book" or "Joel on Software," and I will continue my trend of not italicizing book titles because I think it's silly and inconsistent.

Really, the title tells you a lot about the book, which you might expect, since it is a paragraph unto itself. It's an example of the writing style contained therein. Joel Spolsky is a rather well-respected tech writer, and this is essentially a collection of the best stuff he's written over the past six years or so. I'd read scattered bits that he had written, but certainly not a whole book's worth of them. If you're not going on a long flight anytime soon, and don't mind reading long passages on a computer screen, there's no strong reason to buy the book, as it's all online. But, it's great stuff.

Joel has a lot of good ideas—some ideas that every good software developer probably already has, and some that are a bit more controversial. I'd like to share a couple interesting passages. The first is The Joel Test. Joel lists twelve things that every software team should have and do. (It's right at the beginning of that page I linked to. I'll wait.) It's a great checklist to anyone who's looking for a place to work in the computer industry—if your prospective employer scores in the single digits, and it doesn't look like you'd have the authority to make the kinds of changes required to increase the score, you probably should look elsewhere.

Probably my favorite part of the book is one that I had read before, from Painless Functional Specifications, Part Four: Tips. Rule number one when writing a spec is to be funny: "Oh, and, by the way, if you think that it's unprofessional to be funny, then I'm sorry, but you just don't have a sense of humor. (Don't deny it. People without senses of humors always deny it. You can't fool me.) And if you work in a company where people will respect you less because your specs are breezy, funny, and enjoyable to read, then go find another company to work for, because life is just too damn short to spend your daylight hours in such a stern and miserable place."

Another great article is Fire and Motion. Not every day will be productive. Some days you just can't get "in the zone." Learn to live with those days. Make a little progress each and every day, and things will work out in the end.

Those who need to regularly present their project to non-developers, people who don't really understand how software is built, should read The Iceberg Secret, Revealed. Make unfinished parts of your software look unfinished. That way, they won't assume you're 90% done when you've really just made a nice mockup. And, make high-quality parts of your software look high-quality. It's good advice.

I'd recommend Joel on Software to anyone who's interested in developing software. It's a good read, even if done in a dark plane when you can't feel your legs and your back is in excruciating pain.