Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fraternity

You know, in all my four years of college, I never stepped inside of a frat house, and only stepped into a sorority house twice or so.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Finally

The package that arrived for me in Redmond three and a half weeks ago finally made its way to my doorstep a couple miles away this afternoon. Go-go United States Postal Service. After all the pain of getting it, the CD will probably suck. (Oh well, I got it on eBay for a couple bucks anyway.)

Nice weather for ducks

The short version:
N.E.R.D.—Fly or Die: 6/10
Lemon Jelly—Lost Horizons: 7/10

I've been listening to a couple CDs recently. The first was the sophomore effort by N.E.R.D., Fly or Die. It's quite a weird rock album, even moreso than their last one, and most of the songs are half spoken, half sung, which can be either refreshing or irritating depending on your mood. There's no track that quite matches Lapdance from the previous CD, but the closest thing is the very catchy She Wants to Move (video), and Drill Sergeant and Breakout are fun too. Overall I enjoyed it, but I'd have preferred it if it were less... annoying.

I also checked out the only CD from the group Lemon Jelly, titled Lost Horizons. It's a nice electronica album, interesting, and soothing to listen to—the sampled variety, not the beep-beep-boop variety. Unfortunately, like a lot of electronic music, it's pretty repetitive. Not in the "14-minutes of horrid pulsating bass" sort of way, but in a "that sample of the guy saying 'beautiful' has been played a dozen times already" sort of way. Basically, it sounds like every track is an extended cut of itself. It's a good CD, but at eight tracks it's not terribly long, and it'd be even shorter if it weren't for the repetitiveness. Try out Nice Weather for Ducks (fantastic video!), Elements, and The Curse of Ka'zar, which are all great.

I'm also listening to The Reminder by Feist, which is a bit more slow and down-to-earth than those two CDs. I don't know where I'll move on to after that.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday already

Well, it's Friday already. I really don't have much of a sense of time anymore. But, I can say that I'm doing better. The fever and chills were gone by yesterday, and as of last night I at least feel well enough to sit in front of the computer and write some code and some documentation. Not exactly firing on all cylinders, but doing well enough to get by. The hope is that I'll continue to recuperate over the weekend, and by Monday I'll be ready to return to work. Assuming that things continue at their current rate, I should be okay.

And next year I'll remember to go get that flu shot. I always intend to get it, but I'm always busy during the window in which it's available and miss it. With as much money as my illness has cost my overlords, you'd think that it would be worthwhile for them to incentivize getting that flu shot. I dunno; give people a Windows or Xbox game for getting it or something. Maybe it's not legal for companies to encourage their minions to be injected with chemicals.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

But I can't say it's NOT working

Sunday night a few hours before I went to bed, I started feeling really awful. Coughing, mostly. Then Monday things were pretty fine—I was coughing, but I didn't feel sick. I felt like someone who had gotten over a nasty cough, and was still feeling the after-effects.

Monday night I knew for sure that I was not fine. Today I've been much worse: coughing, soreness all over, fever, chills, and now when I cough (or walk around) my left butt cheek stings a little. That's a fun one. Looks like I've got... the flu.

I'm sure I'll post a little more in a day or two; it's kind of uncomfortable to sit in front of the computer right now. I can't really say that the Zicam is doing anything (I guess it's for colds, and I probably have a flu)... but I can't say that it's NOT working either.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ground up dead people

Zicam has a particularly excellent business model: you are directed to use their product every few hours as soon as you think that maybe you sorta kinda have a cold, until you're completely over it or are sure you don't have one. When you didn't actually get a cold, it worked! And if you did get a cold, just think of how much worse it could have been!

It's kind of like selling volcano insurance, or perhaps a magical device that wards off tikbalangs. Wouldn't want to be attacked by tikbalangs. They sound scary.

It's even an unpleasant product. The first version I tried was sold as sticky, goo-covered swabs that you stuck in your nose and swiped around. Those were just too nasty to bear, so now I'm trying the citrus-flavored pellets. Calling the flavor "citrus" is kind of a stretch, though. If I had to assign words to the flavor, I'd pick "ground up dead people." That's why I'm not in marketing.

Graphics

I just realized that the American restaurants I go to all have pictures in the menus, and the Asian restaurants don't. This is interesting because I know what all of the things in the American restaurants' menus are already, but I don't know much about Asian dishes, and they're the ones in most dire need of pictures.

(Of course, it's no mystery; most American places I go to are chains, and the Asian places are not. Higher budget plus economies of scale equal better menus.)

In Cold Blood

At dinner today I watched Capote, the recent drama about Truman Capote as he wrote his apparently-famous book In Cold Blood. It's a decent enough movie, but not one I can really say I could love. I could see how it appealed to so many critics: the acting, story, and cinematography are all well-done. It just didn't interest me enough. Or, maybe I would have liked it more if the main character didn't talk like Milton from Office Space throughout the whole movie.


YouTube clips that might be useful in illustrating my point:

Milton (jump to 3:00 or so)
Capote (jump to 1:15 or so)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Good impressions

I have a mildly favorable opinion of the codenames used for the different versions of Ubuntu Linux distributions, with names like Gutsy Gibbon and Hardy Heron. It's not alliterative, but I think that Rickety Sieve would be a great codename for something. It rolls off the tongue. I think that it would work very well for a firewall, or an antivirus, or perhaps a condom.

Speaking of fat

Speaking of fat, I went to IHOP for the first time ever tonight. I liked it. Of course, I expected to; I'm a sucker for unhealthy breakfast food.


Currently listening: Nelly Furtado—One-Trick Pony

The writers' strike is making me fat

The writers' strike is making me fat. See, I can't really work out if I don't have something funny to watch while I'm doing it. Comedy is really the only thing that works while I'm working out, because for every other genre I need to be paying close attention to the screen—usually comedies are more amenable to looking away from the screen now and then. Now that there's only one or two new shows a week and even those are going to go away soon, I don't have anything to watch, so I can't work out. I mean, I can break out the Simpsons DVDs or something, but I'd much rather see something I haven't seen a dozen times already.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Convenient, but weird

I'm somewhat convinced by now that the security system is in some way connected to the elevator system here. I think that when somebody swipes their badge to get in through the front doors, if there are any unused elevators at the time, one returns to the first floor. More than half the time when I enter the building, an elevator immediately opens for me as soon as I round the corner, even though there's no one around who could have pushed the button. It's weird. Convenient, but weird.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Young people are funny

When I was getting my mail this evening, there was a young kid of maybe 10 years or so also getting his mail. He asked me what my Segway was called and how it worked. He said that it must "be in the world records for coolest thing" (something to that effect) and figured it "must be expensive." He wanted to walk alongside me. Clearly his parents never taught him to beware of tall men in black trenchcoats holding an umbrella while riding a Segway.

This is in contrast to most older people I've encountered, who generally seem to be somewhere between apprehensive and terrified when they see me. People on the Microsoft campus seem to be the main exception to that rule. I've only run into (figuratively, of course) a couple of kids while on my Segway... I haven't decided whether they are generally just not afraid of weird new transportation devices because they're used to new technology and dangerous methods of transportation, or whether it's just because kids are rarely as concerned for their own safety as adults are.

Reason to be pessimistic

Oh, and for those who were dying to know, my package did not arrive yesterday as scheduled, so I get to call the post office yet again.

Old people are funny

My grandpa gave me a check for $10 at Christmas. I'd deposited it into an ATM, and yesterday I got it back through the mail. It was wrapped inside a small "Deposit/Difference Notification," which said that it was a "stale dated check." I checked it out, and I noticed that it was dated...

November 24...

2004.

Just thirty-seven months off. Whoops.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nobody will ever read this post

I don't really know why I'm such a pessimist. It's not like I'm depressed or bitter. I just usually expect the worst.

I've got a package that's supposed to come today. Well, it was supposed to come last Saturday. I don't expect it to come today at all, really. It's already been in Redmond for two weeks, but the Postal Service sucks. I've already called them about it and they've assured me that they'll deliver it today. It's registered mail, so I have to be at home to get it, which means that it can only be delivered on Saturday.

(Signature-required package delivery options are just about the worst service that comes to mind right now, at least for a residential customer. For a business it makes perfect sense. But who's home during the middle of the day to accept and sign for a package? If I didn't work on weekdays, I wouldn't order so many things by mail. Anyway, that's a tangent.)

  • Maybe I'm a pessimist because I grew up poor. I didn't get much of what I wanted, so I stopped expecting things.
  • Maybe I'm a pessimist because I like to pretend to act logically, and pessimism seems more logical than optimism.
  • Maybe I'm a pessimist because many games force you to plan carefully for the worst-case scenario, and I play a lot of games, and it's starting to affect my personality.

Whatever it is, it's not a new thing.

Celebrity of one

After a year and a few months of writing World of Warcraft mods, today for the first time someone I don't know saw me in game said she used one of mine.

That's why I do it all—for the fame. One random person recognized my name; I think that makes me a celebrity.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spare parts

One thing that cars have going for them is that spare parts are available for them for a long time. Segway owners do not have this luxury. Most of the parts for my four-year-old model are no longer manufactured. I called Segway of Jacksonville today to order a spare tire. I don't need one, but I certainly will someday, and I would rather have to keep a tire lying around in a closet than wait a week or two to get one when I need it in the future. It's probably a good thing that I did, because the person on the other end said that she is pretty sure that tires for the Segway i170 are no longer manufactured; she had just heard that the original style of batteries has already been discontinued. Imagine the uproar if you bought a car four years ago and spare parts were no longer manufactured. (Well, actually, I assume that this doesn't happen; maybe this happens with cars too, but enough parts are manufactured so that supply is abundant for years to come.)

Loyalty

Loyalty to a particular retail store when it is not financially advantageous to you as a customer is something that I find perplexing. I can understand certain types of loyalty. Most every CD and DVD I buy comes from deepdiscount.com. The total cost of ordering from there is almost always just about as low as you can get; the few cents' difference is almost never worth the effort of even checking prices elsewhere. I am very loyal to them because it is advantageous to me and them. I know that I will get good prices, service, and selection by continuing to buy from them. Similarly, almost all computer parts I buy come from NewEgg. For board games, I usually buy from Boards and Bits, which has the best combination of prices, shipping, and availability—other online stores may have better prices (usually simply due to not charging sales tax), but B&B is rarely out of stock of the things I want, and overnight shipping is on the order of a couple dollars per order, so it's rarely worth making more than a cursory check of prices at other retailers.

All of those things make sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is loyalty to a store simply because you've purchased there before, or for some other reason. It can be convenient to buy from the same place again and again; in Lincoln, I would generally buy groceries (this was a rare occurrence) at Russ's Market, where I was familiar with the locations of items, and checkout lines were short, even if prices weren't that great.

But what I find terribly bizarre usually comes up when discussing board games and camera equipment. There is a group of people who will willingly pay more money and endure additional inconvenience simply to order something from a local store versus buying online. They aren't scared of shopping online; they just feel that they should buy things from a local store when they can. I don't get this at all. I guess these people would rather see money going into the local economy, but I just don't think it makes sense. Prices for retail stores are simply higher than online stores for most things because overhead is lower. If that means that I'm going to buy from another state, then I'm going to buy from another state. I don't feel that it's my responsibility to try to go against the economic forces at work here. It doesn't make me feel good to buy from a local store; it makes me feel like a sucker. The only time I buy something locally is if I want it immediately, or if it would be inconvenient to buy online (furniture, certain items of clothing, etc.). I'm acting in my own best interests, making the purchasing decisions that I feel give me the most value, the way a good free-market-loving American should. If I'm contributing to a massive screw-up of the US economy, it's not my fault—the government is not properly incentivizing (or disincentivizing) my actions. And I don't think I am.

Trendy white spatula

I just remembered about three seconds of dream this morning. I was in the passenger seat of a car, and there was a woman in the driver's seat, trying to get the car started. A man who looked somewhat like Hank Azaria had broken through the glass on her side and had reached his hands into the car. He yelled at her:

"That's your friggin' grand idea? The piePod?"

And that was it. I don't know if there was more to it that I don't remember, or if I just had a one-liner dream. I guess the piePod lets you carry 10,000 recipes in your pocket and probably comes with a trendy white spatula. Or, I suppose he could have said "piPod," so you can have thousands of mathematical proofs with you wherever you go. Either way, I can see appeal for the device being fairly limited.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Burn baby burn

Well, the overpriced electrician who came today confirmed the source of the burning smell that had been plaguing my house—something in my electrical panel, behind the metal part that normally hides the gritty details from n00bs like me, exploded or melted a few weeks ago. This is presumably the source of my flickering lights too. It was replaced today for the low-low cost of $350 or so. But since you'd rather just see pictures, I'll go ahead and oblige. Particularly interesting is the series of upward brown streaks which I can now confirm are smoke scars, not dirt blown in from the outside like my homeowner's association president thought.

So yeah, I guess I was this close to having my house burn down due to its shoddy (or just ancient) wiring. Awesome.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Once in a lifetime

How much would it take for you to sell a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? If you won your choice between a pile of cash and a non-transferable chance to fly to and land on the moon, how much money would it have to be before you'd strongly consider taking the cash? A million dollars?

I think I'd sell out for less... one or two hundred thousand, maybe. (Of course, the trip would sell for far more than that, but the conditions said that wasn't an option.)

Night owl

I just spent the last hour and a half lying in bed trying to sleep, but I think that I'm less in the mood to sleep than I was when I started. I lie there restlessly, really wishing that I could go to sleep, but then I become frustrated that I'm not falling asleep, and I think that that keeps me up even worse. I feel pretty much wide awake right now. The only real difference is that now it's later and I'm angry.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mucus

Today's magic phrase will be "well, I guess all that mucus in my nose had to come out sometime."

Voices and Choices

The short version:
Gwen Stefani—The Sweet Escape: 6/10
Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra—Voices and Choices: 6/10

Recently I've been working on refining my "Sexy Party" playlist, so I've been listening to a lot of old favorites, but I've checked out a couple new CDs too. The first is Gwen Stefani's second solo album, The Sweet Escape, a disc that I feel slightly embarrassed to say is pretty acceptable. It's certainly better than her first. It's weird, infectiously danceable, and less obnoxious than Love, Angel, Music, Baby. It's still brainless, but less offensively so. Some of the better tracks on here are Yummy (featuring Pharrell), The Sweet Escape (featuring Akon), and Early Winter, but just about everything is decent. Not great, but decent, and fully of glitzy Neptunes production-ness. Nothing really hits me as a song I'm going to remember a year from now, but if for some reason I needed a dance CD and Madonna's latest wasn't weird enough, this would probably be a good choice.

Speaking of weird, I've also been enjoying the Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra CD Voices and Choices. I don't even know what genre to put it in—I guess it reminds me of both jazz and electronica, but I don't think it really fits either. There's a wide variety of styles and sounds here, including tracks with vocals like Kiss the Sky (featuring Nino Moschella) and The Hour Glass Effect (featuring Ohmega Watts), and instrumental tracks like Tense Bossa and JW. (The Hour Glass Effect is a weird "surprise rap track on a CD where you don't expect to find a rap", bringing back pleasant memories of Mí Confesión on the latest Gotan Project CD.) The disc gets weirder than those tracks, too. If you're a fan of jazz or electronica, check out this album and let me know what you think. More than anything it reminded me of the Medeski, Martin, and Wood CD End of the World Party, which I'd definitely call jazz, but a weird electronic version of it.

Up next are some more weird albums that I've previewed at least a bit: N.E.R.D.'s Fly or Die, Lost Horizons by Lemon Jelly, and The Reminder by Feist (which really isn't that weird at all). Should be a good time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy new year

Happy 2008. My only resolution this year is to not make any notable life changes in the month of January so I don't look like the sort of person who makes new year's resolutions.

I'm feeling a lot better (not perfect, but better), and I'm back at work today. I'm kind of thinking that I wish I'd have taken Wednesday through Friday off this week; one day is not enough to recuperate from a vacation. But, I got most everything done I needed to get done before leaving, so at least there wasn't a bunch of work waiting for me when I got home. I mostly played around with the Xbox yesterday.

I decided to buy Burnout Revenge (Burnout 4) for $30 over Christmas instead of Burnout Paradise (Burnout 5) for $60 when it comes out in a few weeks. I figure that Paradise will probably be down to $30-40 by the time I'm interested in buying it (if that time even comes), so I'll have ended up getting two games for the price of one, and one of them is one I've played more than a demo of before, so I know it's good. It's a fun and violent driving game. I hesitate to call it a racing game, as the focus is less on racing and more on destruction of property.

I've also been playing through a lot of the free demos on Xbox Live Arcade when I've found the time, which has been enjoyable. I got Carcassonne ($10 must-buy) a few minutes after buying the console, and I also bought Band of Bugs ($10 for Xbox, or $15 for Windows, free demo available) right before leaving, which I finished yesterday, and it's a great time too. It's totally different from Burnout—it's a turn-based strategy and puzzle game. Sort of like the combat of classics like X-COM and Heroes of Might and Magic, but streamlined for the TV. I also picked up the Xbox Live Arcade Unplugged Volume 1 ($7 or so online, includes 1 month of Gold), which was originally called "Geometry Wars and Bejeweled and some other stuff you don't care about on one DVD," though Wik: Fable of Souls has been a fun little puzzle diversion too. I decided that I could use a change in theme after playing several shooters on the PC and having several more shooters on the PC in the game queue.

And now for a big topic change that I'm sure I'll wrap around and tie into this mishmash of a post eventually: my dad bought BioShock recently. His old Pentium 4 2.4 GHz with 512 MB of RAM and a GeForce FX 5200 wasn't really up to the task, so he bought another 2 GB of RAM and had me install it while I was there. After he installed the game, he was informed that he didn't meet the system requirements; it needs a much better video card than that. So he had me help him pick out a new card. Circuit City had a nice deal on a GeForce 7600 512MB card and their site said it was in stock in the Lincoln store. So, we went in, they didn't have it, we went home. Then he decided to buy it online anyway, selecting in-store pickup, and then went back to the store. They have this policy where if they don't have your order ready in 24 minutes, they give you $24. So, he got his $24, as they clearly didn't have it in stock within 24 minutes. Sometimes my dad impresses me with the lengths to which he'll go to make sure that he gets what he thinks is a fair deal with dealing with businesses.

Anyway, with the RAM and the video card, he'll be putting about $150 into the PC. It occurred to me upon returning here that maybe he should just have a console. I feel somewhat like a traitor for saying that, but I think that maybe it would work out better for him. The selection of titles available for consoles is so much broader now than it used to be, especially now that there are things that I'd consider "PC titles" coming out on consoles first, like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect and Gears of War. Really the only genre that he likes that he'd be missing out on is adventure games (à la Sam and Max), which barely exist nowadays anyway. And, he's not "good" at controlling games with the mouse and keyboard, so moving to a controller probably wouldn't feel like a step back to him. He'd save a lot of effort, and versus occasionally upgrading his PC to play games, perhaps some money as well. Their PC is getting pretty ancient anyway, and he'll want to upgrade in a couple years, but maybe the next time he wants a better gaming experience, I'll finally suggest that he get a console instead, and not bother with gaming on the PC anymore.

Vista's Windows Experience Index is exactly what he needs to make PC gaming practical for him: simple numbers that tell him whether games are going to run well or not, and what needs upgrading. The trouble is, he doesn't have Vista, and games don't say what numbers they need on the box. I'm so used to it all that I had kind of forgotten how ridiculously complicated gaming on the PC is. I don't mind complicated... I like complicated. Normal people don't.

I don't really think PC gaming is dying. I think it's just as great as it always was. But maybe console gaming has gotten so much better over the past decade that I question whether gaming on the PC is "worth it" for normal people anymore.