Saturday, August 30, 2008

Accountability

I've added "Travis' bathroom scale" to the sidebar of my blog template. Once I start my program in three weeks, you'll be able to watch the number go down with me. (When things officially get started, I may change the rules and use a different scale, depending on how the doctors and trainers want me to do things. Right now I'm just using my bathroom scale.)

Travis' bathroom scale

Friday, August 29, 2008

Public nudity and exhaustion

Another area in which my life will change in some way is that I'm going to have to start getting ready for work half of my days at the gym instead of at home. It's not something I look forward to—not because of the showering in public, but because, well, a few reasons. The main one, though, is simple—I tend to get ready for the day pretty slowly, and it will be comparatively awkward having to take all of my various toiletries with me. I always hate that so much when I'm staying in a foreign place (back in Nebraska, camping, whatever). I'm a guy who likes to keep things arranged in a very exact way, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable when I have to pack them in a bag or case and use them in a strange place. Just another one of those obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Of course, I don't have to shower and get ready there, but if I shower and prepare at home, that's an extra 15 minutes or so of driving time and 50¢ of gas, which isn't much but adds up over time. The best trainer appointment I could manage was 10:00 in the morning, which means I'll be getting into work pretty darned late as it is; 15 extra minutes is noticeable.

But hey, I'll adapt. I'm not exactly the first person to have to deal with this sort of problem. Maybe in the end this change will be good for me too. Maybe in the end, it will encourage me to get ready for the day faster. No more sleeping in (well, getting up in time to wash my face, put in contacts, and get to the gym by 10 isn't exactly "sleeping in" anyway), and no more wasting time in the morning. Maybe it will help me to focus a little bit once I get used to it. Right now, I tend to get up, read all of my email, respond to email, and sometimes more stuff before I even get into the shower. I could probably stand to be less responsive to email, actually. I'm much better about it than most everyone else I work with, and in all honesty it's probably a waste of my time. I should just forget about mail until noon, when it's difficult to stay focused on a more mentally challenging task anyway.

The downside to it all is that I'll be getting in to work later than I do already, which will extend out my evenings, so I'll be eating at work more often, or returning to work after dinner more often. I prefer to work out much later in the night, but the trainers don't work in the evenings, so I didn't have much of a choice. So in the end, the effect on my schedule might not be too dramatic. Instead of working out at night, I'll do it in the morning, and I can work a little bit more later at night to offset the time lost in the mornings. That might end up making me more productive in the end. (I always feel so depressed and exhausted after working out, so I'm reluctant to work out in the mornings and start the day off like that, but that feeling is diminished somewhat when I'm exercising very regularly, so maybe it will be okay.)

Oh well. I've got six months to figure something out, and when that's all over and I no longer have a trainer, I can shift my schedule around and work out whenever I want once again. Even if it sucks, I can learn to live with it for six months.

Unlikely fears

One of my random irrational fears is that someday I will turn on the dishwasher or clothes washer, leave my house, and then come back to an utterly flooded home. I'm sure that the chances of this happening are absolutely tiny, but it still scares me every time I leave home with one of those appliances on.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New life begins

It looks like I've got a little more waiting to go—the start of my "new life" isn't going to be for three weeks due to scheduling concerns. I was kind of hoping it would be a little sooner; I'm low on groceries, and I don't want to buy stuff they're going to tell me not to eat, so I was putting it off.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Synchronization

So, Nikon's latest consumer camera, the Nikon D90, supports recording high-def video at 720p and 24fps, using the same excellent-quality camera and sensor used for general prosumer photography. This is pretty big news—nobody else has a product that can record video like this, using a wide line of available interchangeable lenses.

I was thinking while watching their high-quality demo video that the built-in microphone kind of sucks. I, however, have a great microphone at home. I realized that, if this camera doesn't support external microphones (though I assume it would), one could still record audio separately from the video, and synchronize it later. I'm not aware of the features of modern video software, but it actually seems like it would be reasonably straightforward to write some code that could take one segment of video synchronized with low-quality audio, and a separate high-quality audio track, and replace the low-quality audio with the high-quality audio automatically, without the user having to align audio tracks or specify any settings at all. All it would need to do would be to analyze the time positions of the relative peaks and valleys of the two sound waves, and match them up, finding the position that minimizes the mathematical difference between the two waves. Finding the best match would probably be processor-intensive, but not prohibitive.

Maybe some pro video editing software somewhere already does this, and I just haven't seen it. Feel free to go make some money with that "high-quality" idea I spent an exhaustive five minutes on...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

All in

I've done it. I'm all in. I've finished all of my pre-program doctor visits. Now I just need to wait for them to call me back so I can schedule my first week.

Monday, August 25, 2008

One step closer

Well, I had an appointment with my physician today so he could verify that I was able to participate in this diet / exercise / lifestyle management program, and except for the whole fatass thing I'm in surprisingly good health (good cholesterol and blood pressure and such), so I got the thumbs-up. Tomorrow I'm having a new bloodwork panel done so they can figure out... well... I'm not sure what they're going to figure out, but it's a necessity for new patients. After that, it will just be a matter of scheduling my initial doctor and trainer visits, and my life for the next half year will be signed away.


Not actually listening: Linkin Park—One Step Closer

Friday, August 22, 2008

Nose strips

I had a dream that I was in a meeting, and I found out that I was wearing one of those nose pore-cleaning strips. My tester pointed it out, and so I peeled it off. It peeled all of the skin off my nose, and he laughed as I started to bleed all over the place. And then I woke up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Taxidermia

The short version:
Amon Tobin—Taxidermia EP: 6/10
Morcheeba—Charango: 8/10
Alanis Morissette—Flavors of Entanglement: 9/10
Bear McCreary—Battlestar Galactica seasons 1 and 2: 8/10

I've been listening to a nice variety of stuff recently. First up was a soundtrack EP for an obscure Hungarian film scored by Amon Tobin, Taxidermia. It's about twenty minutes in length, but in those twenty minutes you're treated to another one of Tobin's bizarre sonic journeys. The tracks as dark as always, possibly even moreso than usual. My favorites on here are Taxidermia and Run. It's not his best work, but it's still not bad.

Next up was Charango by Morcheeba, my first CD featuring their most frequent vocalist. Like their later albums that I also picked up recently, it's cool, relaxed, and interesting. I really like it, but just not quite as much as The Antidote and Dive Deep. But, if you like Morcheeba's other work, you'll like this too, and it's certainly worth a purchase. I really like Otherwise, Women Lose Weight (featuring Slick Rick), and Undress Me Now. Women Lose Weight is particularly amusing, a lighthearted song about a man whose wife becomes too fat for his preferences and, unwilling to pay child support after a divorce, finds the only course of action is to murder her. It's too happy and perky to not love.

My favorite disc of this batch was Alanis Morissette's latest album, Flavors of Entanglement. I picked up the special edition which has several bonus tracks, and if you like Alanis, I'd definitely recommend that version—these songs fit perfectly with the main album, and are just as good. Versions of Violence, In Praise of the Vulnerable Man, and Incomplete are all fantastic. This album was produced by Guy Sigsworth, the non-vocalist half of Frou Frou, one of my favorite bands. He replaces some of the sounds of her previous albums with synthesized beats, and the resulting sound is really pleasant. Some of the tracks still have angry Alanis guitars, but overall the album just "sparkles" more than her previous work.

Finally, I finished my mini-collection of Battlestar Galactica music with the seasons 1 and 2 soundtracks, and both are about as great as season 3, though I'd say that they do get a little better each season. I don't have anything else to say about the BSG music—my favorites here are Passacaglia, Lords of Kobol, Roslin and Adama, and Prelude to War.


I just imported the latest album of one of my all-time favorite bands, Hooverphonic: The President of the LSD Golf Club. I was holding out for a US release, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. They always do great work, and I'm sure it will be no exception.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Looming

On Thursday, I'll be attending the introductory seminar for the 20/20 program, the pricey diet, exercise, and lifestyle management program that I plan to join. Presumably, I'll start the actual diet and exercise very soon now. It is both exciting and scary. For a few weeks now, every unhealthy thing I eat will probably be the last of that thing that I'll have for a long time. On one hand, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, but on the other, I don't know how it's going to impact me.

I've begun to try to reduce my Diet Coke consumption, as I expect them to tell me to stop drinking it. It's been tough, but I'm down to the 5-6 range from 8-10 a week or somewhat longer ago. This has been considerably more difficult than when I switched to decaf a while back. I just don't like drinking plain water.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pros and cons

I've spent a decent chunk of time today cleaning my bathroom.

Pro: that sticky stuff on the floor might be the Diet Coke I spilled in there earlier today.

Con: that sticky stuff on the floor is probably not Diet Coke.


Currently listening: Massive Attack—Five Man Army

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New word

I coined a word Friday night at dinner. I found one hit for the word (using apparently roughly the same definition) on Google, so I guess I wasn't the world-first to come up with it. It's a useful word, though. Feel free to add it to your permanent vocabulary.

homoindicative—giving signs that a person is likely to be gay

"Did you see Jane in that leather jacket on her motorcycle?" "Yeah, that's pretty homoindicative, don't you think?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sleep joke

Apparently I can invent jokes in my sleep. When I woke up this morning, this unfinished joke was the only thought in my mind:

"Why did Adolf only get partial credit on his math test? He got the correct final solution, but forgot to show his kampf."

It doesn't quite seem finished to me; it doesn't flow right. But for something I wrote in my sleep, I suppose it's not so bad.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The point of it all

So, what kind of crazy world is this where Travis Spomer is buying a car, you ask? (I'm glad you did; otherwise, I wouldn't have anything to post.) I've decided that I'm ready to get really serious about getting healthy. For the past year or so I've been working out off and on, but I'm ready to move forward. I've had my doubts in the past that I can realistically expect myself to stay dedicated to a regimen of diet and exercise, but I've been training and testing myself for months now, and I believe I can do it. I've stuck with an exercise schedule, and I've stopped finding excuses to skip it. I've even been pretty successful at removing unhealthy snacks from my house, and preventing them from infiltrating again.

I should be able to do this. It's going to drive me a little crazy (crazier), but I should be able to do this. I know I can't do it by myself. I've tried. I even made some progress in college—I lost about twenty pounds. But I fell back into bad habits. I feel... I really hope... that this time will be different. There's a popular "lifestyle management program" run by the gym club near me, and I plan to enroll (enlist?) in that. I'm going to hate it. Oh, I will absolutely hate it. But I know that I'm clueless about nutrition and exercise. Even if it's all over and I haven't lost any weight or gained any muscle, it will be impossible for me to have made it through the program without learning a lot, and I think even that would be a success.

So, my focus is not entirely to lose weight. Besides that, my goals are to learn better nutrition and how it affects my body, to learn to exercise more productively, and to build muscle and stamina. I don't have a goal weight, or a goal amount to be able to bench press when it's all over, or anything like that. I hate goals. What will motivate me is noticeable change. At first, it's going to be easy, because they're going to make me eat weird stuff that will slowly chip away at my sanity. That will be enough of a noticeable change. But as long as I keep noticing the numbers on the weights go up from time to time and the numbers on the scale go down from time to time, no matter how slowly, I think that I can keep myself motivated.

I haven't explained yet how the car ties into all of this—I think you've waited enough, patient reader. It's perhaps ironic that a plan of diet and exercise would coincide with the purchase of one of the laziest vehicles imaginable (at least the Segway makes you stand up). I'm doing it to remove barriers. I need to prevent myself from making excuses and lapsing into bad habits. I have a fear, very much grounded in reality, that I would not succeed in the program if I had to depend on the Segway, walking, buses, shuttles, and the like. Those things are time-consuming, and the program will be enough of a drag on my time as it is. I saw getting a car as a necessary step in preparation. I'll need to make doctor visits, work out with a trainer, buy fresh groceries, and all of that stuff. My fear in the past is that doing something like this would unacceptably raise my stress level, and while I'm sure that will be totally true at the start, my sincere hope is that I can deal with it and make it into an experience that isn't making me pull my hair out.

In complete honesty, I'm exhilarated and actually a bit nervous and scared right now as I type this. I've been throwing around the idea for months, literally, but it's only been about two weeks that I've been reasonably sure that this was what I wanted. I've been in Big Decision Escrow for all that time, and I finally decided I was as sure as I was going to get. Today I've put my foot down. It's going to happen, dammit. I must not spend more time unsure and deciding. I can't talk myself out of it anymore. I'm going to try. And it's going to freak me out. As odd as it sounds, this is all going to change my life, at least for several months. (I soon won't have much of a choice; once I start, I have to see it through, because if I don't, insurance doesn't cover it, which is a whopping $6,000 fine.)

And, in the worst case scenario, it did not escape my purchase decision that Honda Civics have excellent resale value.


Currently listening: Garbage—Breaking Up the Girl

Bizarre quirk eliminated

Well, today is the day that I eliminated one of the bizarre quirks that set me apart from other people—I now finally own a car, allowing me to easily and conveniently (and expensively) go places that are more than a few miles away. In contrast to eschewing normal transportation for my insane two-wheeled scooter, I've made a complete about-face and bought the most common and boring car imaginable: a Honda Civic.

I didn't want to. I swear it. I wanted to get something less commonplace. I actually loved the look of the Mazda3 and the Mazda6, and the price was great (invoice + $0 down + 0.0% APR), and I actually really liked both cars as soon as I took them for a spin, but that stopped the moment I began to drive the Civic. I love everything about it except for the exterior appearance, which is perfectly fine but just really boring. I was shooting for a nice slate blue, but I started to like this smokey grey that I ended up getting. So at least maybe it won't be so hard to find it in a parking lot. I bargained them down $1,500 (roughly the difference between MSRP and invoice), which I guess I'm happy enough with, though not thrilled.

Biggest surprise of the day: how incredibly friendly the Mazda salesman was. He didn't pressure me in the slightest, ever. He didn't try to sell me a single accessory, and was perfectly willing to sell me a car at invoice with no arguments (he even suggested it; he said there'd be no way he'd let me pay MSRP). In fact, he even drove me to the Honda dealership (I had taken the bus) in the Mazda that had previously won my love. I almost felt bad not buying a car from him.

Weirdest sales pitch of the day: one of the Honda representatives seemed pretty proud to tell me that the Honda Civic was the most popular car in America according to car thieves (which I already knew).

So... now I'm a little more normal. Oh well. It had to happen sometime.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Actors and actresses

I was thinking just now of my favorite actors and actresses. I realized that so many people seem to be able to name off a list of their favorites, and I didn't really have a clue. Since I wasted half an hour doing it, I figured I might as well share—I picked three men and three women.

Christian Bale—I think he's proven himself as the action movie star to beat in my books. (I also particularly like best-Bond-ever Pierce Brosnan and forget-that-he's-crazy Tom Cruise.)
Jason Bateman—He's the best consistently-good comedic actor I can think of at the moment. He's the lead in Arrested Development, played a somewhat more serious role in Juno, and I also saw him in Scrubs.
Mary McDonnell—She's great and very believable as a leading lady in Battlestar Galactica, and I liked her as a minor character in Donnie Darko too.
Mary-Louise Parker—Absolutely fantastic as the lead of the Showtime series Weeds, in both comedic and dramatic roles. (Pretty much everyone in the show is fantastic, really.)
Nicole Kidman—She was the hardest one on my list to think of, but I've seen her in a lot of things, and I can't remember seeing a time she's given less than a great performance, so she makes the cut as actress number three.
Robert Picardo—I really only know him from Star Trek: Voyager, but he's my favorite Star Trek character: the sarcastic ass of an emergency medical holograph.


Currently listening: Paul Schwartz, Gavyn Wright, David Theodore, and Lisbeth Scott—Auguries of Innocence Pt. 1

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Designing the cart before the horse

One common piece of advice for people who design and/or build software is that you should leave designing and building the user interface until the end. I'm sure that there are people for whom this advice makes sense, but it doesn't jive with me at all. Usually the UI is the thing I work on first. I have a few reasons that I think are very, well, reasonable. Working on the user interface first helps me focus on that—the experience that the user has with the software. This is supremely important. If I don't know who's going to use it or what they're going to use it for, I can't be certain that I'm going to meet their needs. Focusing on the interface first makes sure that I cover my bases. I may still dream up features I need later on, but at the very least I probably won't have built something that turned out to be unnecessary.

That's not the only reason. Working on the UI is usually very inspiring, at least to me. It's very rewarding to see something come together from nothing, and there's nothing as visual and obvious as the UI. Even if at first it does nothing, it still makes my progress clear to me. I tend to become disheartened when I can't see what I'm building; working on the UI first is one of the easiest ways to make sure that this doesn't happen to me. Once the first prototypes of the user interface are built, I can start making bits and pieces functional, which is just as exciting. There's also the large added benefit of being able to use the various non-functional UI elements as a checklist of sorts, so I know roughly how much work is remaining. It all helps me get a feel for what I'm designing earlier on than drawings on paper or in Photoshop would.

There are still good reasons for not working on the UI first. If it's something relatively uncomplicated like some kind of server maintenance tool, you could very well waste too much time on something that only one or two people will ever see. And Joel Spolsky had a good point once that making something look pretty too early in a project gives the wrong impression that things are further along than they really are, which can probably only hurt you in the end. But, given the choice, building the user interface first (or at least early) is still my preference for most projects.

(Somewhat ironically or at least hypocritcally, for the last large project I started, Pawn, I didn't work on the user interface first. I decided that it wouldn't even have a UI until many months into the project. Now though, when I work on new versions, designing and building the UI for the new features is pretty much the first thing I do.)

Random acts of kindness at Taco Bell

Sometimes I have problems logically reconciling my cold, capitalistic view of the world and my desire—nay, my personality trait—of wanting to help people. I probably spend at least a third of my spare time doing things for other people in some way or another, be it answering requests for support, writing code to help people, or et cetera. Yet, I have trouble lending things and even more trouble owing people things. Or favors. I have problems accepting gifts, yet tend to become annoyed when people do not accept mine.

I believe in a world where people follow their desires and does what benefits them. (I tend to not remember exactly which terms apply to which ideas. Capitalism is not really the right word here.) What I can't quite account for is why I, and other people, don't always act selfishly. Why do I write software that I don't myself have a use for, give it away for free, and then spend my time supporting it? Am I simply acting illogically? I don't think I am. No, I think that the reason is at least twofold: first, I recognize that it helps me develop skills that are useful in my trade, and gain much broader experience in the software industry than I otherwise would have; and second that it simply makes me happy. This philosophy doesn't dictate what makes me happy, rather that I should do whatever does make me happy. The act of doing things for other people is one such thing for me. There's no accounting for it. My own personal search for happiness merely includes things that benefit others as well.

This post is starting to sound like ego-stroking, and that wasn't the point. Like any other interest, it waxes and wanes. Sometimes I don't feel like being helpful to anyone. I think it may be sort of an outlet for any excess extrovert energies I may have—if I've been around people too much and need to switch into hermit mode, I'm a lot less likely to want to do things for people for a while, even if those things involve writing email or otherwise do not involve interactions with other humans.

Anyway, many weeks ago, I was at Taco Bell, and the cashier showed great interest in my necklace, demanding to know where I purchased it. I told him that I made it myself, and he excitedly asked if he could buy one. I said he could have one if I still had the stones and could find my equipment. I didn't want to get anything out of it; I just wanted to do something for someone. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get it to him yet—he no longer works at Taco Bell. I need to track him down, which shouldn't be too hard since I have his phone number somewhere. (Things would be easier without my introverted anxiety at calling random people on the phone.) It's kind of disappointing to decide to do something nice for someone only to have them not get any benefit out of it, robbing me of my satisfaction in seeing someone else become happier.

So I guess there's no complicated theory behind it. Just simple psychology—in the past, I've been rewarded for doing nice things for people in that their joy brings me joy. So, I'm more likely to continue those behaviors in the future. That sort of makes the behavior selfish even though it seems fairly selfless. Takes a bit of the magic out of random acts of kindness...


Friday, August 1, 2008

Hating Sony more with every passing day

So I got into this neat state where anytime I clicked a shortcut to a program on my Start menu, Windows Explorer crashed. This was, as you might expect, getting pretty obnoxious. I uninstalled the program that I thought was the most likely candidate, as I had updated it yesterday, and it's just the sort of thing that would crash Explorer. After restarting and confirming that that program no longer existed, I was still getting the crashes.

Luckily, I had the Visual Studio handy. So, I attached to the process, clicked a shortcut, and then Explorer crashed as expected, but this time the debugger caught it. I looked in the callstack, and everything looked normal except for a DLL that didn't look like it should be there, cmdlineext.dll. So, I did a web search. It turns out that it's a part of SecuROM, Sony's constantly-maligned and dubiously legal copy protection software. (I don't know if there could possibly be a program that the world hates more than SecuROM. Probably not even RealPlayer.)

So, I shut down Explorer, unregistered and deleted that file from a command prompt, and then restarted Explorer. Tada. No more crashes. Took about three minutes to diagnose and fix. Sometimes it's handy to be a software developer and have a debugger handy.

I hate Sony more with every passing day. It takes a lot for me to have actual negative emotions upon the mere mention of a company's name, but Sony certainly manages it.