Monday, June 30

Vacation, interrupted

I was intending to take a vacation in a couple weeks—take a week off and stay home, that sort of thing. I probably also would have taken a day or two to go explore someplace interesting. But I somehow just today remembered that this is the least relaxing part of the year possible, at least for me. It's hot, and I just don't deal with heat well, despite living in a warmer climate for most of my life. Even with air conditioning it's not very comfortable to be home. I'd rather work, 'cause if I stay home anytime soon, it's not going to be relaxing, and if I'm not relaxing, I might as well not burn vacation time. So, maybe in a couple months.

I was planning on having a kitchen remodel coincide with my vacation at least partially, since I'd be more free to stay home and monitor the work, pick out countertops and cabinets, and all of that kind of stuff. But I think I'll postpone that too. Maybe I'll start the remodel in September or so.

Sunday, June 29

Stayed a while, and listened

For the curious, I did stay awake for the Diablo 3 unveiling ceremony. I miscalculated time zone differences, so the ceremony started at 2:45, which was more sensible-seeming than 3:45. It was a fun time, even if it's a bit silly sitting alone in my home and yet feeling like I'm part of something in France.

People can laugh, but I honestly feel that Diablo 3 is a pretty significant cultural event. As far as I'm concerned, Diablo 2 was one of the great masterpieces of art that has been created in my lifetime, so anything new with the Diablo name is noteworthy. Certainly more interesting than, say, an award-winning play.

Friday, June 27

Recovering fanboy

Blizzard is announcing a game this Saturday in Europe. That's about all we know. They've been running these enigmatic splash pages for days now on their sites to drop misleading hints and drive everyone crazy. It could just be an announcement regarding World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, and that's probably the most likely possibility, but this looks like it might be something bigger. Another Starcraft announcement? We haven't gotten much in the past year. A Diablo 3 announcement? A Starcraft or Diablo MMO? A new property entirely? There are conspiracy theorists on the internet with irrefutable evidence that it's each one of those things.

Earlier tonight I almost decided to stay up tomorrow night until 4:00 am for the announcement. Almost. But I'm a recovering fanboy; I need to work to avoid these sorts of temptations.

Thursday, June 26

New contacts day

I wear disposable contacts, which I throw out and replace every other Thursday. New contacts day is always the happiest day.

Underwear

NOTE: Basic familiarity with male anatomy is recommended to fully experience this post.

Men's briefs and boxer-briefs come with a part in front where the material overlaps by a couple inches. It's sort of like an airlock—objects can emerge if you intend for them to do so, but not accidentally. (Airlock? Okay, I've been watching a lot of Star Trek while working out recently.) I wonder why this principle is not applied to boxers. Some boxers come with no access ports at all, but most come with what is basically just a slit—the material only overlaps by half an inch or so in general. There may be a button, but often there is not. This does not provide much insurance against accidental exposure to the elements. Since boxers fit much more loosely and usually use thinner fabric, it seems to me that the airlock idea would be more useful on boxers than briefs. I wonder why I've never seen boxers like that. Sure, it's extra material, but boxers are already insanely overpriced; I'm sure they could stand to use three cents' more fabric.

Teeth whitening

Someone asked on Tuesday if I had whitened my teeth. I had not, and I answered thusly. But I looked in the mirror today, and sure enough, they're whiter than I was remembered them being. When I was younger, I noticed that my teeth would turn white when I was really sick.

So, that's sort of slightly worrying.

Rawr

If your PC has eight gigabytes of RAM, should you feel bad when you close applications? Those bytes at the end of the stick must get really lonely. Maybe if I opened twenty copies of Visual Studio, they could have a party.

Wednesday, June 25

Punishing success

One thing that I'm having trouble getting over is the feeling that, at work, success and completion is rewarded with... more work. It sort of feels like a punishment. The pool of available work is essentially infinite, so when I finish one thing, there's always plenty more to do. Those who are productive or lucky and get ahead just get assigned more to do. It's kind of depressing, but it makes sense.

The idea is to reward those who are willing to work extra hard and get more done, which certainly makes sense from the company's perspective. I suppose that you can look at it a different way—another possible reward for getting work done is having extra spare time. One could, in theory, work thirty hours a week, get as much done as an average person who works forty, and take the rest of the week off. Or, you could use the remaining time in the week to get more work done. In the former scenario, your reward for working hard (or just being really smart) is time. In the latter, your reward comes in the form of bonuses, pay raises, and promotions. It's up to each person to find the balance between the time rewards and the pay rewards. I guess that makes a lot of sense from the human perspective too.

I don't know why I have any trouble at all getting the idea that there is infinite work to do through my head. I should be very used to it by now. When I'm working on my own stuff at my own pace, I always decided when I was done with each chunk of work, and I always knew that there was an infinite amount of possible future work on each project. It was so obvious I didn't even have to think about it. Why would it different when it's my job? It's actually very similar. Maybe I just had different expectations from the career life, and I haven't fully corrected them yet. Maybe subconsciously I expected to be handed, drone-like, a chunk of work, and then I would complete it and go home.

Like in school. Maybe I was brainwashed by school. Most assignments had an obvious point of completion, and the idea was to be done with it as soon as possible so you could do something else that was fun or interesting. Even tasks without an obvious end, such as reports and papers, had an implicit one—you worked on them for as little time as possible to get the grade that you expected. In school, the time was definitely the reward. Well, there's also the vague possibility that working hard might get you a future financial bonus in the form of scholarships—so it's another tradeoff, between (gasp!) money and time. I hated doing the work, so it was blissful to be done with it and have time to do something I wanted to. But I don't hate my job. I don't love it like I love the random tinkering I do when I'm not working for The Man, but I certainly don't dislike it. Maybe that's the difference—I mostly hated school (at least the school part of school), but I don't hate my job. Maybe I'm still approaching work from that hate-angle.

The Beast with a Billion Backs

The latest Futurama movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, is kind of disappointingly mediocre. Not bad, just... really average. The trailer for the next movie, Bender's Game, coming out around Christmas, looks pretty awesome though.


Currently listening: Alanis Morissette—Citizen of the Planet

Monday, June 23

Drama

Last night I finished watching the released episodes of Battlestar Galactica (through the end of season 4 part 1). Don't worry, there are no spoilers here—and a lot of crazy stuff happens in the last couple episodes.

I think that Battlestar Galactica has fallen prey to the same thing that happened to The X-Files: it's very impractical to watch an episode out of order anymore. At the beginning, The X-Files was all about the absolutely self-contained episodes. Each episode presented a paranormal mystery, and by the end, the case would be closed. Not necessary solved or fully understood, but closed. By the end of the series, many of the episodes were hardly about the paranormal at all, simply resolving the complicated mythos that the show presented. I still liked the show, but it was very different than what I signed on for.

Battlestar Galactica is getting to be the same way. It's not that I don't like the show—in fact, I think it's still probably some of the best science fiction ever produced—but as powerful and exciting as they were to someone who knows the show, these last few episodes would have been completely incomprehensible to a newcomer. I don't think that's a terrible thing, as I have a great affection for serial fiction, and I don't think that it can even be completely avoided while still producing a compelling drama. There's just not enough time in 44 minutes to set up enough backstory to produce stories that are rich enough. (Comedy has an easier time here—The Simpsons and Family Guy are still pretty self-contained.) It's starting to make me glad that the show is coming to an end in ten more episodes or so, though. It's an excellent show, and I'd hate to see it collapse under its own ever-increasing weight.

Heroes was worse. I first saw the fourth episode or so, and by that point the show was already baffling and impossible to follow, to the point that when I saw it after the preceding ones in the proper order, I barely recognized it.

Poof

As I was brushing my teeth tonight, I coughed. As I coughed, for a brief moment I vividly imagined myself coughing so hard that every follicle in my body violently ejected my hairs, creating a showery poof of hair in my bathroom.

Thursday, June 19

Warm eyes and cold cans

When I get a can of Caffine Free Diet Coke® from the fridge, I often like to press it softly against my eyeballs. It feels very nice.


Currently listening: OneRepublic—Say (What I Need)

Wednesday, June 18

Tires

It's difficult to tell just how thin the tread on your tires is until you replace them and observe the difference. I finally replaced the tires on my Segway last night, and the difference is very obvious if you see the before-and-after. I was planning on just waiting until I punctured one, so I'd get a little extra life out of the existing tires. But, a few weeks ago, I figured that it's been two or three years, and I've probably gotten enough life out of them, and changing them now means I have spares in case of emergencies.

It's hard—for me, at least—to justify replacing something that appears to be functioning perfectly well. It's a little easier with things like air filters, since you can see those getting clogged up and black, but with a tire it's hard to see the difference, and nearly impossible to feel any difference, so I feel like I'm spending money on nothing at all, and that doesn't sit well.

Diablo II

Hey, they finally released a patch for Diablo II that removes the copy protection, letting you play the game without the CD in the drive. Better late than never, I guess. It's pretty impressive that they're still making occasional updates to that game, considering how ancient it is.

Final wishes

I wonder...

Each year, how many fantasy-loving gamer nerds write into their wills, or at least tell their friends and family in seriousness, that when they die they want to be cremated so that they can't be revived as the undead minion of a powerful necromancer?

I bet it's more than zero.


Curently listening: Ben Folds—She Don't Use Jelly

Mass Effect

I finished Mass Effect, at a few minutes shy of thirty hours. I imagine that if you don't try to finish every single little side quest in the game it's probably more like fifteen. The main storyline is where it's at; most of the side quests are pretty forgettable. It's not that they're not fun, but they're pretty repetitive, and their storylines usually don't tie in with anything else. Some of them are really well-done, and some are just weirdly abrupt and pointless. There's some definite fun to be had exploring uncharted worlds, but that gets pretty repetitive (and occasionally frustrating, given the vehicle controls) after you've done it a few times. Were I to play again, I don't think I'd bother with most of the side quests; without them, I don't think that the game would have felt repetitive at all. All of the main quest areas are very well-done, but the side quests reuse a LOT of architecture—there are like three building types for all of the different possible side quests, reused again and again and again. For as well-constructed as the rest of the game is, that's pretty puzzling to me.

But anyway, the core game itself is really great. The storyline and presentation are top-notch, and it's got a nice epic feeling and some fun plot twists. It's still in the vein of Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, but more of a departure in that the combat requires aiming instead of die rolls, and they were free to develop their own combat system instead of D&D. You don't get a lightsaber, but you can get a sniper rifle, a worthy but less pleasing substitute. All of the typical RPG stuff—killing monsters for shiny treasure—is in there, and while it's a space theme instead of the usual fantasy stuff, the world that they've created is really rich and full.

I played it on the PC, and I don't think it would have been nearly as fun on the console. Seeing it on the big screen and hearing it on the big speakers would have been a treat, but while it's an RPG, it still requires some FPS-like reactions, and my hatred of using a controller to aim a firearm is the stuff of legends. I can't even imagine how impossible the final battle would have been with a stupid little thumbstick.

Really, I can recommend it to anyone who likes RPGs, and if you liked Neverwinter Nights or Knights of the Old Republic, the chances that you'll love Mass Effect are very high, especially if you don't despise first person shooters. (I can't speak for the Xbox version, but if you like RPGs and console FPS games, I don't see why you wouldn't love it too.) It's a great experience. I'm looking forward to the inevitable sequel, though to the authors' credit, this game comes to a very satisfying and final conclusion.


Currently listening: Death Cab for Cutie—Your New Twin Sized Bed

Sunday, June 15

Inspiration

As a kid I was always inspired by the tales of people who discovered and created exciting new things... inventors were heroes, in a way. I never really got into any one inventor—I wasn't, say, "Edison's biggest fan"—but I always revered them as a group. That's one of the things that excited me about getting into software. It was a way that I could create interesting things with a minimum amount of effort that wasn't directly related to the task; my creativity could be turned into something that worked more easily than, say, a chemist or physicist could. (Somewhat ironically, I guess, creating software for the "real world" has much more overhead and is much more like chemistry and physics than I had hoped as a teenager.)

As I've grown older, those feelings have changed. I think that "jaded" and "disillusioned" are both too strong of words to describe the feeling, but more proper words fail me at the moment. It's more just that computing is so vast that it's hard to imagine myself ever being part of something truly magical anymore. As I look back at the past decade or two, a lot of the big achievements have not been technical; they've been lucky. That's not to say that incredible new things haven't been created—MP3, peer-to-peer networking, JPEG, the internet, and so on—but a lot of the revolutions have been by chance. Take MySpace and Facebook. While those two websites are very important culturally, they're fairly worthless from a technology standpoint. What hack sitting in his parents' basement couldn't dream up a website where people log on and post details about themselves? I imagine that Facebook and MySpace have been designed thousands of times, or more. I drew up plans for a site basically identical to MySpace and Facebook over the summer and my freshman year in college, after a few years of "internet experience." You had friends lists, you'd share things about your day with your friends, and you could network with other people. I thought, clearly errantly, that no one but the nerdiest geeks would ever be interested in it. Had I designed it today, it'd probably even look a lot like Facebook, considering how much I like blue and white. While newer developments like the mini-feed and applications have some novelty, the basic concept is mostly worthless. Facebook succeeded because it was done well, but also because it was lucky enough to have worked.

That's usually what you need today. You have to do a good job, good enough to win over the other people doing the exact thing as you, and you have to be lucky enough to get a break. That's how technology advances most of the time, it seems. A hundred thousand people all think of pretty much exactly the same thing, a thousand of them do it, and a couple of them succeed, partially on their own merits, and partially by chance. It's more about timing and the drive to see things through and less about the neat technology.

Which is fine, and all. I'd be very happy if I went to my grave having created something that changed the world a little, even if a thousand other people did it too and mine was just the one that succeeded. It's just not as incredible and mysterious as my original grandiose dreams of changing the world with something nobody ever thought of. Either the unsettling speed of "internet time" has changed the way that technology is developed now, or my original dreams were just unrealistic imaginings of youth. It doesn't really matter.

Saturday, June 14

Playstation Three

Well, I own a Playstation 3 now. I didn't really want to own one. There are no games that I want for it, and I already have one more console than I really want. But I was left little choice. If you're going to get a Blu-ray player, which I was, it doesn't seem like there's a great reason right now to get a standalone player when a Playstation 3 is at most like fifty bucks more. For those extra few dollars you get something that can play games, is known to have great playback capabilities, and is guaranteed to have system updates in the future. I figured that it was the sensible choice for getting a Blu-ray player, since Microsoft has announced so many times recently that they absolutely, positively aren't going to be making any Blu-ray Xboxes or add-on drives, since digital downloads are the future or some idiocy of that kind.

So there's the story of how I'm a big fat traitor and now own the competing game console. Overall, I like the device. The first Blu-ray movie that I'll be watching will be, it seems, National Treasure: Book of Secrets from Netflix. I also bought Weeds Season 3 and Juno, but they haven't arrived yet.

Shut up. I see that face you're making. I thought the first National Treasure was fun.


Currently listening: NERD—Laugh About It

Friday, June 13

Grass

Last night I dreamed about grass. I was walking through nicely trimmed grass. About half of the grass was of a variety that was part green and part black (I have a small tuft of something like this in front of my place), and the other half was either blue or green, depending on the breeze and the angle you looked at it with. The two types of grasses were arranged in patterns, blowing back and forth in the wind. It was peaceful.

Monday, June 9

Airport security

I dreamed that I was in an airport heading back home after visiting my family over Christmas. (This was not the Lincoln or Omaha airports; a made-up one.) They had changed the security procedures so that the first scans were all on the honor system, and then there was a final scan that actually mattered that was just like the "have your boarding passes out" scans today, right at the gate. I was all the way to myfinal gate when I realized that I had a handgun in my backpack that I had forgotten to check as luggage, and forgotten to put through the initial security screening. I had gotten it as a gift from my grandmother—I had two explanations in my mind and I'm not sure which one was correct, but I had either gotten it because my photography trips were dangerous, or because Seattle was dangerous.

So there I was, a couple people from the TSA security checkpoint, with a loaded pistol in my backpack. I was asking the airport personnel what I was supposed to do now, and they all kept saying stupid things like "ooh, TSA gonna rape you when they find that, boy." Most of them were on the phone and wouldn't talk to me at all. I asked about lockers or checking it as baggage, and the one slightfully helpful guy told me it was long past the time when I could do that. Then he helpfully informed that the TSA guys would be really angry, and they was gonna "rape me" when they found it.

As I approached the TSA security station, I was pretty sure that I had forgotten to set my alarm, and that it was already the afternoon—possibly the first time in my life that I've ever been aware that I was dreaming. Then I woke up to my alarm.

Sunday, June 8

Butchart Gardens

I've finally gone through my photos from Butchart Gardens and posted my favorites. You can find them here (Facebook account not required):

Facebook - Butchart Gardens

A couple previews:



It's the most beautiful garden I've ever seen, whether or not the photos show it. But I'm starting to tire of photographing flowers. They're pretty and all, but I have way too many pictures of them. I much prefer people.

Close call

I just knocked my glasses off of the bathroom counter. They bounced on the floor and under the counter. I looked, and they had fallen down into the heating vent beneath the counter (my bathroom and kitchen have pseudo-heated floors). I think that if it weren't for the earpiece, they'd have fallen down into the nethers of my home. Close call.

Saturday, June 7

Burn victims

I've been playing Mass Effect (the critically-acclaimed virtual orgasmic rape simulator) recently; it's pretty fun. It's basically the same game as Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, but more streamlined, and a requirement that you actually aim your character's attacks instead of them being totally roll-based. The basic story formula is the same too—you start off in a training area for an hour or so until you get to the big city, where there is one big quest and lots of little quests. After that, you had off on your own.

One nice touch that I really like about the game is the flexible character generation. Oblivion is the only game I've played where you could create your own character with such a customized appearance, but most of the sliders in Oblivion went from ugly to fugly. A popular description is that Oblivion's characters all look like burn victims—it's strange considering how great the rest of the game looks. But in Mass Effect you can create a hero you wouldn't mind looking at for the length of the game.


My character from Mass Effect


A guy in Oblivion


Currently listening: Goldfrapp—Human

Wednesday, June 4

Productive member of society

As of today I've worked at Microsoft for four years—four years of having a real job, being a productive member of society. That's longer than I spent in high school, longer than I spent in college.

It hit me an hour or so ago that, in a capitalistic society, couldn't you theoretically pinpoint the time at which your impact on humanity has been a positive one? It would be something like the time at which the amount of wealth you've generated (for anyone, not just yourself) was greater than the value of the resources that have been used to keep you alive, educate you, and so forth. Does that work? Realistically, you could never calculate that time because there would be an infinite or near-infinite set of numbers to add and subtract. But it seems that if everything in the world could have a dollar value associated with it in terms of resources and services used versus consumed, you could find exactly when you became a worthwhile investment.

But then again, I don't really get theoretical economics.

Tooltips

Tooltips are generally implemented such that if the user keeps their cursor in the same pixel location (or, sometimes, within a tolerance of a pixel or two) for a predetermined length of time, the tooltip appears. Sometimes they're optimized such that if a tooltip is visible and you move from one thing with a tooltip to another, the second one instantly appears. Still, I wonder if there's a better method.

One thing that seems like it would be better would probably require more input from the mouse—either in more precision, or greater polling frequency. It would probably require OS support, not just program code. Instead of basing it on pixel changes, monitor the velocity and acceleration of the mouse pointer. You wouldn't need an accelerometer; just analyze the existing mouse inputs to calculate the rate of change. As soon as the acceleration reaches a certain low threshold (near zero), show the tooltip. As I see it, this would make it so that if a person who uses the mouse in very quick motions like I do stopped it on something, the tooltip could immediately appear instead of having to wait. You wouldn't want this behavior using the standard cursor tracking model because there would be tooltips popping up all over as you moved the mouse, but if you stop the mouse over a control, you either want to click it, or you want a tooltip.

It might turn out that that implementation would be really annoying. You'd see more tooltips than you do today, and that's the point. But I'd like to see it tried out.

Sunday, June 1

Soundtracks and miscellany

Sure, it's only been a few days since my last music post, but I've been listening to a lot of CDs at once.

The short version:
Nine Inch Nails—The Slip: 2/10
James Horner—The Wrath of Khan: 5/10
Bear McCreary—Battlestar Galactica Season Three: 8/10

I downloaded the latest Nine Inch Nails album The Slip to have a listen, since it's free and all. I... did not enjoy it. NIN has its fans, and I just can't bring myself to enjoy the music. It's not the dark, depressing, harsh tone; I just don't like the style. The best tracks on here are probably Discipline and Demon Seed, and I could certainly live without either. I couldn't even manage to pick out a third one.

I bought the soundtrack to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, composed by James Horner. It's a bit different from the soundtracks that I generally like to listen to. It sounds obviously older than an instrumental soundtrack that you'd hear in a movie today—more vibrant and more classical. Most of the Star Trek movies have had good scores, and despite this one's age, it's decent enough. It's optimized for the kinds of epic space shots that were more prevalent in the first few Star Trek movies compared to modern sci-fi. But I have to dock it points for the quality of the recording (it is quite old) and the fact that it's pretty repetitive. I like Enterprise Clears Moorings, Battle in the Mutara Nebula, and Genesis Countdown.

But far better than either was Bear McCreary's music for the third season of Battlestar Galactica. It's one of the best soundtracks I own, which is pretty impressive for a TV show, I think, even if it probably is the best show on TV. I admit that I bought it for the epic rendition of All Along the Watchtower, but I felt pretty confident making the purchase given how great the show's music is. There's a wide variety of sounds on here, like the percussion-heavy Storming New Caprica (I love the pipes at 2:12), the tense and suspenseful Wayward Soldier, and the somber Battlestar Sonatica. The soundtrack's value is probably higher for fans of the show with a few tracks like Gentle Execution reminding you of particularly powerful moments, but you don't have to have seen the show to enjoy this soundtrack, especially if you enjoy modern instrumental music with many differing styles and instruments.

Butchart Gardens

This is the first photo I took at Butchart. I'll post more later once I spend some time working on them.

Pleasure bears

The Victoria Clipper had a duty free shop onboard similar to what you'd see in an airport. During each trip they'd advertise the products available—untaxed liquor, cigarettes, and perfume, as well as souvenir-type items. On the return trip, after dinner, the announcer got on the speakers and invited us to all come and visit the "internationally-renowned Victoria Clipper duty free and souevenir shop," which got some light laughs from the passengers. "We've got sweatshirts, T-shirts, hats, and even a variety of stuffed animals for your pleasaure." The table across the aisle appeared to be a mother and three daughters, and they all giggled pretty hard at that. I stopped trying to hold it in.

My photographer companion dared me two shiny Canadian dollars to go back and ask for more details on the pleasure-bears. I declined.


Currently listening: Quarashi—Pro

Bus porn lady

After we got to the port in Victoria, my friend and I took a bus to the gardens. During the first half of the trip we sat across from a retired woman who was chatty enough to almost miss her stop. She had been to Seattle once in the past, and remembered little about her trip other than a particular incident in her hotel. Her story went something like this.

"My husband and I were in the hotel room getting ready to leave, and he had flipped the TV. He was scanning through the channels and suddenly came across... porn. He'd never seen it before, I guess, and he was just mesmerized. He was just staring at the screen. I left the room and said I'd see him in the lobby in a few minutes. I waited down there a long time until I finally headed back up to the room to see what the matter was. When I got to the room, he was still sitting there in front of the TV, staring. I could barely pull him away from the thing, eh!

"Later on that night, he had fallen asleep and I was watching the TV, and wouldn't-you-know, I came across more porn. I hadn't seen it before either, but it looked interesting, so I decided to watch it for a little bit. I ended up watching the whole thing. It wasn't really my thing, I guess, but it was interesting. Oh! the acting; it was so bad, eh? I remember we went to the Space Needle twice—why he wanted to go twice I don't know—but mostly what I remember about Seattle is the porn."


Currently playing: Bear McCreary—Violence and Variations

Victoria, by sea

I spent yesterday in Victoria, British Columbia, at the Butchart Gardens. Well, technically, I spent most of yesterday traveling to and from the gardens. It probably should have been a multi-day trip, but at least I got to see most everything there for a little while. I took the Victoria Clipper, and I have to say, traveling by boat is certainly more pleasant than traveling by plane. It was not as fast as a plane direct route would have been—under three hours versus under one hour. But, the amount of time I'd have sat at the airport waiting in lines would have been much greater—there weren't even metal detectors at the port, so customs took just a couple minutes. The seats were much roomier, with many areas where a party could sit facing each other around a table, and you could roam the boat at will. And, it was about half the cost of the cheapest flight I could find.