Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Brutalized by a coffee-wielding marauder

Well, it finally happened. I knew it would happen sooner or later, considering how little people pay attention to where they're going while they powerwalk through the hallways to their next meeting. (This guy had to be a program manager. I'd, like, bet money that he was a PM. You can tell PMs apart from developers and testers by the way they walk: PM-dar.) Today I was brutalized by a coffee-wielding marauder. I was walking straight, and he turned a corner quickly and, fearing for his life, lashed out at me with a coffee-based attack. I've gotten enough of it out that I might be able to fix my shirt later using Shout, but I'll be smelling like coffee all day today.


UPDATE: I think that the shirt looks okay. Maybe in bright light you can tell that it's a little tinted, but there aren't bright lights in my house.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fun times with old people

Well, tonight I was officially elected as a Director of my homeowner's association, during the association's annual meeting. I can only assume that it is going to be terribly tedious, but maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I met a few more of my extended neighbors, and got a lot of extra face time with the resident crazy lady. She introduced herself to me three times (there were only a little more than a dozen of us there), and each time told me the same story about being the first family to move in and having lived there since she was 45. Even the other slightly-less-old people in their mid-60s were snickering a bit by the third time the crazy lady introduced herself to me. Ah, fun times with old people. At least all of the board members seem to be pretty reasonable people.

I swear I'm finished posting after this

Now that I've finished up BioShock and Unreal Tournament 3, I'm not in much of a "shooting things" mood. The Next Big Thing that I'm interested in is Command and Conquer: Kane's Wrath coming out next month, which should be a lot of fun. In the meantime, I'm going to play around with the Xbox a bit. I've still got more cars to crash in Burnout, more cities to build in Carcassonne, and when it arrives on Thursday, cards to play in Culdcept Saga. Those should tide me over until I get to command my tanks to blow things up.

It feels good to be finding a little more time each day to play games, after a bit of a dry spell.

Unreal

In parallel with BioShock I was playing Unreal Tournament 3, as the former is best suited to long stretches of time, and the latter is best suited to short ones. Unreal Tournament is very clearly a multiplayer game. But, unlike most multiplayer games, the Unreal series allows you to play offline versus bots, and unlike most games with bots, the Unreal series has had excellent enemy AI. Each release, they change things up a bit, while keeping the basic structure of the game the same: your objective is just to beat each map once. Each deathmatch, each capture the flag, each objective-based warfare map.

The graphics are phenomenal—basically on par with Gears of War (In fact, the character you play as is pretty close to Marcus Fenix, and you have a Cole-like sassy black guy sidekick.), and UT3 is generally "prettier" in addition to the level of technical excellence. The gameplay is fast, furious, and well-tuned as always. All of the weapons feel "right" to me, and they handle exactly as I'd expect them. The story is ridiculous, and for a while it's pretty amusing that there even is one. (Previous incarnations of Unreal Tournament, the story was just "you're in a tournament; win.") It's a generic story of aliens invading Earth, and you fighting back. But the single-player game still plays exactly like the multiplayer component, with things like constant respawns, and flags that demand to be captured. The first time I heard capture the flag explained I burst out laughing.

Main guy: To take this territory, we need to disable the enemy's respawners. To do that, we need to remove their Field LAttice Generators.
Sassy black guy: You mean the things that look like flags?
Main guy: Yes, those are Field LAttice Generators, or FLAGs for short.
Sassy black guy: They look like flags. They wave like flags. I'm pretty sure they're just flags.

There are a bunch of little scripted conversations like that that show up at proper times during battles and really give the game an unexpected personality. And classy lines like the girl yelling out "Bullshit! Why am I always the first one to die?" really make you feel like you really are playing with jerks online. (Well, not really. Not playing with jerks online is the reason I like single-player UT in the first place.)

UT3, though, has a lot of missteps... probably more than any game in the series so far. They dropped three of my favorite game types in this edition: the ultraviolent basketball game, the objective-based assaults on enemy bases, and domination, where you have to control points of interest for a period of time to score points. I was really shocked to find those missing. What you're left with is just deathmatch, capture the flag, and the outdoor game in which you must control nodes that link your base with the enemy's, renamed to "warfare" from "onslaught." That's half of the game types missing. Not cool.

The warfare game mode has two great improvements, and one really bad addition. Since the game features huge maps that relies on vehicles, each character now carries a hoverboard that they can use when they don't have any other vehicles, drastically reducing the time wasted running from place to place. Also, the maps are more varied in their objectives, with many secondary objectives to pick up rather than just "connect to the enemy base so we can destroy it" every time. But the terribly obnoxious change is that each side now has orbs that can be used to instantly control a node, instead of it taking like 30 or 40 seconds like it normally does. This makes the game disgustingly random at times. I hate them.

The AI is also strangely bad, in an unfortunate departure from the legacy of the series. Maybe it's just because I was playing the campaign on "normal," but my teammates were at times dumb as bricks. Maybe they suck less on higher difficulty levels. The guy on my team who was good at sniping and base defense was always the first one to grab the orb, basically the most powerful offensive weapon you have. And then half the time he'd just stand there confused, seemingly not sure what he was going to do with it. If I didn't know that I was playing with bots I'd have assumed that the guy picked up the orb and then left the computer to go to the bathroom or something. (Disclaimer: apparently the just-released patch improves the AI.)

The maps are strange. Some are mediocre, some are terrible, and some are absolutely fantastic. The core FPS gameplay is still excellent, and they didn't do anything to ruin deathmatches—they're still, in my opinion, the best around. But the lack of what I consider very key game types for an Unreal game really hurts the game and its replayability. I expected something great, but UT3 is just... incomplete.

Toes

I feel like I must have stubbed my right big toe today, or dropped something on it. It even sort of looks bruised. But I can't for the life of me think of a time when that happened. Mystery-wounds like that always worry me a little bit.


Currently listening: Hello Stranger—Take It to the Maxx (boring video)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Waking up

Today when I woke up, the very first two things that flashed in my head were a picture of a reindeer in a large circular room, and the song Playground by Sia. I don't get the reindeer thing at all.


Currently dreaming: Sia—Playground



Alternate music selection: "Happy 2,000th post to me"

Saturday, February 23, 2008

BioShock

Big DaddyWell, I've finished BioShock. My main complaint is that after about an hour or two of the game, and your first Big Daddy (pictured) kill, you've seen almost everything that you're going to see other than the various environments and a couple of the weapons. That's not necessarily bad—Doom 3 was one of my favorite shooters, and the gameplay doesn't change much either. It doesn't help, though. The weapons are all pretty standard, but you also have what are essentially magic spells ("plasmids"), and a lot of passive enhancements ("gene tonics") that you can swap in and out. I didn't care much for the plasmids, but choosing between which tonics I used (move faster, swing my wrench harder, take better photos, fire resistance, get more health back from first aid kits, etc.) was definitely amusing. The environments are unusual for the genre, and diverse, but there is only a small handful of different types of enemies you'll encounter in the game, and that's assuming you count "guy holding a lead pipe" as a different enemy than "guy holding a machine gun." With all of the incredible hype the game got, though, I guess I was somehow expecting more from the core gameplay, or at least something new.

BioShock tells much of its story using the Doom 3 model: through diaries left behind by the previous residents. If you don't listen to these, you're missing out on most of the storyline, just like in Doom 3. (Like Doom 3, the game occasionally rewards you for paying attention to the story, as a few of the diaries contain unlocking codes for supply containers or other tips on where to find a nice surprise.) Skipping the diaries would be a shame anyway, because the storyline is really the only reason to play BioShock. It starts off a bit slow, but eventually it becomes quite intriguing. It's very different from Half-Life 2, where you feel like you're right in the story... in BioShock, you are very much an observer most of the time. I was lucky enough to not know really anything about the story going in, and I think that really helped. If you have any interest in trying the game, don't read anything about the storyline.

The "sameness" of much of the game wasn't as bad as perhaps I've made it seem. Really, the only things that really got on my nerves were listed on the box as features, and they're the "dynamic world" sort of features. It's cute to hack a security camera or turret so it comes under your control a couple times, and then after that it just gets tedious. I found myself doing this dozens or even a hundred times, and then finally I just gave up on the hacking minigame and just brute-forced everything. The game lost a lot of its uniqueness at that point, but at least it wasn't so obnoxiously frustrating. The hacking minigame is basically the same every time you play it: it's essentially just Pipe Dream. If you have always wished that your first-person shooters were broken up with about three hundred games of Pipe Dream, BioShock is the game for you. Me, there's only so much I can take before I go insane.

So yeah, I'm a bit behind the times just getting around to playing BioShock now, but it's worth picking up if you haven't. It would not get my vote for game of the year, but it's still certainly worthwhile.

At the end of the game, everything is tied up nicely, though there are some areas of the plot left (probably intentionally) vague. They're planning a prequel, though, which has me a little scared...


Currently listening: Muse—Unintended (video)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Average attractiveness

The very first thought on my mind when I woke up today was wondering if we have some sort of social imperative to make ourselves as physically attractive as the average of our peers, since they're the ones who have to see us, and they've already gone to the effort. To be less attractive would therefore be impolite in the same way that not showering is. I think I was arguing about that in a dream. I don't know which side I was on.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

TSA

I dreamed that a group of people from work, myself included, were flying off to some conference or something, and we were all stopped by the TSA agents at the airport. They sat me down at the table, and then the man requested my driver's license and boarding card. He instructed me to hold them by the upper-left corners of both using the forefinger and thumb of my right hand. Then he asked me to put another set of fingers in a different place, rotate the cards 90 degrees, and then show them to him. Then he asked me to switch fingers so that I had a free hand again, move the cards over my wallet, which was also sitting on the table, and then pass my hand over the card twice. Instructions like these continued quickly, and I started to fall behind, not understanding what exactly I was supposed to do or why I was doing it. Each time I failed we started over, and the TSA agent got more frustrated. Finally, he just took my cards and demonstrated for me, and as he got toward the end of the motions I said, "hey, you're just trying to make my wallet disappear!"

The TSA agent burst into laughter, and once he could talk again, he admitted "yeah" and continued laughing. I picked up my ID, boarding card, and wallet, and asked if we were done. Still laughing, he nodded, and I left for the gate.

(A boarding card is something that was invented in my dream. It looked kind of like a mini golf score card, but it was what I got instead of a standard boarding pass in the dream.)


Currently listening: Brazilian Girls—Lazy Lover

Mustache

I’ve been trying the whole mustache thing out for the past few weeks as well. There wasn’t much of an inspiration—I just felt too awful to shave when I was sick with the flu a while back, so I didn’t, and I decided to run with it. I’ve never really tried in earnest to grow and keep a mustache before, so it’s a slightly new experience. At first I really hated it, but after about a week and a half it was a lot more comfortable (less uncomfortable). Right now it’s fairly short, as I’m keeping it trimmed… somewhere between Mexican Stereotype Mustache and Child Molester Mustache. I’ve never been much of a fan of the mustache, but as long as it stays away from those two extremes I don’t mind. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it, but it certainly is convenient not having to shave my upper lip.

Off the radar

I've been pretty light on the posting recently, but it sort of reflects my state of being, if you will. I'm trying to take it easy these days. I've been attempting to find the correct balance between gaming (Bioshock, Unreal Tournament 3) and productivity (my World of Warcraft mods, my websites). As it turns out, it's not very interesting to talk about, and given the choice between posting something mostly worthless and not posting at all, I generally choose to not post at all.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wall-to-wall... wall-to-wall!

(The post in which I reveal one of my most private Facebook- and Jennifer Connelly-related secrets... if not THE most private Facebook- and Jennifer Connelly-related secret I have!)

Facebook allows you to write public messages on your friends' "walls," a place for just that. You can go into a "wall-to-wall" view where it shows the messages that you and the other person have written on each others' walls in a conversation view. The best and/or worst part about that feature, though, is that every time I see a link with the text "wall-to-wall" I think of the movie Requiem for a Dream, and that scene at the end of the movie where an old guy excitedly yells "wall-to-wall!" at Jennifer Connelly, except the word "wall" is replaced with something else (sort of safe for work; requires YouTube login).


Currently listening: Clint Mansell—Meltdown

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dream home

Today I woke up with all sorts of ideas about home improvements in my head. In one of my dreams, I was walking around in what I'd describe as a museum of home improvements. One of the exhibits was about saving $358,000 over the life of your home for a cost of only about $500, and that was by simply installing and using a urinal instead of a toilet when possible. (Think of the water savings!) When I realized that I had awakened with a head full of dollar signs entirely imagined by my subconscious mind, I decided it was probably a good idea to forget everything I'd "learned" as soon as posible.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Board game wisdom

Tonight's board game wisdom:

A cock is a cock.

Specifically, it doesn't matter how much the die is tilted to the side; if it's resting against something, it needs to be rerolled.


Currently listening: Muse—Sunburn

Gargoyles

For some reason, on the way to work at least once or twice a week, I am suddenly reminded of the gargoyles from Heroes of Might and Magic V. I don't know what it is that I see or hear that reminds me of this, but it happens a lot. The gargoyles were just absolutely adorable. In previous Heroes games and in most games in general, gargoyles are these scary stone creatures that rip your face off. In Heroes V, they were these cute little bookends that hopped around (or flew for short distances) and hit you over the head with a stone tablet that they carried around. When they weren't doing anything (Heroes is turn-based, so that happened a lot), they'd just sit there looking innocent, hiding behind their stone tablet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WWWCCD?

Someone somewhere must have the license plate "WWWCCD" (What Would Weighted Companion Cube Do?). Even though I have never seen it and likely will never do so, this makes me smile just a little.


Currently listening: Sia—Little Black Sandals

Monday, February 11, 2008

Clear and present danger

Late last week we got an email at work warning us of increased police presence around campus starting soon (I thought today; I don't recall), and to be sure and follow traffic and safety laws since citations would be issued. It probably has something to do with all of the construction. On the way home from work I saw six violations that could have resulted in serious injury or death. Either nobody reads their mail, or nobody cares...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Open to Close

The short version:
Feist—The Reminder: 5/10
Zack Hexum—Open to Close: 6/10
Quarashi—Guerilla Disco: 8/10

The next in a run of pretty unexciting CDs recently has been The Reminder by Feist. It's fairly bland and poorly-produced, so you're supposed to receive a smug sense of self-satisfaction when you listen to it and not the music that those sheep listen to. I don't hate it, but it does conjure up mental images of obnoxious record store employee indie music snobs. The best tracks on here are the more radio-friendly My Moon My Man, 1234, and Sealion, but listening to those three would give you the wrong impression that the album is much better than it is, like they did for me. If you don't think that The Park and Intuition are awful, then you'll probably like the whole thing. But really, I can't really recommend the CD to anyone.

A little better was Zack Hexum's Open to Close. He's the little brother of the 311 lead singer, and I really loved his first album The Story so Far, but this one's in a somewhat different style and not as enjoyable. The first album was pop-rock with a tinge of country; this one is leaning even perilously further toward country, but still within tolerance levels. It suffers from one of the problems of the Feist CD: it gets pretty boring in a few places. The best tracks are Beyond My Means, Little City Driver, and Never Happens, and those are all pretty good, but not good enough to really justify the more mediocre tracks on the disc, and not nearly as excellent as the first album. I don't really recommend it either.



Much better was the guilty-pleasure Guerilla Disco (sic) by the defunct Icelandic rock/rap band Quarashi. It's surprisingly good. There's not a bad track on the disc unless you consider the two bizarre filler tracks. Beneath the lame punk-cliché topics of the songs with classy titles like "Murder Frenzy" and "Payback," and the band members who all look like 17-year-old stoners despite this being their fifth album, there's actually talent. For the past two weeks I've been utterly infatuated with one particularly explicit track from this disc, Pro. It's just insanely catchy. But there are several other great songs on here, including Race City (terrible video) and Stun Gun (another terrible video). If you're into the whole rock-rap thing, it's a worthwhile purchase... but good luck finding it; it was never even released in the US.

After I listen to Pro about fifty more times I've got yet another Muse CD in the queue, and I picked up a CD by Sia, the primary vocalist who left the band Zero 7 not long ago.

Lords of the Underworld

What does it say about you when the only Rock Band song for which your vocals were complimented was the one by Timmy from South Park?

Actually, I think that the game sums up what it says about you pretty well: somewhere between 50 and 60%. (For the record, I did manage like a 98 or something on (Don't) Fear the Reaper, even though I didn't know the song. Other performances were very unimpressive.)

I still loathe the game. But mad Travis-props for including a song by a fictional retarded character in the set list.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Heavy

I've been sleeping really heavily ever since I started with the flu. I woke up today after 11:00, and I actually went to bed at a pretty reasonable time, a little after 1:00. I just cannot get up in the mornings now, and I don't seem to be dreaming much, or at least not that I can remember.

Addendum

Oh hey, I found my other paintball impact sores. It turns out that they're much easier to see right after a shower, and I wasn't really paying attention last night. I was just shot in areas that were already sore from working out, so I don't even feel them unless I poke them.


Currently listening: Enya—Tempus Vernum

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Double Dare

Today was my first time paintballing. I had a pretty good time, and I feel that I did reasonably well. It's not something I could really see myself doing that often; it's really expensive, but more than that, it's really, really gross. I have a strong aversion to "gross" things, and paintballing was just nasty. I felt like I was on the set of Double Dare. Everything was coated with a layer of slime, and the turf oozed as you stepped on it, like an outdoor carpet after the rain, except this was indoor. The ooze was paint that had seeped in. After a game my pants were soaked in sticky paint, not from being hit, but simply from absorbing it from the turf and bunkers. I've probably washed my hands at least two dozen times since then, and they still feel unpleasant.

But, it was fun. I escaped with only the most minor of injuries; my right hand bled a little, but it's hardly noticeable now. The other hits didn't leave any marks. Not sure if I'll ever do it again, but at least now I can see that I've played paintball.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Business cards

Three and a half years of working at Microsoft down; about 400 Microsoft Office FrontPage business cards to go. I mostly use them as convenient little scraps of paper that I can keep in my wallet. I have a feeling that I will still have business cards that say "FrontPage" on them when I've been here for ten years.

Primed

I finally decided to try out Amazon Prime, their deal where you pay $79 to get unlimited two-day shipping on everything you buy for a year with no minimum purchase requirement. I don't think that it will pay for itself in dollars, but I do hope that it will pay for itself in convenience. Had I started on Prime a month ago, I think I'd have already saved $15 or $20 of the membership cost, too.

If it weren't for blasted sales tax, it'd be a no-brainer, but since things I buy from Amazon cost 10% more than things I buy elsewhere, Amazon is not often quite the cheapest, though they seem to be pretty good for most things nowadays. Probably close enough that it's not worth shopping around now that I've pre-paid for a year's worth of shipping charges, and certainly cheaper if you factor in the cost of two-day shipping at other stores that I haven't pre-paid shipping at. Shopping around to save a dollar kind of defeats the purpose of paying Amazon $79 a year so that you don't ever shop around.

Another one bites the dust

Another umbrella of mine has passed away. I think it will still be usable one or two more times, but it's pretty much dead. Metal pieces have broken and twisted and fallen off, and it's the canopy is no longer the correct shape. I try not to be too sad about it. I've learned that expensive umbrellas are a better value than cheap ones, because a cheap one will only last through a couple windy days, whereas an expensive one will last through many. But umbrella casualties are just a part of the cost of living here, though one that I suppose would be lower if I owned a car. I've been through a half dozen or so.

Today was ridiculous. I felt like I was riding through a tornado.

Dream snippet

I had at least one of those little ten-second dreams last night, or at least that's all I remember. This time it was even more vague than usual. Someone was advertising, or selling, or explaining the use of condoms. It might have been an ad on TV or something. They were talking about how their brand of condoms was extra-comfortable because it was loose-fitting. Upon closer inspection, one could see that what was being advertised as a condom was a plastic sandwich bag.

Sleep

If there was any positive facet to having been sick with the flu a week ago, it's that I'm sleeping really well these days. I'm falling asleep very quickly, and getting a good amount of sleep each night. It's kind of nice. I wake up less sleepy than usual, though I feel like I have a lot less control over when I get up. I'm still feeling what is hopefully the last of one of the after-effects of the flu—I feel lethargic and exhausted all day. I imagine that my ease of sleeping will go away as soon as that effect goes away.

Surveillance

When I first started working at Microsoft (more as an intern rather than full-time), I remember that I was pretty paranoid about being under constant video surveillance. I'm not anymore, but for a while I was pretty freaked out. I don't really know if they have hidden cameras everywhere around the building, but it seems unlikely, even though all of the doors warn you that the area is under surveillance. (The entrances and exits certainly are.) Really what they have to fear is leaking of information and code, not theft of a monitor here or there, which I assume is pretty rare anyway. I guess that's, at least subconsciously, why I don't even really think about it anymore. They probably have much better things to do with their time than watch people... work.

Actually, I was probably under much closer surveillance when I was working at the grocery store.


Currently listening: Zack Hexum—Who Knew

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fun loving

I detest when people use the adjective "fun-loving" to describe themselves. First of all, it's sort of redundant, since the word fun means "something that provides mirth or enjoyment." Of course you love fun, by definition. The only sort of person I can imagine who doesn't love fun is perhaps someone very bitter with a warped sense of reality, who is never amused. Maybe a serial killer. "Fun-loving" means you're not a serial killer. You're not a serial killer. Good work. Way to shoot for the stars.

But most of all, I hate it because it by definition is something that should apply to basically everyone, but by connotation is not. Here's a scenario. Imagine a chubby woman of about twenty-five years, with long brown hair and red plastic glasses and a plain-looking face. She loves playing chess against the computer, has three cats which she loves dearly, and tends to her houseplants religiously. She edits a variety of Wikipedia topics daily, and has a blast doing it. She loves life and enjoys her hobbies. This is not a fun-loving woman. She is a woman who loves fun, like basically everyone, and has a lot of it. But you would not use the phrase "fun-loving" to describe her. You would use the phrase "fun-loving" to describe her slutty, hot sister who goes out to clubs four times a week.

What annoys me about the phrase is that by the definition of the words I am certainly fun-loving, but by their real meaning I am not. Yet, I dislike having to admit to not being a traditionally "fun-loving" person because of what I feel those words should mean.


Currently playing: Quarashi—Pro (trying something new... embedding it right in the post)

Sugar

For the last few times I've ordered groceries, I've tried to avoid ordering unhealthy snacks. It is making me more annoyed than I'd like. I find myself wishing for sugar around nine or ten, and a cup of yogurt or fat-free pudding doesn't really satisfy that urge. I miss cookies and tortilla chips.

Catchphrase

A web search tells me that the phrase that I invented a week or two ago is indeed a novel one, so I'd like to post it here as proof that I came up with it, just in case it ever catches on.

He's not just arrogant; he's "cockier than a bag of dicks."

Clever, no? Feel free to use that one in your everyday conversation. Just remember who you got it from, bub.

Accounting

In filling out my 2007 income taxes, I realized that I've crossed that magical line of over-my-headedness where I easily see the value of having an accountant to just do all of this stuff for me. Before buying a house and selling stock, everything was simple. Really simple. I put a few numbers into boxes and then I knew how much money I was getting or how much I owed. The house part isn't so bad, but my goodness the rules for reporting stock purchases and sales are confusing. TurboTax has an "import from Fidelity" feature that is down right now, and I'm really hoping that that will magically figure out all of my numbers for me, because I've read and reread all of the documents and I'm still not sure if I have things correct. I have an idea of what I need to do, but it looks hideously tedious and would involve rummaging through a few years' worth of documents that I'd have to hunt down. I really don't want to do that.

Update: Their importer doesn't really work. Basically all it does is give you a bunch of boxes that you can fill in with numbers from your paper statements, but luckily that's all I needed. Entering that data knocked down my rebate by about a grand. :(

Friday, February 1, 2008

Board

I'm now an executive of my homeowner's association for the next year. That's... probably going to be pretty tedious and awful. But I'll see how it goes.