Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Surprise nerd

While getting my mail today, after I answered a couple of his questions about Windows 7, one of the elderly men in my complex asked me if software engineers these days still knew how to write programs in assembly language.  I said that probably anyone with a four-year degree would, and most people with a two-year degree or none at all probably would have no experience with it, and that I hadn't used it since college.  He chuckled and said that he would hope not, and that he still remembers his nightmare experiences debugging assembly code that someone else had written for him in the 80s.

This shocked me a little.  I could hardly believe that I had just had a short conversation about assembly debugging with an elderly man I've known for more than two years, and I had no idea that he had experience with such things.  I think I could have only been more surprised if he asked me if I had opted in for the Starcraft II beta.

(Of course, that's not entirely true.  I'd have been even more surprised if he immediately transformed into a thirty-foot-tall robot in the form of a Catholic schoolgirl holding two machine guns.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bilingual

On the way home from work today I passed a sign on a preschool that said "BILINGUAL LEARNING," and it occurred to me that "bilingual" is a pretty useless word as words come. It means that someone speaks two languages, but which two? One can generally infer that one of the two languages is the most prevalent language of the area, though even that information is not guaranteed, and we assume that of everyone in an area anyway. Compare it with "bisexual"—unlike languages, there are only two well-defined genders, and if a person is attracted to two of them, that covers the bases pretty well. Even "bidirectional" one might think at first is vague since there are clearly more than two directions, but since the word is generally only applied in situations where there are only two relevant directions (such as west or east along a street), it's not vague.

But bilingual is useless. I can make guesses as to what that second language might be, but I can't be certain. It could be Spanish, though honestly there do not appear to be a lot of Spanish-speaking people in my area. It could be Mandarin. It could be Japanese. There is a heavy concentration of Indian people near me (and this school), so it could be an Indian language, but as I understand it there are a multitude of those, so the chances of the parents of the child and the teachers at this school speaking the same Indian language would be pretty slim. These ambiguities could have been avoided with a single sign to the effect of "Teaching in English and Klingon."

So, I have concluded that the sign is nearly useless, and the word "bilingual" is entirely useless except in the case of explaining to someone how international you are.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fact of the day

Last night I discovered that despite hard candy being made primarily of sugar, sugar-free hard candy only has slightly fewer calories than normal sugar candy.  This makes me wonder what else, exactly, is in it.  I always assumed that it would have no calories.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Short people

In my experience, it is surprisingly difficult for a tall person to position things within the reach of short people.  It just doesn't occur to me that something that is effortless for me to reach is not accessible to someone shorter than me.  I think that it would be much simpler for me to realize if I ever stored things in places that are inconvenient for me to reach, but I can grab basically anything at any height in my home other than my bedroom smoke detector.  If effort were required, I'd probably think to myself, "maybe a shorter person wouldn't be able to reach this at all," but that's not the case.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lame request

I made a Facebook page for EclipseCrossword. If you don't mind helping me out, become a fan. The idea is to artificially increase the number of fans, in case people are wary of becoming a fan of a page that only has a couple existing fans. I don't mind if you defriend EclipseCrossword at a later date. :)

Precipice

Ugh.  I haven't posted since my trip to Nebraska.  It's not that I don't love you; it's more just that I don't have anything that interesting to say right now.  Nothing of significance is really going on right now, and I'm not bored or desperate enough to break out my rainy-day blog topics just yet.  (That said, I do want to cover something more serious that will take multiple posts, but I've got too much else to do right now.)

I've mostly been working—working around the house, working at the office, writing a couple posts for the official SharePoint Designer blog (not finished yet), and writing another fairly large document that I've put off for far too long.  I did spend a couple hours and finish the quite short Penny Arcade RPG this past weekend, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One.  Overall it's decent.  The writing and humor and graphics are pretty good.  The gameplay is interesting at first but becomes tiresome after a short while, though.  The most annoying part is that advancing the story sometimes simply requires wandering around aimlessly until you find the next random batch of enemies to kill.  The enemies themselves are pretty entertaining—there isn't a huge variety, but I wouldn't really expect too much variety in a game not much longer than Portal.  There are mimes, whose attacks are things like "Pretend I Have a Machine Gun" and "Pretend I'm Throwing a Boulder," and can be trapped inside invisible boxes, clowns that bleed paint, sinister barbershop quartets, evil hobos, and, of course, a couple models of Fruit Fucker brand juicer robots.

It's things like the latter that are simultaneously refreshing—certainly many games include plenty of profanity, but usually to simply make someone sound tough rather than for comic effect—and disappointing: disappointing because they make it tough to recommend the game for someone like my dad, though he might otherwise enjoy it.

If you like the humor and style of Penny Arcade, you'll like the game; if you don't, you won't.  It's not that it's something that only fans would enjoy (though there are some fan service things here and there), but the writers and style are the same as the comic, and the game itself is basically secondary to the writing.  I don't think that liking RPGs or adventure games is really all that important to liking this game, because it's not really about the gameplay, which is rather strange I think for a comic strip whose primary subject is... games.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Blue Moon

Sitting here in the Denver airport waiting for my final flight back to Seattle, my Nebraska trip has come to an end. It will be good to sleep in my own bed once again. I'm taking tomorrow off to recuperate from the trip, and then I'll have a nice short two-day week starting Thursday.

Every time I head to Nebraska I take a new game to introduce to my parents. This time it was Blue Moon, an out-of-print dueling card game by Reiner Knizia, one of the most prolific game designers around. It's a neat little game that's probably best described as "Magic Lite," but to call it a derivative of Magic is not really fair. Only the basic theme of two powerful leaders battling each other with creatures is the same; the other mechanics are quite different. There's the same sense of back-and-forth escalating power—and suspense at whether your opponent is going to play something powerful, or whether you're going to pull this one off—as Magic. But each duel is over in a couple minutes. Everything's simpler and more streamlined, and while it doesn't have quite the same strategic depth as Magic, it does have a lot of the same concepts and fun in a much smaller game. You don't track creature hit points or life points or mana or other resources; at the end of each turn your current strength is summed up in two words that you say to your opponent, such as "3 fire" or "7 earth." There's no card collecting, other than the additional expansion decks of cards you can buy to freshen things up—the expansions each contain a full set of cards with no need to buy more than one.

Knizia's quite an expert at producing moderately strategic games for two players, and Blue Moon seems like a great game for people who like Magic but feel like something shorter and cheaper, or people who would otherwise probably enjoy Magic but would prefer something less complicated. My mom is the latter, and she enjoyed the game so much that I left my brand-new copy there for my parents to play. I was able to order a new one, but it's getting harder to find, and as far as I can tell it's no longer being produced. At only seven or eight years now I don't really have much in the way of hard-to-find out-of-print games yet, but hopefully someday in the future I'll be very glad that I was able to pick up a copy before it was too late.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nobama

I think that one of my parents' cats is a hardcore Republican. My dad has a copy of Newsweek with Obama on the cover, and the cat has peed on it multiple times.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Puppy

My mom has a Shiba Inu puppy, just a couple months old. It is rather adorable, and energetic even by puppy standards. It's just starting to get to the chewing stage; it finds socks and shoes and anything else it can carry around and runs around, violently shaking that object. I'm not much of a dog person, and I can only tolerate being around them with a dose of Claritin these days, but it's pretty much the cutest dog ever.

Update: photo 1, photo 2, video

Gazing at the heavens

On Saturday when I was shooting off fireworks with my family, I was gazing at the heavens for one particular item when suddenly a chunk of warm ash fell into my eye.  It was rather uncomfortable, though it didn't hurt any more than a mild stinging; it wasn't like the piece was still on fire or anything.  I was unable to get it out of my eye until I went inside, got a Q-Tip, wet it, and wiped the residue off the inside of my eyelid.  That eye was red for a couple hours.

This was an experience I do not really want to repeat.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Annoyed

I played Magic for the first time in many years tonight, versus my dad.  I won seven out of seven games.  He was... annoyed.

I sort of miss the game; it's still a great game, and I always loved the deckbuilding.  It just takes such a commitment to stay on top of things, and I think I can only really handle one game that requires that kind of focus and mental dedication at a time.  And, at about $14 a month, World of Warcraft isn't really any more expensive than Magic would be, and as difficult as it can be to find a group to play WoW with sometimes, it still must be easier than finding someone in person to play Magic with.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Indulgence

One indulgence that I allow myself precisely two times a year is frozen yogurt. I used to get it a lot as a kid, but these days it's just whenever I'm in the Denver airport, as inevitably the path from my Seattle gate to the Lincoln or Omaha gate will go right by TCBY. Occasionally I try something different, but every time I do I’m very disappointed that I didn't just go for my decades-long favorite, plain vanilla yogurt with gummy bears on top.

And it is delicious.

Lighting money on fire

Well, I'm off for a week with the family in Nebraska. Should be interesting. And hot—oh so hot. But at least air conditioning is standard in every house in Nebraska. It never even occurred to me before I moved to the Seattle area that this was not the case everywhere. Every year it gets hot in the summer, and every year everyone seems very surprised that it's hot that summer.

I haven't been back in a year and a half now, and I'm fairly certain that Mom's going crazy with anticipation. (That's a lot of pressure, you know—the quality of this visit is the lynchpin of my mother's sanity.) If you recall, I had planned to return for Christmas last year but was stuck in Redmond due to a snowstorm. I chose a replacement flight over the July 4 weekend because I particularly miss setting off explosive and incendiary devices* in honor of our great nation's birth, and for the most part, fireworks are not legal here.

(* I am typing this post in the airport. Hopefully they do not read this post at the TSA security checkpoint.)

The Fourth was always one of my favorite holidays. Sure, fireworks are fun, but I think that there's more to it than that. It's a holiday that, in Lincoln at least, practically demands that the family get together for a collective fun activity: blowing things up. Everyone can participate if they want.

In contrast, Christmas is more about the gifts and the meal and spending time with long-lost relatives. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's an event designed around family togetherness. The Fourth of July brings family togetherness as sort of a bonus, but the real focus is on hot, bright, and shiny things that burn your hands. It's a collaborative amusement that you can't have any other time of the year. I think that those two aspects—the group activity part and the time restriction part—are what make the Fourth so special to me.

Or maybe I just like fire more than I'm willing to let on. Either way, tomorrow I get to "light my money on fire" as my skeptical mother always says, and it's been half a decade since the last time I did. I can't wait.

As a kid, my sources of income were quite limited, given that but I'd still manage to save up for months and months and have fifty bucks or so to spend on fireworks. My grandfather would usually chip in a twenty for each of my brother and me, which was always a really big deal. We'd budget things out and make sure that we got exactly what we wanted. The Fourth only came once a year, and there was no money to waste (unless you're like my mom and any money spent on fireworks is a waste).

The Fourth is one of my dad's favorite holidays too. I decided that a perfect Father's Day gift for him would be a fireworks shopping spree. Admittedly, it sounds more like I just forgot to get him something and I'm pulling something out of my butt a couple of weeks late, but in reality (I swear) I hand-picked this gift after weeks of thought, and I was sure to tell him that his present was coming with me this time. Hopefully he'll enjoy lighting someone else's money on fire just as much as his own.