Monday, December 31, 2007

Atchoo

Either I have had a nasty allergic reaction to my parents' cats and/or dusty home, or I have a nasty cold. I feel kinda awful.

But, I'm back.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Stupid technology

My teammate and I played our weekly World of Warcraft competitive arena games, and we sucked it up a bit... we made 4-6. I'm using my parents' computer, and the keyboard sucks, the mouse sucks, the computer itself sucks, and their internet connection sucks. We'd actually have done very well were it not for those things (and corresponding technical problems on his side of things too), which is pretty darned frustrating. I'd estimate that we'd have gotten at least 7-3, if not 8-2, based on the fact that most of our losses were pretty close and partially due to specific computer-related problems.

Stupid technology.

Rhetorical tanglings

Is there a physical reason that, given about four seconds, any given wire will become tangled? Or is it just Murphy's Law? If it's the former, will scientists develop a solution to the problem before basically everything becomes wireless and wireless technology becomes reliable?


Suggested listening: Maroon 5—Tangled

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Conference

Today my mom took a dozen or so teenagers from the church to Topeka, Kansas for a Christian conference. It occurred to me that many of you probably have no idea what that means. Essentially, it’s extended “bonus” church, except that most of the attendees are teenagers, plus a road trip co-sponsored by the church and parents. The ratio of teenagers to adults there is generally about 10:1. The kids sit through several hours of lectures and singing and a likely-passable-but-not-really-good concert put on by a rock or pop band, and in exchange they get a free road trip and stay in a hotel with their friends for a couple days.

I went to a couple long ago. It was actually a pretty decent deal, since I liked most everyone my age that went to the same church as I did. At that age especially, when you may have limited mobility or freedom, going on a free trip with your friends is a pretty appealing offer, even if it means sitting through something that is long but thought-provoking at best, and tedious and awkward at worst.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas

I’ve made it to Nebraska with nary a casualty. Merry Central Standard Time Christmas to all, and to all a holy crap I’m tired.

On a jet plane

Well, here I sit in the Minneapolis airport. It’s 2:30pm Central time, which means that I got up about eight hours ago at 4:30am Pacific time. Travis on four hours of sleep is not a particularly happy Travis. They’ve got wireless access here, but I haven’t really decided if it’s worth the five bucks an hour to use it, and I’m not terribly convinced by the ad-hoc computer-to-computer unsecured wireless network with the tantalizing name “Free Wireless Internet,” so I’m staying away from that one. So, for now, I’ll just post to a Word document.

Initially I feared that I would not make it to the airport on time; I took the bus to the airport, which costs about an hour and saves about $55 on a taxi. I had a layover in Seattle, and the transit tunnel was closed, and the signage was less than clear. I walked for about half a mile around Seattle looking for a bus that could take me to the airport with another confused Asian man named Li. We made it to a stop with about four minutes to spare. I’m tired of getting to the airport a full two hours before my flight like they always tell you, and 4:30 was early enough to wake up, so I decided to try to get there by 8:00 for my 9:00 flight. Security wasn’t actually all that bad; there were only about twenty people ahead of me. I guess nobody is in the airport at 8:00 on December 24.

As I was waiting for the rest of the passengers to board (why is everyone so desperate to line up to get on the plane early?), I thought to myself that so far, I can’t recall ever having sat next to a truly huge person, or anyone non-white on a plane before. I’d sat next to a big football player guy once on a plane with two seats on that side, and we were pretty cozy, but I can safely say that I can scratch one of those things off now. The woman in the middle seat next to me easily filled a seat and a half, and if I needed to come up with a single word to describe her, I’d probably pick “colossal.” (A more tactful word would probably be “jolly.”) She was nice, and extremely talkative—but that was not a comfortable flight. I’m just now getting feeling back in my legs. She was an English teacher flying in from Japan, and after having flown across the ocean into the Seattle airport on a flight delayed for a day, she had to fly to Minneapolis to get to her final destination in… Montana.

And that’s about all I’ve got right now. My flight doesn’t board for another two hours, so I’m getting ever closer to that time when I finally cave and pay them for internet access so I can fuel my addiction. I’d like to think that I’m strong enough—that I can last a couple hours without being online. But I forgot to bring a book, and there’s only so much Hexic that a man can play.

P.S. My battery life sucks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stress relief

The stress relief portion of my vacation is nearly over. Next up is the stress-building portion, where I hang out with my family. Can't wait.

Season behind

On Monday I finished watching season one of Heroes with a couple friends, so now I'm "only" a full season behind on two shows: Heroes and Battlestar Galactica. I gotta say... I loved it. It has all sorts of things that make it a great nerd-pleaser: drama, action, special effects, twists and turns, a conspiracy story, plot arcs that last forever, never seeming to be resolved, and of course, lots of superpowers. Really the only fault I can find with it is that it seemed that some of the episodes of the first season were all about advancing the season-long storyline, with little to nothing happening at the episode level. I felt the same way about 24; it was much more engaging watching it from the start than right in the middle, but I found Heroes to be much more engaging than 24... I just got bored with 24 after a half dozen episodes or so, even though I was into it at the start.

A lot of my favorite shows reward long-time viewers even as they're occasionally hostile to newcomers—Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise were, I imagine, pretty indeciperable to people unfamiliar with the series, and The X-Files was basically one big nine-season story arc that only sort of resolved at the end, even though many episodes stand alone very well on their own. And most episodes of Arrested Development, while still being quite hilarious solo, actually become better on a second viewing due to all of the references and in-jokes packed into each one. Heroes was the same way—the first episode I saw was the fourth or fifth episode of season one, and it wasn't really that interesting on its own. Not a lot made too much sense. But, I saw potential, and it seemed like the sort of thing I'd like, and everyone else in the world seemed to adore the show, so I bought the DVDs. I'm glad I did. I'd recommend it to you, but I'm pretty sure I was the last person in the world to see the series, so I'd be wasting my time.

(And TV is just so much better on DVD that I almost don't miss having cable.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Oh clock

Oh, and as you can tell from the timestamp, I'm doing great at maintaining a healthy sleep schedule while on vacation.

Gattaca

Well, here I am, enjoying my vacation, and hardly bothering to sit down and write the occasional word here. How utterly selfish. Anyway, since I'm on vacation, I don't have much to talk about. I started on Wednesday, and the past two days I've accomplished next to nothing, which is exactly everything I'd hoped for. I do have things I need to do, though, so tomorrow I'll need to start on those.

Tonight I watched the movie Gattaca, and I think that it's a good movie that I didn't really like all that much. I think I just wasn't in the mood for it. I was interested in what was going to happen next, and it's a well-constructed movie, but I just didn't really enjoy watching it. It's an unsettling movie, really—disturbing because it's just believable enough to maybe be true someday, and I've always found the "somebody pretending to be somebody else" plot to be sort of creepy. Movies and shows in which someone pretends to be someone they're not often don't sit well with me for some reason or another. But I don't un-recommend the movie to, you know, normal people.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gears

This weekend I finished Gears of War, and it's a pretty darned good game. It looks fantastic, the storytelling is good, characters act believably, and the system of taking cover and using it to your advantage is pretty unusual and very well-executed. You don't have to worry about your health, as you heal quickly between battles, and ammo is generally quite plentiful.

Not everything is perfect. It gets fairly repetitive by the end. On the lowest difficulty level, many opponents provide little challenge, which I'm generally fine with, except there are quite a few spots in the game where it's just "surprise! this unavoidable thing happened to you and now you're dead." I could live with that in general (Splinter Cell is practically based on moments like that), but there are no save games in Gears of War. There are only checkpoints. That's okay on a console because console gamers seem to like their games to be maddeningly stupid, but it's not okay on a PC—simply not acceptable. It's not a poor design decision; it's just broken. That said, the checkpoints in Gears of War are pretty well-placed, at least for the first two-thirds of the game or so. Checkpoints start to get further apart and awkwardly-placed toward the end. And, they're generally put before cutscenes instead of after them, which is extremely unfortunate as it really pulls you out of the game to see the same cutscene again and again. You can't skip them. There are a couple particularly challenging parts—the ones that come to mind are one part in which you're defending a mansion from enemy attacks, one where you're fighting this enormous Brumak beast (missing from the Xbox version I believe), and the final battle of the game—and for each one of those, the previous checkpoint was before a cutscene preparing for the battle. Each time an unskippable game cutscene plays for a second or subsequent time a kitten dies and Travis gets annoyed.


The difficulty curve of Gears of War.

Really, none of those took more than a few tries, so it wasn't the end of the world. Maybe a half-dozen attempts for the worst ones. But the final boss, General RAAM, is just ridiculous. He's far, far, far harder than anything else in the rest of the game. I abhor it when games do things like that. Yes, good work mister game, you've convinced me that I am fighting a powerful foe. I am playing you to have an enjoyable time, not to have it drilled into my head that I am fighting an enemy of unimaginable power. I get it. I got it from the cutscenes the first time. I got it from the cutscenes the twentieth time. He's a badass. Fantastic. Let me kill him so I can see the ending.

Sigh. I don't know. There's a big difference, to me, at least, between a game that presents a challenge and one that just has you die a lot for no good reason. I generally play games on nothing higher than the "medium" difficulty setting for a very good reason: to avoid unforgiving nonsense like a battle that takes about thirty tries to get right. After about twenty I looked on YouTube to see if there was anything I was missing, and just about every "strategy" video I saw explained that his script sometimes bugs out and he gets stuck in one spot, and the "strategy" is to exploit this so you can beat him. The script didn't bug out for me, so it wasn't much help.

(Also, seeing RAAM on those videos made me wonder if the PC version is harder than the console version. I read that Unreal Tournament 3, by the same team, is slowed down significantly on consoles because it was perceived to be too hard for console gamers.)

Oh well. It's over. It's still a good game worth checking out; it's just a couple specific parts that are frustrating, and if you're the sort of person who I stereotype as a "console gamer," I'm sure you'll think it's just fine. The story is amusing enough, the graphics are beautiful, the sounds and music are perfect, and the skirmishes are engaging. It's just sad, because with savegames and a couple retuned fights, it could have been a 10. As it stands... it's not.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Juno

I just got back from the movie Juno, and it was hilarious. It's witty and sarcastic and smart and cute, and the star Ellen Page is perfect. I was kind of expecting Michael Cera and Jason Bateman (George-Michael and Michael from Arrested Development) to be the upsides, and they were still funny, but I think that Juno and her parents outshined them both. Great acting, great writing, and a clever story.

Too bad it isn't playing in many theatres. We had to go all the way to Seattle to see it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

There is no need to hold the door

People will often hold the door for me when I'm entering the building on my Segway. This happens every week or two. The problem is that it's actually not any easier for me to enter or leave the building when someone is holding the door. I'm extremely used to entering and leaving buildings either on my Segway or having it follow alongside me—it's actually quite easy and not cumbersome. By holding the door for me, you're just throwing me off my normal routine, making things considerably more difficult. Now I have to pay attention to you, make sure I don't bump into you, and figure out how likely it is that you are going to let the door slip a little and hit my tires and confuse me even more.

It's not that I don't appreciate it. It's awfully nice of you. But really, unless I'm trying to carry something, it's not actually helping, so don't feel obligated to do it.

This has made me wonder whether I should hold the door for handicapped people. I assume that most people in wheelchairs have generally been handicapped for quite some time and have gotten used to it by now. Is it actually easier for other people to hold doors, or do they also just sigh and graciously accept the courtesy, not willing to look like an ungrateful jerk? Now, I imagine that someone who is genuinely handicapped is in a somewhat different situation than someone who rides a robotic self-balancing slave for recreation and eccentricity, so I don't know if my experiences transfer or not. But it's enough to make me consider not holding the door for handicapped people in the future. Maybe I'll just ask the person if it was actually helpful next time it comes up, if I can find a way to word it so it doesn't sound like I'm rubbing in the fact that I have working legs and yet still choose to ride a personal wheeled device around.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The joys of homeownership

It's probably best not to look at how little of my mortgage payments actually affect the principal on my loan. The payments on my second mortgage are $379.00 a month. Out of that, last month only $41.51 actually made its way to the principal. The credit union got the rest.

Owned.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Skeletons are silly

Sometimes I will start to write a post, and then I'll just save it around in draft form until I go back and finish writing it later, or decide I don't want to write about something. I'll also occasionally just type ideas for future posts into drafts, so I can fill them out later. I just noticed that I have a draft from 15 March 2005 at 12:53 AM saved that I never posted. I never did anything with it because it's an awful, awful post, but now that it's been sitting in my drafts folder for a quarter decade, it's funny in a what-the-hell sort of way. So, I thought I'd share it with you (perhaps "inflict" is a more appropriate word)—complete and in its original, unaltered form.

Okay, so here's an idea: first, buy skeletonsaresilly.com. Then, put up a page that explains that the site is all about hilarious pictures of skeletons doing silly things. But then, the twist: every page is just pictures of real dead people. Maybe even with backstories. It would be funny because it would be so horrifically unfunny, and not at all what people were expecting.

In my head

I remember a few interesting things from my dreams last night. I remember that I was staying in a house outside the city in a wetlands sort of area. I think I was renting it for a week or two. The house's architecture was strange; it was like a bunch of small cubic rooms that were attached, clustered together and connected like a honeycomb. The interior of the house was reminiscent of my grandparents' house, but the outside was strange. There was a mouse problem, which it turned out was because the previous residents had a lot of pet mice and left them there when they vacated, and the mice eventually broke free and took over the house. When I arrived there were many cats roaming around, looking for a meal. I installed some live traps because I didn't have the heart to kill the mice, and they were someone's pets once, after all. I was doing this when I got a phone call.

There was a friend of mine who has sort of disappeared for the past week. For a while we were communicating once a day or so, but I stopped hearing from him a while back. The call I got was from him; he was just calling to say hi and apologize for not responding to emails, but he hung up quickly and abruptly during the conversation. I learned on the news that night that he had been arrested and jailed a week earlier, and then had escaped that day. They never said exactly what the crime was, but he had left a bloody pair of gloves and his cell phone when he went to pick up his paycheck at the Burger King in the UNL student union, and that police were looking for the only person he had called after escaping, so they could question him... me. Crimes that involve bloody gloves as clues are generally pretty bad, right?

After finding out that the police were after me, I panicked, and I was up on the house's strange multi-level, geometric roof, fearing that the police would be there for me any minute now, and my best bet to stay hidden was apparently to be on the roof of the house where they could probably see me for a mile. The dream ended there.


I can pick out where most of the elements of the dream come from in real life. The whole "person I used to talk to has disappeared off the face of the earth" scenario is happening right now, though they don't work at Burger King, and have probably never been in Nebraska. I think the mice showed up because there was a cutscene involving a mouse in Gears of War, which I was playing right before I went to bed. The strange house in the wetlands setting has shown up in a few dreams recently, and I'm not sure why. I guess I technically live in a house bordering wetlands, but mine really looks next to nothing like what I've been seeing in dreams. And I don't know where the whole "watching the news" part comes from; who does that except in movies?

Dry spell

This might qualify for the longest I've gone on this blog without posting. But really, the silence is probably justified. The most exciting things that have happened recently are that my fridge seems to be dying (it's occasionally putting out these awful burning smells), and the sump pump in my crawl space is dead and there's water down there from the last big rain we had. For the most part, it's just been work. I've got a week and a half until I start my rest-of-the-year vacation, though, and that will be nice, even though most of it will be in Nebraska and probably won't feel like much of a vacation. I have a looming fear already that when I get back and start work again, I'm going to wish that I'd scheduled more vacation time.

Oh, and for all of those WoW-playing readers (zero?), I finished a big milestone and released version 0.7 of my mod Pawn, which helps you easily compare the relative qualities of items in the game and decide which equipment to wear. The new version has a lovely UI to use in-game so you can configure it as you go. Check it out if you're into the game's math and item stats as much as I am.

Twenty-six

Well, my birthday has come and passed, and I'm twenty-six now. That's thrilling. I decided to take my birthday off of Facebook and see how many people would remember... not too many, as it turns out. I celebrated with board games with people who took way too long to take their turns.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Microsoft points

Now that I'm an Xbox owner who has purchased something on Xbox Live (Carcassonne), I think I now have the right to say: Microsoft Points can go to hell. I'm all for Microsoft making you add money to your account in chunks so they don't pay 30% of every icon pack or song you buy to their credit card processing company, but making you buy imaginary currency that doesn't map 1:1 to real-world currency is madness. I think it's safe to say that they do it so that it's hard to figure out exactly how much you're spending on something. This was very clear to me as soon as I heard people first talking about it, but it felt cheap to complain that something was confusing before I'd had the actual opportunity to experience it myself.

Carcassonne was 800 Points. So, your first thought is naturally that it will cost you $8.00, because US Dollars are real currency that we're used to. But 800 Points actually costs you $10.00, and you can't buy just $10.00 worth of Points; you have to buy them in $6.25 increments. So, you have to buy 1000 Points for $12.50. If you never buy anything else (yes, that's unlikely), you paid $12.50 for something that vaguely looked like it cost $8.00. It's basically the same experience as buying things in foreign countries, except foreign countries aren't a mile down the street, they don't send me a paycheck, and it's more debatable whether or not they're trying to screw the tourists.

Just remember that the exchange rate is 100 Points = $1.25, which isn't terribly hard to calculate in your head... you just shouldn't have to.

[This is a fine time to remind everyone that I in no way represent Microsoft or its shareholders. For entertainment purposes only. Do not ingest. If you do, contact an internetologist immediately. I just don't want anyone to think that just because they pay me money I somehow believe that this system is not retarded.]

[In the original version of this post, I had the conversion ratio backwards and used $ instead of ¢, which practically proves my point.]

Green ring

Well, I'm now an Xbox owner, for one or more of the following reasons:

  • My birthday is coming up very soon
  • Christmas is nearly here and I didn't have anything else in mind to buy myself
  • I got a slight company discount so I felt obligated to wait in the ridiculous line that wrapped around the outside of the building that contains our company store
  • I was going to buy an Xbox wireless controller for my computer anyway, and the whole system is only like 1500% more, so it was practically free
  • It looks so sexy in my living room
  • All my peers have one so I felt strangely pressured to get one too
  • My previous media center and server's fans are dying and loud, and I want it out of my living room
  • My previous media center and server's DVD drive is on its last legs

Regardless of how the facts work out, I just paid half a grand to play a ten-dollar board game that I already own. Soon, though, I'll get my server set up upstairs, and I'll be able to stream TV and music to my Xbox downstairs, which should be fun times in the end. As soon as I find the time...

(I'm Hratli on Xbox Live, in case you haven't added me yet.)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Endlessly

The short version:
Muse—Absolution: 8/10
The Bird and the Bee—The Bird and the Bee: 7/10
Cyril Morin—Western Pansori: 8/10

After liking Black Holes and Revelations by Muse so much, I picked up their earlier 2003 album Absolution, and it's also quite good. Black Holes is the stronger of the two, but both are great—Black Holes is a little bit more refined, with each track standing out just a little better. Anyway, there's still plenty of good stuff on Absolution, and if you liked Black Holes, you'll like Absolution as well, and if you like rock at all, there's a pretty good chance you'll like them both. My favorites here are Time Is Running Out, Endlessly, and Butterflies and Hurricanes. The disc is bright, energetic, and interesting, playing well from start to finish or as individual tracks. My only real complaint is that on both albums, the lead singer sounds pretty much the same on just about every song. He keeps doing these LONG, short short LONG, short short LONG sort of patterns ("thiiiiiiiiiissss is the waaaaaaaaaaaay that he siiiiiiiiiiiingssssss"), with the main difference being whether he's yelling or not. But, it's not so bad, and I've become accustomed to male vocalists not having as much variance and range as female singers.

Upon recommendation by a friend, I've been checking the self-titled first album from The Bird and the Bee, and it's pretty wacky. In fact, "wacky pop" is probably the best way I can describe it. It's not really popular music, but it shares some styles, and it's not rock or electronica or dance. It's got sort of a lounge feel like some Zero 7 songs do, but the sound is not really the same. It's a bit psychadelic and breezy and just... fun. My favorite songs on this CD are Fucking Boyfriend, Again and Again, and Because. There are also some lighter songs like I'm a Broken Heart which are fine, but not really "favorite" material. It seems that if you enjoy the artists Zero 7 and Brazilian Girls, there's a pretty decent chance that you'll enjoy this CD. If you enjoy only one of those, I'm not sure.

I've also been listening to Western Pansori by Cyril Morin and the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, which I found on Pandora. It's a beautiful, mostly-instrumental new age album. It could have been be a soundtrack to a movie, but it's not, and it uses that to its advantage. It's soothing without being boring, and as soon as it ends I often feel like starting it up again. The album sounds good if you play it in the background, or if you crank it up and get lost in it. The whole disc flows very well, but the tracks Beyond Windows, Western Pansori, and Superkids stand out on their own.

Meteorology

So, it snowed. I never saw more than about an inch, and it's mostly gone by now. Apparently two miles away people were getting five inches. How does a two-mile difference bring 400% more snow? Surely lake proximity cannot explain that all.

These are the mysteries I have to live with, because it's three o'clock and I'm going to sleep.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Procedure

Looking at the screenshot in my recent post Achievements, you can see a how dull and low-polygon the terrain can be in games when you get up close to things that are designed to be far away—in this case, a mountain. This is by no means a problem exclusive to World of Warcraft. Since the object was designed to be viewed from far away, it's made up of relatively few polygons and low-detail textures. Up close, it looks pretty sad. Some games like Oblivion have multiple versions of terrain objects: a low-resolution version for when they're far away, and a better version for when you're up close. When you get high up into the mountains you can see the negative effects of this; things far away look really, really bad when you can see much further into the distance than you can in, say, a forest. But overall, Oblivion does a pretty decent job at this.

I wonder if one way to combat this problem is by having procedurally-generated terrain models. From a distance, the mountain I'm standing on in the screenshot could look as it does today. Closer up, some code could kick in to start generating details. From a medium distance, the game needs to render more than just a silhouette of the mountain, but it doesn't need individual rocks and juts yet. Up close, it would be nice for it to look like an actual cliff, with rocks, jagged edges, and the like—all of the things that would kill performance if they were rendered when you were a mile away. Nobody really has the time or budget to add that level of detail to the game manually, but if they could be procedurally generated, so that the game could just "fill in" missing detail, it wouldn't take much longer to design areas of games than it does today.

Of course, the question is: how do you ensure visual quality and design consistency? Does someone still need to go through every square meter of the world to make sure that the code is generating terrain details that are aesthetically pleasing? In most cases, you'd want this to be a repeatable process, so the next time you visited the same mountain cliff you'd see the same rocks and terrain features, instead of new ones picked at random. How do you make that work? I'm sure that there are solutions here... I don't know if they're the right ones. It just seems that, at some level, we're going to get to a point where the computer is capable of rendering incredible detail, but no design team has the time to create that level of detail. Today we use shortcuts like reducing polygons or reusing textures to save time. How much of that can be improved by letting computers do tedious detail work for us?

Mexican food

Sometimes I have responses to potential questions already planned out before they're presented. Usually I do not do this intentionally, but I tend to play things out in my mind involuntarily, and sometimes this yields responses that I might as well save around in my brain in case they're needed. Here's an example.

Tonight, after returning to work with my coworkers and a bag from Qdoba, a Mexican fast food restaurant, I went to the restroom to wash my hands, and since I was there, you know, pee. On my way there, I thought that if anyone looked at me funny or asked why I was taking a bag of food into the bathroom, I was going to respond "Well, it's Mexican food, so I figure it's safer to be in here already when I start eating it."

That would have been funny... to me, at least. Too bad I didn't get a chance to use it. At least these things keep me mildly amused.

Achievements

I know a bunch of people who have become pretty obsessed with Xbox achievement points. I have yet to get sucked in. I have a very few points myself, mostly from playing Viva Piñata on the PC, which also gives Xbox credit. In addition to the Xbox achievements, I've also got Steam achivements for playing The Orange Box, and Hellgate: London achivements. I was thinking... the game I've been playing the longest is, of course, World of Warcraft, which doesn't have achievements. But, it has similar things... just no total numeric score. In WoW, the main achivement you go for is to get quality weapons, armor, and accessories. Generally, the highest-quality and most powerful items also have the best graphics. Also, armor in the game comes in color-coordinated sets, so after you've played long enough and have collected many individual pieces, you can have a stylish and coherent look instead of just collecting random things like in many games.

There are other things you can do to distinguish yourself. Actually, I like WoW's system much better than achivement points, because most of the things you can achieve in WoW have in-game consequences, either visual, functional, or both. Season 2 of the gladiatorial arena championship just ended on Tuesday, and the members of the top team in each bracket get the title "Merciless Gladiator" prepended to their name, and the top few teams get special dragons to ride. People who have played a long time and have earned the trust of various in-game factions are sometimes given new mounts as rewards, such as my netherdrake, or even small pets to follow you around, like my sporebat. People who have found a guild of very dedicated people to practice for months to be able to defeat Illidan (remember him from Warcraft 3?) can wield his legendary and immediately recognizable weapons.

Some of these things (none of the things that I've achieved) are rare enough that you can go weeks or months without ever seeing someone who has done them.... maybe one person in tens of thousands of players. I've, for example, never seen someone with one of Illidan's weapons. But, even if you can't be one of those people, you can at least get some of the easier achievements like a sporebat pet of your own. Occasionally I'll be walking around in the game and people will stop me and ask about my things, because they've never seen them before. And that's kind of fun.

So really, I am in no way above or immune to in-game achievements like I'd originally hoped. I'm just as hopelessly addicted as the rest of the world. My achievements just come in a different form.


Often, the more powerful you are, the sexier you become.

Monday, November 26, 2007

January personality quirk

I don't like making life changes of any sort in January because I don't like people thinking that I'm the sort of person who makes New Year's resolutions.

Explain this one

Okay, if you're the sort of person who tells me to post more dream reports, this one's a doozy for you.

I started off in my middle school. I was my current age, so I must have been visiting. It was the end of the day and I began looking for a bathroom. The closest one that I could see was a homemade sign above a classroom, so I headed that way. As I walked in, I saw that there was a closet in the back with a "men's restroom" sign on it that had been X'ed out with red marker. I continued walking, pretending not to see the class in session or the red X over the sign. Outraged, the teacher (who was my social studies teacher from my freshman year of high school) yelled "Spomer! What are you doing here? You'd better not be thinking that just because it's opposites day you can pee in my closet!" Found out, I quickly shifted to plan B. I started walking more methodically and made robot noises. Then I turned sharply and erratically a few times and walked out, as if I were just a poor lost and confused robot who happened to stumble in. I think she bought it.

After that, I was in a car with my mom, heading to my house. As she approached the house she just continued full speed toward the fence at the end of the road that doesn't exist in real life. I reached my foot over and started breaking as I said "pay attention, Mom!" She angrily looked at me, now completely ignoring the road and the fence, declaring that she WAS paying attention, and that I was being rude. She said "I'm driving. Let me drive." So, I let go of the brakes, and then she accelerated right into the fence, into the garbage heap behind it. (Seeing a garbage heap there seemed to even surprise me in the dream; I seemed to know that there wasn't supposed to be one there.) As soon as we hit the garbage heap, parts started to fall of the car, until it was just a skeleton there in a pile of other car parts. Then she just looked at me and said "oh."

After pulling myself and my mom out of the garbage heap, the next thing that happened in the dream was that I found myself playing a real-time strategy game. (Mmmm, it's been a while; that sounds good right about now.) I won't go into the details of this game as I can only remember a few and they aren't very interesting. The game didn't end before the dream shifted to something else entirely.

In the next scene, I was watching a car be chased on the highway by a bunch of extremely large semi trucks that took up two lanes apiece. They were several stories tall and very imposing. The car sharply took a turn and went into a tunnel, and I watched (in slow-motion, no less) as the trucks impacted with the tunnel and sent a massive clichéd fireball toward the car in the tunnel, which narrowly escaped being burned.

After that, I was in the lobby of what seemed to be a museum. I watched as a sexy female assassin in purplish-black leather caused a distraction to get the woman at the front desk to leave her post, allowing the assassin to run up to the desk and disable the security cameras. But, the other woman returned sooner than was expected, and started looking for the assassin in the lobby area. Right as the woman was about to find the assassin, the assassin stood up, picked up a heavy vase, and threw it at the woman's head to knock her out. She screamed in pain, but was still conscious. No matter what she threw or swung at the woman's head, she simply would not be knocked out, in a scene stolen almost directly from Red Dwarf.

Then the scene shifted and I saw a professor in front of the museum auditorium giving a presentation, but he was wearing gym shorts and a dickie (or, specifically, whatever you call the dickies that football players wear) instead of a suit, so the visitors were just laughing at him. He was very embarrassed, until one of the visitors stood up—it was the sexy assassin. He darted for the door. Back in the lobby, I saw the professor running for his life from the assassin, yelling for the security guard to shoot her. The guard aimed a semiautomatic shotgun at the assassin and fired several shells directly at her chest, which didn't stop her. The security guard looked very pleased as someone turned to him and yelled, "you idiot! You're firing blanks!" to which he matter-of-factly replied, "of course I am! I'm in a museum!" They started chasing after the assassin, and when they caught up to her, the unarmed security guard grabbed a knife from the armed guard and threw it directly into the assassin's neck, killing her and saving the professor from whoever was trying to murder him.

And that's where the dream ended.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ratatouille

Well, my first Netflix movie arrived on Friday, and I watched it tonight: Ratatouille. Fun movie, with great animation during the credits... perhaps as fun as the credits in Casino Royale. Anyway, this post is not about Ratatouille.

It amazes me to some degree how Netflix is profitable, at least for people who choose the $5 a month plan. They must do some serious evaluation of their expenses to be able to profit from a $5 service. I assume that they get DVDs for very low cost since they don't ship the cover artwork or anything else besides the disc, and that each disc lasts for a hundred customers. I guess that they also probably do so much business in bulk that they can get good rates for their shipping. Their packaging is very lightweight and efficient, and the same package is used for the initial trip to you and the return trip to their processing center. So, maybe each movie costs them 10¢ worth of DVD, and twice 40¢ worth of postage, or a little under a buck. So, my $5 service costs them a couple bucks, minus the costs of maintaining the website, the costs of hiring people and maintaining machinery to select and fulfill orders, and other miscellaneous overhead. So, I guess that they could, in theory, operate on roughly $2.50 or $3.00 so, using wild-guess figures pulled directly from my ass. I guess that's pretty good, and with a lot of people subscribing, they could be profitable on that.

I'd assume that they make more money from customers who choose more expensive plans and don't take full advantage of them, and also on fees for people who lose movies, and for the used DVDs that they sell for six bucks. By offering the cheaper plans, they make their service appeal to even cheapskates like me who are averse to renting yet don't want to pay much money, hoping to sucker me into a more full-featured subscription sometime down the line. I'd bet that they were initially quite unprofitable, but now that they operate in bulk, they can probably do pretty well for themselves.

Thinking about these sorts of things is what interests me (slightly) about business: sort of passively musing about profitability of different ventures without actually putting much thought or effort into it. I wouldn't have really thought that online DVD rentals would really be a good way to make money, but it seems that someone put a lot of effort into designing a streamlined operation, cost-efficient packaging, and the right amount of marketing to make it all work.

Either that, or Netflix is losing money.

(I cheated and looked things up. Even a year and a half ago, Netflix was quite profitable, and their margin was 37.1%, up considerably from a quarter before. So, my imaginary and nearly-baseless figures of ~50% cost are possibly actually reasonably accurate.)

Nearing the end

Well, my vacation is almost over, and it's gone by far too quickly. I very much could have used another week. But, I got some gaming in—not nearly as much as I had planned—and I've trimmed down my to-do list considerably. But I'm still not really looking forward to returning to work already tomorrow.

Shower plagiarism

Often when I'm in the shower I will hum (and, uh, beatbox) some new tunes that I invent on the spot. Today I was doing this and had composed a nice little melody, until I realized that it was almost exactly note-for-note the song Busa from The Lion King. Then I was sad.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Buchty

I was on bread duty this Thanksgiving, so I made Polish Buchty rolls and pumpkin mini-muffins. Both turned out well. The muffins I'd made several times before, and they're pretty simple and delicious. The rolls were a bit more complicated. They took at least an hour or so of actual prep time, and about three more hours of dough rising, which is far more effort than I am normally willing to put into food. They're somewhere between springy dinner rolls and flaky biscuits in consistency, and mildly sweet—nothing like a cinnamon roll, but just a thin sugary coating on the outside. I'm glad that they were tasty, because I'd never tried them before and was judging them solely based on the picture and ingredient list in a bread book.

Making those rolls and muffins took many hours, including cleanup and the like. It's amusing to bake every once in a while (it'd been many, many months since the last time), but I don't really feel like I get the value of my time when I do, so it doesn't happen too often.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

High fidelity peer pressure

One thing that I thought of recently is that, if you do plan on getting a high definition movie player, you should consider what your friends also have. Friends are a good source of free and convenient movie rentals, after all, and if they all have one format and you have the other, then it's not as useful. In my case, I can only think of one person in Washington who has a Blu-Ray player (a PS3 of course; nobody actually owns a Blu-Ray player), but I know a lot of people who have HD-DVD players.

Netflix

After a long stretch of bad movie recommendations and purchases, I decided to join Netflix. We'll see how it goes. I don't watch too many movies, but I like to, and maybe getting two mailed to me each month will encourage me to watch more. I've been watching a few recently thanks to this vacation and it's been fun. If you're using Netflix, contact me and we can be Netflix friends, and then you can make fun of all of the movies I haven't seen, like The Shining, and how I gave The Matrix Reloaded five stars.

(Side note: if you decide to join Netflix, join through your favorite airline's website. United gave me a bunch of miles to do something I was going to do anyway.)

I forget

Last night I dreamed that I went somewhere to take pictures of something (or someone?) and I remembered my camera bag, but then I opened it to find out that it was empty. I had forgotten my camera. I also forgot my shoes. Also, I forgot where I was going.

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that I know that the dream was longer than that, but I forgot the rest of it.

Burn

There's a house nearby that burned down. It was a new house, nearly finished with contruction. So, it wasn't just someone who left the oven on. I guess it was either a mistake during construction, or perhaps, as suggested by a friend, arson by an eco-terrorist group. It happened Saturday night a week and a half ago, so probably not a construction mistake. Kind of unsettling.

Burned house Burned house, close-up

I guess "burned down" is somewhat misleading since it's still standing for the most part, but reportedly the fire department says it's unsalvageable. The actual cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

Heroes and Thieves

The short version:
Radiohead—In Rainbows: 6/10... but it's "free!"
Rachael Yamagata—Happenstance: 6/10
Vanessa Carlton—Heroes and Thieves: 8/10

I've been listening to the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. I have limited experience with Radiohead, but I didn't really like the earlier stuff I'd heard all that much. But, it's hard to pass up a free "honor system" CD from a well-known band, so I downloaded it at radiohead.com and checked it out. It's not so bad; I'd probably buy it if I could get it in CD form for a non-insane price. [Hey idiot, "sane" is a word. —ed.] Really, the background music is pretty decent. It's just that the vocalist's voice really grates on me. I have other CDs by people with obnoxious voices and singing habits, though, and I can live with it and call it quirky if the rest of the album is good enough. As it stands, I'd say that In Rainbows is decent. It's above the point where I'd be upset if I paid for it. But it's not good enough that I'm going to go back to their website and pay them for compressed MP3 versions of it. I haven't paid for any compressed music, and this is not the album to make me start. I like uncompressed music and printed album art... call me old-fashioned. Anyway, my favorite tracks on here are 15 Step, All I Need, and Reckoner. Download the album yourself and check them out.

Upon a recommendation by someone who knows I like Fiona Apple, I checked out Happenstance by Rachael Yamagata too. And yes, it does sound a bit like Fiona. Actually, I'd say it's right between Apple and KT Tunstall. Honestly, if Rachael's song I'll Find a Way were on a Fiona Apple album, I'm not sure if I'd notice that it wasn't Fiona unless I was really paying close attention. If Worn Me Down were on KT Tunstall's latest album I'd notice that the voice was wrong (KT Tunstall has a higher voice), but it would still fit in. I think if you like either, you'd probably enjoy this CD at least a bit... also check out I Want You, another nice track. Overall, another decent CD, but not particularly standout.

Finally, I picked up the latest Vanessa Carlton CD, Heroes and Thieves. It's, well, pretty much just like her previous two albums. That's not a bad thing, and the music isn't terribly repetitive; it's just that she was pretty talented for a young girl to begin with, and is slowly getting better, but the music doesn't sound dramatically different—the biggest change to me is that her piano has been pushed to the back for several songs. It's mostly the same basic sound, though, and I'm fine with that. Check out Nolita Fairytale, the titular Heroes and Thieves, and More than This. If you like those, you'll like this CD, and especially if you liked the piano, you'll like her other two CDs too.


Next up is the first album by The Bird and the Bee (featuring the delightfully catchy song Fucking Boyfriend, which I heard for the first time Sunday night), and an older CD by Muse, Absolution. I'm also assembling a playlist of great music to play when I have other people over, so I've been listening a lot to a lot of my old stuff these days. My big playlist of favorite songs "Extended Play" is well over a week and a half of non-stop music, but I've trimmed "Sexy Party" down to 58 hours, in case I need to have a party that starts Friday night and lasts through the wee hours of Monday morning.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vacation

I'm taking the week off for vacation. It's feeling good so far. I could use some rest. I get Thursday and Friday off "free," so by spending three vacation days I technically get nine uninterrupted days off, which seems like a good deal.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Insects

An insect just fell onto my keyboard and crawled under my backspace key. Then, as I came here to post about it so I could fill you in on every ridiculous detail of my life, he crawled out and flew away.

What an odd experience.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cans in my face

There's something very pleasant about putting an ice-cold can of Caffeine Free Diet Coke up to your closed eye and holding it there for a couple seconds. I assume it works for other cold canned
beverages as well.

It only LOOKS like tall people pee their pants more

It's no secret that short people want to be tall. But tall people want to be short, too. (Do normal people want to be tall or short?)

Sure, us tall people can reach things on high shelves. We're more sexually appealing in aggregate. We make more money. But we also are subject to significant back pain when we have to lean down to get to things that are at a natural height for normal people. We hit our heads on things. We're uncomfortable in most cars. And, our crotches are at just the right level to be moistened by stray puddles of water at bathroom sinks. It's not all it's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bad idea

Bad idea: blow your nose with a Kleenex that's been sitting out long enough to have collected a layer of dust.

kthxbai

I found a photo of a friend of mine in her Halloween costume on the intarwebs. This makes me happy, for I failed to take one myself.

lolcat
lolcat

Fun at the expense of others, serves 2

Recipe for fun:

1. Find a gullible person
2. Ask that person what the doctor said yesterday about the memory loss they've been experiencing

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We're all gonna die

So far I'm not thinking that buying that bleach tablet for the toilet downstairs was a good idea. Now every time I use it I freak out a little bit fifteen minutes later because I smell chlorine all over the house and I think that something must be terribly wrong. Pretty much the only time I use that bathroom is right after coming home from work, so it doesn't seem sudden that I'm smelling chlorine; as far as I can remember, it's been pretty much the whole time since I've been home, because it has been pretty much the whole time since I've been home.

Fire and Motion

This week has been one of those weeks where I just can't seem to get anything done. Granted, Mondays are pretty much a lost cause anyway, but as much as I tried to be productive today, it just didn't happen. I didn't even have meetings preventing me from accomplishing things today like I usually do. I just couldn't get in the zone.

Whenever I get in a mood like this I tend to remember one of the better essays I've ever read, titled Fire and Motion, by Joel Spolsky. It contains some of the best advice that you can give a developer or anyone else whose job performance depends on creative output.

"But it's not the days when I 'only' get two hours of work done that worry me. It's the days when I can't do anything. [...] You have to have time on your side, and you have to move forward every day. Sooner or later you will win."

You can't completely control when you're productive and when you're not. As long as you're always making progress, things will even out, and the good days will have to make up for the bad ones.

When I worked at Burger King, it didn't matter if I was having a good day or not. I could easily pretend to be having one, and ultimately my productivity was not really affected all that much. Same with being a grocery cashier. Same with working in the deli. A better day's always better than a worse day (um, by definition, really), but the impact on your performance is far, far lower. And, even if one day was bad, it wouldn't cause the next day's stress level to be notably higher or my morale to be notably lower. Now it does matter. I just have to remember that it's unavoidable, that I'll make up for it when I'm having a better day, and that ultimately I'm going to build something that kicks ass and it's not going to matter that pretty much nothing got done on November 13, 2007.

Monday, November 12, 2007

You never called

Back in the summer of 2001, after my freshman year in college, I had an interesting series of email discussions with my friend Andy that I had forgotten about until I found one through a keyword search a few days ago. I don't recall how it started exactly, but one of us (I think he did) sent the other an email with the subject line "You never called". The response was given the subject line "You never called about (topic)" rather than the standard "RE: You never called". This pattern continued for months, literally. Each new email response had a different subject line.

You never called about hardcore XXX pinochle action
You never called for UNIVERSITY DIPLOMAS, FAST LIKE NOW -abcfh
You never called and told me that "Duchovny" is Russian for "Syphillis"
You never called about crack spreads
You never called about Enya remixes

Also, we concluded most messages with a nonstandard salutation:

Until then, I wish you a mirthful Thursday (for yesterday) and a very, very focund Friday.
Anyway, have a lesbiantastic Tuesday!
Piss off... and have a gleeful Tuesday :P
Effervescent Sunday to you...
Have a thunderous, thrifty Thursday.

Actually, reading through these things, some of them are kind of like the random crap I'd have posted on a blog if anyone knew what a blog was in 2001. Looking through these emails is like going back in time: bitching about how much of a downright shame the awful TV game show based on the game You Don't Know Jack is, talking about how cool this 8 MB portable flash drive that fits on your keychain (!) is (I carry 2 GB with me now), that brand new music video Clint Eastwood from the brand new band Gorillaz, and how I wondered if there would ever be a subset of .NET that runs on a Mac. I can only hope that this blog will prove to be an interesting look at my life half a decade from now.

Razor

I'm heading to a pre-release screening of Battlestar Galactica: Razor tonight. That should be a fun time. I haven't seen any new Battlestar Galactica in a year now, thanks to the horrid delays in the release of the DVDs and my previous cancelling of cable.

Update: Razor was amusing. While Battlestar Galactica is a good show, this is really no different than a "regular" two-episode story arc like the original episode Pegasus was. So, it was good, but not really unusually good. One nice thing is that there are no spoilers if you haven't seen season 3 yet, other than that they eventually leave the planet they're stuck on at the end of season 2, which was so obvious that I didn't even realize it was spoiled until after it was over. They don't, for example, show any of the "new" Cylons revealed in season 3 that I don't know about yet.

A woman there confirmed the rumor that I had heard recently, that season 3 isn't coming out on DVD until April 2008 now, which is the new start date for the final season 4. That's obnoxious. I guess I won't be watching Battlestar Galactica during my end-of-year vacation expiration blowout bonanza.

Hell

Well, for the last week and a half I've been periodically playing Hellgate: London. As the first game from a bunch of people responsible for Diablo II who left Blizzard to start a new company, I've been waiting for it for quite a while. It's really been giving me mixed feelings, though.

I think that if you enjoyed Diablo II, you're going to like Hellgate: London. That's the bottom line. The basics are the same; you kill a ton of things, and then you loot bodies and then you kill more things. Actually, I think it's even a little faster-paced than Diablo, and I'm definitely preferring the first-person and close-third-person perspective to the isometric Diablo look.

But really, I don't think that the game is ready yet. Maybe wait another month or two. Get Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 3 and Crysis and any number of other cool-looking games coming out around now. Then, check out Hellgate later. It's beta-quality. It's not ready for release. It crashes, leaks memory, causes video driver failures, and has pretty terrible performance. The core gameplay is great, but the whole package isn't there yet. The story is pretty dumb and the characters are annoying and totally forgettable, but those things are pretty acceptable for an RPG/FPS hybrid. They have lots of plans for long-term subscription content, and I'm pretty confident that the game will be much more stable and enjoyable in a few months. World of Warcraft today is FAR, FAR better than it was when it launched, after all. I've already started Hellgate, and I don't really plan to stop right now, but I think after one play through I'll be taking a hiatus.

If you liked Diablo, you have to check out Hellgate. But I don't think you really need to now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Burnout

I've just been exhausted and burned out this weekend, so I never really thought of posting anything. Time to dig up those rainy-day topics...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Signing for packages

Companies who ship things with signatures required are the bane of my existence. I really, really wish I could sign a waiver and have all things marked "signature required" delivered without a signature. But, I've asked FedEx and UPS for such a thing that they say it's not possible, and I assume it's the case with other carriers. Sigh. At least USPS isn't quite as bad; I can ask them to redeliver on a Saturday.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

BUY SUGAR

I just saw an advertisement for sugar during 30 Rock (the commercials, not the show itself). It's naturally sweet, so it's good for you! Buy some sugar today.

So odd.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Floating

Someday I'm going to work for whatever organization decides that albums should have "explicit content" stickers (or are they self-selected? I dunno), and I'm going to impose a rule of my own: any album where the first single sounds totally different from the rest of the disc gets its own warning sticker.

Desperate for radio play warning: this album is nothing like the cool single you heard

Luckily, I now have free.napster.com to protect me from CDs that aren't nearly as good as their singles.

For example: Jape—Floating is good, and the CD it is from is not.


Update: Since this blog educates as it entertains, I feel compelled to inform you that the parental advisory sticker is indeed self-selected; there is no group who decides what it goes on as there is for movie ratings.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pruning

I pruned my rose bushes today. I really don't have any idea what I'm doing... I probably killed them. I had to search for help online, and none of the instructions were really clear enough to make me feel confident that I wasn't ruining things, so I probably did. One site said to prune off a third to half of the existing plant. That seemed like a bit much, so I pruned off more like a quarter on average, and even that seemed like a lot once I swept all of the removed branches into a big pile. It just seems so strange cutting off all of the freshest, newest-looking parts of the bush.

Oh well. We'll see what happens. I skipped two of my bushes because they're still blooming, so if I screwed up the rest of them, I guess I've got a couple backups.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Cahoots

My dream last night explored the whole stealing-from-friends scenario a little further. Or, at least some of it did. The other part of the dream involved a remote Asian village. I don't know how that got in there.

So, in the beginning of this dream, it became known that a coworker of mine, his girlfriend, and another coworker of mine decided that they were going to steal a bunch of expensive stuff from two other friends of mine, the Steve and one of the Matthews who comments here. (I think this marks the first time that any of these five people have showed up in a dream, but you know how great my memory is.) Matt and Steve weren't in on the plan per se, but they were aware of it. They were quite against the whole thing, actually, not particularly wanting to have to replace all of those things or pay the deductible. So, things start out with the two potential theft targets and I walking along with the other three, trying to convince them not to steal everything valuable that Matt and Steve owned. I watched Matt break his own leg to distract the others from what they were talking about. It was kind of disgusting to watch.

We weren't successful. After taking Matt to the hospital, the others decided that they were going to go through with it, and insisted that we really had very little say in the matter. That storyline kind of ended abruptly and things switched over entirely to scenes in this weird Asian village that only appeared for a few seconds at a time during the first part of the dream. The people in this village had an innovative system of crime deterrence: every night, the people would vote, and whoever the people in the village thought was the worst criminal would be executed by fire. There were no trials and little in the way of laws, because if you did something really bad, you were very likely to be burned that night, and people avoided doing things that were even sort of bad, because they didn't want to be caught doing them on nights where nobody really did anything particularly terrible that day, since the rules said that someone had to burn every night.

This system ended up being too effective. Soon, people stopped committing what we would consider crimes altogether for fear of being burned. Eventually they got to a point where the infractions that were resulting in peoples' untimely deaths were things as minor as burning a casserole. At one point in the dream, I saw a few teenagers sitting in front of a computer Googling for the names of their village mates so they could find some dirt on someone else to be presented at the tribal council that evening, in order to spare themselves. (I thought it rather incongruous to see people using the internet in a dream that appeared to otherwise take place long in the past, but whatever.)

This dream actually kind of had an ending, which seems to be unusual for me. It ended with someone I cared about—I don't actually know who—being burned in the center of town that night for something incredibly minor and arbitrary. I was crying. It was the mandated death of this completely good and innocent person that brought the town's elders to their senses, and the daily burning policy was put to an end that very night. This, of course, was of very little comfort to her and myself, though, since she was already dead.

One of my more interesting dreams in a while. The whole Asian village plot could probably work well as a Twilight Zone / Stargate / Sliders episode.

Starbucks and the Apocalypse

Wednesday night I had an odd dream. I was standing around in Seattle when suddenly the city was attacked by someone or some army or something. It wasn't terribly clear what was happening, but it seemed to be bombarded by artillery shells. Large things were being fired into buildings from an unknown source until nearly the whole city was leveled; mass destruction as far as the eye could see. I was only about a block from the edge of the new Seattle wasteland; I was too awestruck to run in fear. The last building I saw before the boundary of the grey nothingness was, of course, a Starbucks.

For some reason my first thought was not "holy crap someone just destroyed Seattle," but rather "I bet a lot of places are going to close; I should get lunch now." So, I walked over to the Starbucks and ordered a big hunk of bread and some sort of mixed juice drink that was called an "apple tumbler" or something. The guy behind the counter and I were the only people I saw left alive.

When I got home (not sure how I managed that), I checked on Live Search Maps, which had impressively already been updated after the attack. From there I could see the extent of the damage, as well as see aerial satellite photos.

The dream kind of ended there. But congratulations, Internal Microsoft Advertising: now Microsoft online properties are even showing up in my dreams.

Frost!

Holy crap, frost! Everything looks so pretty and wintery.


Currently listening: Radiohead—15 Step

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Solo

It really bugs me when I have one or two strands of hair that fail to spike properly and then fall to my forehead in the middle of the day. It looks silly, feels slightly uncomfortable, and there's nothing I can really do about it other than pulling them out, which isn't a great idea given the preciousness of every hair left on my head.

Synthetic milestones

I've now reached Milestone Two of my workout plan: the existence of biceps can be detected without the use of complicated machinery, and without flexing. Previously, only a doctor would have been able to observe any muscle tissue between my arm's Flabosphere and the Boneosphere. Now I can feel it there. I'm also down 5-7 pounds.

There's still a loooooooong way to go, absolutely. And, I'm making up the milestones as I go along. But, I'm motivated by change, not goals... goals are depressing—yes, stressful—yes, but motivating—no. This is not much by any stretch of the imagination, but it's more than nothing, and at the very least proves that physical torment does have some positive effect, so at least now I can justify it. Buying equipment for home use was a worthwhile purchase: it's a thousand times easier to be motivated to work out at home than at the gym.

(Now, if only I could get myself to work out and sleep, so I'd have something healthy and pleasant to counteract the healthy and unpleasant.)

Insurance and trust

Recently I've been thinking a little about theft and insurance. I don't know if it started after minor theft was committed against me in Canada, or if it's been longer, as I've been procrastinating setting up a secondary insurance policy on my camera equipment for many months now. Specifically, I was wondering for a while if insurance policies generally cover theft by invited guests. Like, you're having a party, and someone steals your wallet. Or, the prototypical "girl and guy break up, one is angry and vengeful" scenario. I can't really imagine how insurance could not cover stuff like that, but I could also see it as being a convenient little loophole that insurance companies would love and most people would never notice.

Anyway, as far as I've been able to find out, there's no such loophole, barring of course situations where the stealer and the stealee are in cahoots. But that got me thinking too: what kind of a person steals from a friend? Theft is bad enough when it's from a stranger, but stealing something from a friend adds a whole new element of broken trust. It seems that it would require an exceptionally despicable person. The next thought, naturally, was wondering what kind of person misjudges someone so badly that they become friends with someone capable of stealing from them and establishing that trust? Probably just about everyone, actually. Are we all that bad at judging people and understanding what they're capable of? As paranoid and distrusting and hermetic as I can be sometimes, I can't see myself being immune to this kind of mistake.


Currently listening: Rachael Yamagata—Be Be Your Love

Trick or treat

No trick-or-treaters ever showed up tonight. I'm in a kind of secluded area, so this didn't shock me too much. I did, however, make it through about six bags of candy at work today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It is actually quite unhealthy

I must think about poking my eyes out or getting my eyes poked out about a dozen times a day. It's an irrational fear of mine. As my eyes start to get tired, I actually get to a point where I don't like to look at corners (on anything—tables, other square objects) because they freak me out.

Twenty-five thousand is over nine thousand

Well, last week, EclipseCrossword was downloaded more than 25,000 times, up from an average of 8,000-9,000 per week half a year ago. I'm up to a million and a half total downloads. It seems that my work to reorganize my domains and sites to give it a little bit of the star treatment has helped in the end. I'm still #11 on Google for "free crossword", though, which is not nearly as nice as being #10.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fall colors

The Microsoft campus looks really great this time of year, as does much of the rest of the state. I haven't taken any pictures of it myself, but I found a really nice one:

Flickr - Esther & Paul 013

Melting

It is SO HOT at work right now. I can barely think. I'm just about ready to head home. Someone needs to fix the air conditioner or turn off the heater or SOMETHING.


Currently listening: I sure as hell hope that's not the heater whirring.

Orange Box

Well, I just finished Half-Life 2 Episode Two, the last game in The Orange Box that I'm all that excited about. (I'm not too keen on Team Fortress 2, but I'm sure I'll try it someday.) Considering Portal, Episode One, and Episode Two, I got my $45 worth... I already had Half-Life 2, so if you don't have that yet or you're interested in Team Fortress 2, it's a great buy. And, honestly, it's probably a worthwhile buy even if you already had Episode One and were buying it for Episode Two and Portal; it's still only about three bucks an hour. You could do much worse.

And damn you, Achievement Points. I have not yet fallen into the trap of forcing myself to do ridiculous things to get them like so many Xbox 360 owners (these are Steam achievements, not Xbox achievements), but I did go for the straightforward ones like "kill 20 people with your car."

These guys haven't heard of Partial Credit.

Oh, and just in time. Hellgate: London arrives tomorrow to seal the deal and ensure that I won't be productive for weeks on end. This is a good time to have five weeks of vacation stored up.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Or Mrs. Petrelli

As I was watching Heroes tonight, I remembered why I probably thought about Sharon Osbourne: I think that Mrs. Petrelli on Heroes looks like her. Well, that doesn't really explain why I was dreaming about her, but it explains the "her" part.



[Originally this post said "Claire's mom." I don't know why I wrote that. I meant Angela Petrelli, Nathan and Peter's mom.]

Sharon Osbourne

Now I can no longer say that I've never dreamed about Sharon Osbourne. When I woke up this morning, I immediately stumbled over to a pen and paper so I could write things down. I think I've figured out what all of the words are now, and I remember a couple vague scenes from the dream.

Sharon Osbourne dancing
& singing at school (college)
rally - heavy
metal? - students
sitting on grass near
large fountain

Kind of like poetry, don't you think? But yeah. I remember that Winona Ryder was there, dressed up as her character from Edward Scissorhands, the typical teenage girl who doesn't look at all like she's actually a teenager. She was sitting under a patio table umbrella, with her purse out on the table. Her father, Chevy Chase, walked by and picked up her purse to search it. He removed five Trojan condoms from her purse and said something like "have a lovely day, sweetie," to which she responded with a whiny "Dad!" Then, I looked over to a hill over by a big fountain, and Sharon Osbourne was there, beginning to perform for a scattered bunch of students. I don't know what she was singing, but it was hard rock, and she was dancing awkwardly. And that's when I woke up.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Multidextrous

Sometimes when I'm picking up or moving a tall object such as a vacuum cleaner, I pick it up with both my hands and one of my feet, just so I get a little extra stabilization. Sometimes, when I'm picking up or moving a tall object such as a vacuum cleaner while barefoot, I forget that vacuum cleaners have fast-moving parts on the bottom. I won't forget this for a while, though—at least not until that part of my toe grows back.


Currently listening: O-Zone—Dragostea Din Tei

Reset

The short version:
Mute Math—Reset EP: 7/10
Kanye West—Graduation: 6/10
KT Tunstall—Drastic Fantastic: 6/10

After enjoying the first self-titled Mute Math album, I picked up their prior Reset EP. There are only a few songs on it that aren't on their first album, but it was cheap, and I wanted to hear the rest. It sounds pretty much exactly like the album; the tracks would all fit right in. The best track on here that didn't make the album is Peculiar People (irrelevant YouTube video with the song).

I've been listening to the new Kanye West CD, Graduation. It's my least favorite of his releases so far. The first single Stronger is excellent (as well as the Daft Punk song Harder Better Faster Stronger it's based on), and about as good as his previous hits. Also good are I Wonder and Homecoming. I can't really put my finger on what I don't like as much about this album compared to his last two; it seems as if he just didn't put as much effort into polishing this one. The lyrics don't sounds as well-developed on this CD. Or, maybe it's because the whole album sounds like it's in a minor key and everything sounds dark and often a little out of place. I don't know. But it's not even close to Late Registration. Big plus, though: no filler or "skit" tracks.

Also I've been checking out KT Tunstall's latest, Drastic Fantastic. I'm not sure that "Fantastic" is the best word for it. It's okay. I like Funnyman, Hold On, and Beauty of Uncertainty, but none of those are as good as Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, Suddenly I See, or Other Side of the World. I can't put my finger on what's different here either. If I had to put my finger somewhere, it would be on the "trying to be more popular but not doing very well at it" button, though.


I've also been listening to Rachael Yamagata's Happenstance, which sounds quite a bit like Fiona Apple, and Radiohead's new (and downloadable) In Rainbows. I'm not much of a Radiohead fan, but free album is free album. I only wish I could get a karaoke version or something so I wouldn't have to hear the guy's awful wailing. Not ready to pass judgment on those yet.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Best class I never took

I think that the best class that wasn't a part of my business minor but should have been would be a negotiation class. It certainly seems like something that could actually be useful to be trained in before entering the business world. More than, say, spending two full classes on economics.

Slippery when wet

Sometimes I wonder how much safer having "wet floor" signs in commonly-traveled bathroom paths are than just the wet floors themselves. I suppose they're a little safer.

New rule

Okay, new rule: Travis should only buy shirts with colors that mask dribbles of Diet Coke. Or, he should learn to drink from the correct side of the can with much greater frequency.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oppression of the shift key

Something struck me earlier tonight: in general, people I work with always type in generally-grammatically-correct complete sentences. This includes my non-work communications with them. In contrast, it seems like more people I went to school with only capitalize words and punctuate properly when they "have" to.

There's one guy who specifically comes to mind who bucks the trend, avoiding uppercase letters and punctuation whenever possible, but he left the team quite a while ago, presumably feeling oppressed by those hideous shift and period keys. Hell, I try not to even end a sentence I write on a sticky note in a preposition.

Now, one likely reason is that everyone else writes that way, and most of our writing takes place at work, so people just get into the habit of writing things mostly correctly. That's the one I'm sticking with—peer pressure and mental conditioning. It's also possible that Microsoft tends to hire a certain type of person, so my sample set is even more skewed than I realize. Or, maybe that's just the way that things work in the professional world, and to try to compare it with people in school is futile. I have had little exposure to professionalism outside of my current job, and that doesn't seem to be the case, but I have few details upon which to make judgment.

Anyway, I wasn't really going anywhere with that post...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lonely

When some people use the word "lonely," they often mean something fairly different from my definition of the word. Often when people say that they are lonely they mean simply that they aren't having sex as often as they would prefer. That's, I suppose, one definition.

At first I thought there were only two definitions—actual loneliness, and turgidity-of-reproductive-organ loneliness—but now I think that there are at least three. I think that some people are lonely like they're lonely for a million dollars. I would like a million dollars, but I have no valid reason to expect a million dollars, so it causes me no real pain that I don't have a million dollars. I think that's the key. Ideally, I can see the value in having a companion. (I can also see the personality nuances that could make the endeavor fairly challenging.) However, it brings me no pain to know that I do not have such a companion. Therefore, by my definition, I am not lonely. (I'm purposely ignoring the fact that loneliness can also easily deal with being around multiple people, and doesn't have to be specific to a single companion.)

When I say I live alone, occasionally people will ask if I'm lonely, or just assume that I am. But I'm not. I don't yearn for someone; I simply don't have someone. The fact that I do not have someone doesn't make me depressed. I merely recognize that, at some point, I could be potentially happier with a mate. I could be happier with a million dollars also. Or, possibly some combination of the two.

Some people call that loneliness, and I think it's incorrect. Perhaps people who are themselves lonely, and assume that all other single people are too.

Conversations

I've been thinking about different methods and situations I use for conversations. I still really, really like instant messaging. It's convenient, and can be used in different ways. You can use it for real-time conversation, or it can be used in more of a "get back to me when you have a spare moment" type of conversation, and you can mix and match the two. You get presence information about the person you're talking to, so you have some idea if they're busy or otherwise can't talk to you.

I still hate the phone. When talking on the phone, that's the main thing I'm doing, as opposed to IM, where I can hold a couple conversations simultaneously while still doing something else that doesn't require much mental effort. The nice thing about the telephone is that you get to hear the other person's voice, so it's much more expressive.

Marc and I use voice chat when we fight our competitive WoW arena battles, and it works well there, because we need instantaneous communication. We've tried it elsewhere while just playing the "rest of the game" normally, and it's much more awkward. I'm pretty awkward on the phone, but in the game it's even worse. I don't have two-hour phone conversations, but I need something to fill the awkward silence when we're chatting while playing. I end up talking really slowly, or just trailing off into nothingness, or forgetting what I was saying in the first place. It's weird. It's given me a good idea of just how awful I am at phone conversations, though.

Conversations at dinner or around a board game work pretty well for me. I hear peoples' voices, and I get to see body language and facial expressions. Both of those activities have a primary focus that is not talking to the other people there, even though you may go out to eat or play games mostly to have an excuse to talk to people. My biggest problem here is that I'm not good at interrupting people (with perhaps one exception who may or may not read this), but I get pretty frustrated if I'm trying to say something and don't ever get an opening. IM is great too; you can interrupt the conversation whenever you want and talk about something completely different, and it doesn't seem weird or inappropriate.

I type very quickly, though. I'm sure that IM is much less convenient for people who don't. I probably just need to become better at talking to people I can't actually see. Without the context of being able to visually focus on peoples' faces, I seem to be unable to mentally focus on the conversation when I'm actually talking. This probably has something to do with the fact that I use like eight minutes of time on my cell phone each month. I'm just out of practice.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deliberation

I'm not actually quite as much of a procrastinator as other people think. When I decide do to something, often I go into a "planning phase" for that action, even if it's something that other people would just do immediately, even impulsively. To other people, it looks like I'm procrastinating. To me, that's just part of the act of doing something, so I don't feel like I'm procrastinating. Once I have all of the little details figured out, I'll execute on my glorious plan. That's the engineer in me.

One example I can think of is that when it was time (or past time) to start seeing a doctor about the headaches I've been having, I had decided it was time to see a doctor, and was in the process of selecting one and deciding when I was going to go. I wasn't going to go or call immediately, because I was busy at work. But, when other people ask if I've seen a doctor about it yet, I have to answer no, and the result of that is well-meaning nagging. It's not that I'm putting it off; it's that I'm purposely putting it off while I figure out the details. A normal people would figure out the details all at once and call a doctor the same day. That's not nearly enough time for me to obsess about meaningless details, though. Give me a couple weeks.

So, maybe that's still sorta procrastinating. But I don't think it should count.

Forty-eight hours

Well, now that I've resumed exercising somewhat more frequently, I've hit that crucial point where I only hurt for about 48 hours after a workout. That's the best I ever got when I was in college when I lifted three times a week. This is what will potentially allow me to get back on a schedule where I work out that often, which is what I'm hoping for.

Deep beneath my layers of comfortable, insulating blubber there are muscles slowly reactivating. Slowly. I won't ever be as in-shape as my character in World of Warcraft, but at least I can set a goal of being less squishy. Seems like a good target to me.


Currently listening: Kanye West—Good Morning

Monday, October 22, 2007

Money management

For about as long as I can remember, my dad has complained about my complete and utter lack of money management skills. He made some hints along those lines when my parents visited recently. I think that this is rather unfair. (I do not, for example, live paycheck to paycheck with a half dozen loans... I have only the two mortgages on my house, and no other debt or credit card balances.) When I was growing up, I'd save up pretty much all of the money that I got until I had enough to buy something that I wanted, and then I'd buy it. The thing that I would buy would usually cost all of my money, because I have expensive hobbies. It was this periodic dumping of all of my cash that was the source of all of his money management concerns; I heard the cliché "burning a hole in your pocket" so many times that I should have it inscribed on a plaque.

To me, that seems like pretty good money management for a teenager with no financial obligations. I completely understood the costs of what I was buying, and waited until I could afford things before buying them. I planned purchases in advance so that I wouldn't spend impulsively.

Really the only difference today is that the numbers are bigger, and I keep buffer cash around because I do have financial obligations. My money management habits are what I consider to be simple and good enough for me. When I want to buy something more than a few hundred bucks, and it's something I'm sure that I want to buy, I check how much money I have. I make sure that the price of the item I'm buying is no more than the amount of money I have minus, say, five grand. If it fits that criteria, I buy it. If it doesn't, I wait to buy it.

It seems that if kids would understand that, they'd probably learn to manage money just fine. For bonus points, maybe parents of older kids should insist that they keep around buffer cash, as if they were paying rent and bills. It helped growing up in a somewhat unprivileged environment, being responsible for purchasing most of my own entertainment items with my own money and not receiving much in the way of handouts and allowances, other than gifts from grandparents. I think that, by the time a lot of kids start having money to spend on things, they're used to having things they want purchased for them, and they don't have any idea how to deal with it. Having to manage my money to maximize my enjoyment at a fairly young age was helpful, I think.

But, kids are stupid, and none of these ideas really acknowledge that fact very well. I probably shouldn't have kids.

Uh, what was that

I think that the most unnerving noise that my body makes is this fizzing sound that I hear every once in a while from what appears to be my neck. Necks aren't supposed to make noises.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Trustworthy

Over time, many people have entrusted with me some very private secrets, including people who I don't even know that well. I've been told at least once that it was because I'm a trustworthy guy and they felt comfortable telling me and only me that fact. I guess I kind of just assumed that was the only reason. But, I just thought of two other reasons why people might have felt comfortable to tell me things that they didn't tell anyone else:

  1. I am good at projecting the façade of being a good listener. (Well, I actually am a pretty good listener, unless you're boring me, in which case I pretend to be one, and usually that's all people want anyway.)
  2. It is fairly likely that I will forget what you tell me.

Already, many of these secret details have been lost to the ages. I know you told me something private a long time ago, but I don't remember what.

Writing assignments

Despite enjoying writing, I generally disliked writing assignments in English classes in school. They were always the same; the teacher always wanted three drafts, and there was supposed to a dramatic improvement between each draft. I learned, I think before even high school, that I had to game the system a bit if I wanted to do well on those assignments.

When I write, I produce a third draft or so right from the start. I revise and reorder as I type; it's distracting to do those sorts of things after the fact. I make few spelling and grammar errors, and generally those are typos and the result of my in-flight modifications to the text rather than an actual mistake. I don't call it a "third draft" out of hubris; I just tend to put multiple drafts' worth of effort into my first draft of things merely because of the way I like to write. This is why I hate writing in anything other than Word; using pencil and paper is excruciating because I can't write the way I think (and because I type faster than I write).

So, assignments in which I had to turn in multiple drafts were the bane of my educational existence. Generally the teacher would require handing in three different drafts, so what I'd have to do was save my first draft and call that a second draft, then cut things out of it (sentences, paragraphs, sections) to make a phony first draft, and then any changes that I thought of making to the paper while bored would go into a final draft which would be almost identical to the second draft. Besides the extra effort that these types of assignments required to produce drafts, I often dislike showing people work that I'm not finished with, so they were doubly annoying.

With this system, generally I'd get a great grade. Without it, I'd often get points knocked off for not making enough changes in subsequent drafts, points that wouldn't get taken off if the assignment didn't require turning in drafts and so I didn't write any. It was annoying, but certainly much less effort than changing the way I write for unaccommodating assignments. School's all about gaming the system.


Currently listening: Mute Math—Peculiar People (YouTube video is irrelevant)

Skillcoil

If you've read more than a few posts on my blog, you have likely noticed that I have a soft spot for puns. As it turns out, I also have a thing for pejorative portmanteau nicknames; even ones that aren't that clever. For example, a pretty common one is "sorostitute," which as you might guess is a combination of "sorority" and "prostitute," and is used insultingly to refer to a sorority member, while implying that everyone in a sorority is a slut.

I love these things. More than I should. World of Warcraft culture, if I can call it such a thing, is chock-full of these things. By all right I should be sick of them by now. For example, "skillcoil" is the name given to the warlock spell "Death Coil," which is widely regarded as very powerful, and the insult is that it's too powerful for a character ability that requires no player skill. Hence, skillcoil. There are about a thousand others. I will not go into them here.