Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Interest rates

Today's payday, so I went to pay my Visa bill and see how much money I had lying around. I was kind of sad to see the numbers. I thought I had a lot more money than that, and looking through the transaction log, it seems that my balance has been steadily decreasing. This was worrisome, so I started going through my records, and found a transaction for many dollars that was responsible—I'd put it into my different-bank savings account. This is so unlike me. I didn't even remember doing it. I usually just keep everything in checking; certainly I know it's theoretically better to keep things in savings, but when the difference is about five bucks a month in interest, I usually don't care enough to bother moving numbers from one box to a different box on a different website.

So it turns out I have some money saved around after all, just in my ING Direct account, where I get 3% interest instead of .5% interest like I do in my hilariously pitiful credit union savings account. It used to be 4.5% interest a year ago... oh, economy. (And now I feel super-clever for buying that 5.75% CD half a year ago.) I'm saving up to do some home improvements, mainly redoing my kitchen, which is amusing in its hideousness, but that amusement wears off pretty quickly. My stove is about a decade older than I am, and the cabinets and countertops are unspeakably ugly. I figure that it's half an investment in my sell value, half something to make me like my house better while I live in it, and that seems like a decent enough ratio to make it worthwhile.

I hope to get started on planning out what I want to do with the kitchen in a month, when my CD matures.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

YouTube subscriptions

I was thinking earlier tonight... YouTube channels are, for a lot of people, basically video blogs. Personally, I'd rather read what people have to say than hear them say it (podcasts), or watch and hear them say it (YouTube). (Or, in most cases, none of those things.) I'm only subscribed to one channel on YouTube, that of Chris CendaƱa, and that's just because he can sing.

Actually, though, there's some appeal to the idea of posting my thoughts in video form instead of text. You can get a lot more nuance in speech than text, and I really like talking. The downside is that I hate the sound of my voice, don't like the way I look all that much, and greatly enjoy being able to edit and correct and fine-tune my text whenever I want. I wouldn't worry about Sleepless in the Seattle Metro Area becoming a YouTube channel anytime soon.

Public service announcement

Public service announcement:

I haven't fully decided on my gift yet. I've got a few ideas. I haven't just forgotten it. I need to just give up and pick one. NOW. Or at least tomorrow.

[Corrected; I just wrote "Sunday" originally.]

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bad jobs

My benchmark for how bad a job can be is when I worked at Gallup. (An odd number of people have never heard of them. They're the world's most famous polling organization.) In hindsight it should have been obvious that I'd hate the job—I don't like talking on the phone, and that's all you do at Gallup. But that wasn't even why.

It's not that the work itself was hard. I was pretty good at the technical aspects of the job. I could stick to the script without improvising, I knew what I could say to coerce people into answering questions properly without tainting the results, and so on. It was air conditioned, and it paid pretty well. I didn't have to lift heavy vats of oil or stick my hands into 400-degree fryers or mop floors. But it was kind of emotionally traumatizing. It didn't take long to realize that I would never be good at the job. I never even did well enough at the job to get paid on what I did; I always had to be bumped up to minimum wage, as we were paid on commission for surveys completed, and I never completed enough to make more than the minimum.

It's not that I was bad; it's that I wasn't being paid based on how hard I tried. I was paid based on how many people liked the sound of my voice. You could tell that the women who worked there were far more successful in terms of pay than the men. If you sound like a hot young girl, you can make a pretty decent amount of money at Gallup; almost everyone is willing to talk to a hot young girl for a few minutes. It's like phone sex that calls you. Sadly, one or two of the surveys I'd complete each night would be with people who apparently didn't hear when I said my name was Travis, and then would start hitting on me, assuming me to be a hot young girl. I actually had someone hang up on me once when they found out I was a guy.

Now, there were ways that I could have gotten more money. I could have lied to people, or bent the truth, to get them to take the survey. Or, I could have completed surveys with people who didn't actually meet the qualifications of the survey. For example, often our criteria for who we could talk to would be something like "the youngest male over the age of 18 who lives at the house." I imagine that there were people who would accept a survey response from a different guy in the household, or someone who was almost 18, or something similar. The chances of being caught are pretty low (they did randomly listen in on our calls to try to prevent that sort of thing), and as long as you played it off as a mistake it probably would end up being fine. You'd probably get a lot more survey completions if you were dishonest.

But mostly I think it was my inability to sound like a hot young girl. And that feeling that no matter what I did, I wasn't going to improve much; that most men who worked there were doomed—that was really depressing and crushing. The women were all more experienced because turnover was lower, and they just did better. I imagine that a lot of women and minorities must feel that at some point in their life, that they were pretty much just screwed. I had to get out of that job. I stuck with it for the summer because I needed the money and didn't want to start someplace and then work there for just a month, but it depressed me more and more. They spend a solid week training their interviewers (phone grunts), and because of this everyone signs a contract promising to work for them for at least six months.

But I couldn't do it. At the end of the summer I said I was going to transfer to the downtown call center so I could work during school. Once school started and I first walked into the call center to meet my new boss, the feelings of doom and gloom were stronger than they'd ever been. I walked up to the manager, introduced myself, and said that he didn't know me, but I wanted to resign effective immediately. He was understanding and wished me well. I handed him my security badge and walked out.

The feeling I got when I walked out of that call center was one of the best shifts in morale I'd ever experienced. That was the only time I'd ever really quit a job.

Currently listening: Bill Brown—Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour, USA theme

Friday, April 25, 2008


Occasionally when I search for music on I get pointed at one of the Pure Moods compilation CDs. I remember that they used to advertise all the time on something that I watched when I was much younger—maybe The X-Files? So, I decided to click on the most recent CD in the series, Pure Moods IV, and see how many of the songs on there I already own on other CDs. There are 18 tracks, and I own eight already. That seems like a lot. Maybe I should be compiling the Pure Moods CDs.

I already own the CDs that contain the tracks from:
Delerium and Sarah McLachlan
Secret Garden
Yann Tiersen
Paul Schwartz
Afrocelts and Peter Gabriel

And I own different albums or compilations containing tracks from:
George Winston

So, seeing as I already own more than half of it, it seems like a bad idea to pick up this CD. On the other hand, I guess that it must be a pretty good disc since I know I like at least ten tracks on it. (Actually, I listened to samples of the ones I didn't already own, and I was not too thrilled.)

Eight point five inches

Have you ever noticed how people with vision deficiencies often like to brag about how bad their eyes are? I don't really know why that is, and I tend to do it myself. It's kind of like the mythical boys' locker room conversation, with "inches" replaced by "diopter" and "penis" replaced with "eye."

Mine are 8.5/8.0.
—Oh, mine are both 8.5.
Well, it's not how bad your vision is; it's how you use it.
—That's just a lame excuse that people with good vision use.

The 80-20 Rule

I'd like to propose a slight redefinition of the 80-20 Rule:

"80% of people have 20% of a clue of what they're talking about when they mention the 80-20 Rule."

Currently listening: Hello Stranger—Es Tu Vida

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Next in line

I think that next, I'm going to get a little more Culdcept Saga time in. Culdcept is a card and board game for Xbox 360, and it's strangely addicting. I think that the audience for a game like it is pretty limited—a certain subset of board game fanatics. The gameplay is slow and methodical, but pretty rewarding. There's a strong luck component, but tactics and deck construction are still more likely to be the defining factor in any match. A large portion of the game is the acquisition of new creatures for your army, new items to equip them with, and new spells to cast during battle. By that I mean getting new cards that let you do those things, which you assemble into a custom deck of exactly 50 cards to tailor your strategy for the next battle.

I'm pretty sure that anyone who reads that and hasn't played Culdcept Saga is going to be either pretty excited or pretty repulsed, and I'd guess that whatever your intuition after reading all that, it's probably correct. I finished about half of the campaign while waiting for Kane's Wrath to arrive, so I think I'll go back to that for a while. Then I'll probably move on to Crysis, unless Mass Effect or Assassin's Creed gets me first. I haven't had a ton of time to play games recently, but I try to squeeze some time in when I can to keep from going crazy...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kane's Wrath

I really liked Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. So, I was really excited that an expansion, Kane's Wrath, was coming out. Unfortunately, it's fairly disappointing. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it's kind of sitting at the lowest bar of expectations from a C&C expansion pack, especially since the last one, Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour was absolutely phenomenal.

First the good parts: There are some really awesome new units in the expansion. They round out the different sides while keeping in character. Each of the three sides has a "hero" unit now that you're only allowed to build one of, requiring a special structure to be built before you can even start to construct it. While expensive (the same price as a superweapon, without taking the structure into account), they're absurdly powerful. GDI gets the MARV, a tank that's as big as any of GDI's structures and has just about every type of gun imaginable mounted on it, and can be garrisoned with four infantry squadrons. But that's not all—it's also a mobile refinery. Simply driving it over tiberium increases your finances—you can literally recover your initial investment in a few seconds after you trek it very slowly to a tiberium patch. It fills me with absolute glee. The Brotherhood of Nod has the Redeemer, a towering, colossal robot that is essentially the same thing as a MARV without the mobile refinery capabilities. It's a sight to behold. The Scrin get a huge mechanical spider that absorbs tiberium from destroyed units. All three are very awesome.

There are other interesting toys to play with: Nod gets a stealthed artillery that, with the aid of a shadow team spotting the target, can bombard any location on the map, just like GDI can with the juggernaut and a sniper team. The Scrin get what is probably the coolest-looking unit I've seen in an RTS, the Mechapede, which starts out as a small little bead of a unit, but then you can build eight additions onto it depending on what you want it to be good at. You can make it a jack-of-all-trades by mixing and matching, or a harbinger of death for infantry by giving it eight add-on sections that all spew toxic chemicals.

Each of the three factions now has two additional subfactions that you can choose. For example, GDI players can now also play as a Zone Command squadron, and get access to expensive, high-tech weapons while losing some of the more well-rounded units. Or, they can play as the Steel Talons, dropping almost all of the regular infantry types for mechanized walkers, and missing out on all of GDI's sonic technology. (Steel Talons also get the Combat Engineer, which can defend itself somewhat versus enemy soldiers, and says "uh, they gave me a gun?" when you click him.)

There's also a new play mode, Global Conquest, which makes the game play out a bit more like X-COM or Heroes of Might and Magic—there's a turn-based world map where you build your bases and recruit troops, and then conflicts on the world map are fought out in short RTS battles, capped at a few minutes each.

But unfortunately it doesn't all really add up. There's only one campaign, for Nod; there are no GDI or Scrin missions, so to play with those units you have to do skirmishes, which just aren't the same. The storyline is really weak, and even nonsensical in some spots. The new global conquest mode is interesting for a while, but doesn't hold my attention like a normal RTS campaign would have. And while the subfactions open up new gameplay possibilities, they're not done nearly as well as they were in Zero Hour, where the subfactions were very clear and distinct—there was the guy who loved nukes, the guy who put frickin' laser beams on all of his units, and the woman who barely had ground units at all, choosing instead to focus on base defenses and superweapons. All of those personae are well-defined, and you got to fight versus all of them in a silly, campy Mortal Kombat-style tournament bracket. It didn't take itself nearly so seriously, and that made it a lot more amusing than Kane's Wrath ended up being.

Command and Conquer 3 is a great game, and Kane's Wrath improves on the core gameplay in interesting ways. Just not enough—it doesn't really seem like an essential expansion. Play the base game if you like RTS games and haven't picked up C&C3 yet, but I don't see a good reason to get Kane's Wrath too. I think I might have preferred to just dig out Zero Hour again.

Currently listening: Hooverphonic—My Child

Killer in the house

The first dream I remember from last night is that I was reviewing some excruciatingly detailed technical documentation. It was something like a 20-page document explaining an algorithm for calculating the factorial of a number. During the dream, I had just thought of checking to see how the algorithm would handle non-integral input values, so I started to re-read portions of it to see how it would calculate the factorial of pi. This is the first time that I can recall my mind actually getting bored with its own dream, and immediately changing the dream into something else more interesting.

Suddenly I was college-aged, and in a house with about a dozen other college-aged people. Most everyone was downstairs; I was upstairs in the living room talking to a girl who seemed to think that she was my girlfriend. There was another guy in the kitchen, getting a drink or something. I got up to go do something—maybe go to the bathroom—and suddenly I heard a noise from the kitchen. I looked, and saw blood on the floor. The dishwasher had been ripped through the house's outer wall, leaving a large square hole that someone must have entered through. (Seems an overly complicated way to break into a house. Why not use a door or a window?)

Then the "girlfriend" screamed for help from the living room, and I peeked my head around the corner to assess the situation without being seen. A man was slowly advancing on the girl and the kitchen guy, who was already wounded. He was well-armed, and they didn't have a chance. Or at least that's the decision I came to. I decided not to try to save them. Instead, I crept to the trapdoor that led to the basement, hoping that the killer was not aware of my presence. (Again, why a trapdoor? Why not stairs?) When I got there, the people from downstairs had also heard the noises and were coming up to investigate. One guy and girl were in just their underwear; they had been busy down there. (There are no naked people in my dreams.) I shushed them so as to not attract the attention of the killer, who was still busy getting ready to kill the other two. I told them that we had to leave NOW, and we did, through the sliding door in back. We got the impression that we had been heard, so we ran for the cars as quickly as we could.

There were eleven of us trying to fit into two cars, which was a bit snug. I guess one of the two who were killed was our third driver. I had a man of approximately my (large) build but a foot shorter sitting on my lap in the passenger seat. This was not a well-planned exodus. It was uncomfortable. We learned at the police station that this guy had been killing dozens of people, and they hadn't been able to track him down.

That's where the dream gets a little hazy. I know that I had taken some notes on the killer's appearance, and what seemed to be his license plate number (there was a blue pickup parked in the middle of the street in front of the house we were in), and had traded those notes to the police for other notes. Then I and two other people set out on our own to do our own investigation. None of us were the drivers, so we set out by bus. I know that we got to our first destination, but I think the dream ended there. I don't remember anything else from it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I always admire someone who can take a really dull-seeming topic and make it interesting. That's how I feel about The Queen. It's basically a movie about the differences between the British monarchy and the real government—as in the prime minister's office. That sounds incredibly uninteresting, but the characters and how they all reacted differently to Princess Diana's death (also quite uninteresting to me) were just very believable and compelling. I'm often annoyed by movies that try to seem far too self-important and pretentious, but despite the subject matter The Queen wasn't, and I'm usually annoyed by slow-paced "character" movies that don't have much of a plot or an ending, but this one was an exception.

Also, the actor playing Prince Charles occasionally sounded like Kif from Futurama, which was amusing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


My office is adjacent to a conference room, and I think that that contributes somewhat to my trashcan being more of a public entity than it otherwise would be. I often come into my office and notice a variety of Starbucks cups, candy bar wrappers, and other food detritus in there. I occasionally wonder whether the very people who add trash to my trashcan see the contents and think to themselves, "Good Lord, this guy's such a pig."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Smart stove

Here's a free product idea that I offer freely to the world. This would be a wonderful safety and energy conservation feature for a stove that I would seek out when making my next purchase.

Imagine a stove with a light sensor. It knows when the kitchen lights are on and when they're off. It would be able to calibrate itself to know what's "on" and what's "off" by simply observing normal light levels. There may need to be two in different places on the stove, since in certain kitchens it might be common for one side of the stove to be obscured by shadow, but not the other.

Now, whenever you turn off the lights, this kitchen will wait a couple seconds, and if either of the burners or the oven are on, it will emit a series of beeps and then blink a "snooze" button. If you really wanted the lights off but the stove on, you could press snooze to make it not beep again for eight hours.

Tada. No one would ever forget and leave their burners on again.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Adult education

Another mini-dream for you:

I was sitting in a classroom next to one of my coworkers. We had been sent there from Microsoft to verify the technical accuracy of one of their courses. The instructor was very late in getting things set up, so the class had become restless and was looking through the goody bags that we'd been given. I pulled out a card from my bag and my coworker and I examined it. At the top was the logo of the place—eLern Adult Education—which was a complete ripoff of the eBags logo. The card said that it was good for a free beginner-level course for the friend or family member we gave it to. It also stipulated that it was not valid for us or anyone on our staff. Then, in his best imitation of Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live imitating Sean Connery on Celebrity Jeopardy, he said, "Your mother was on my staff last night, Trebek."

And then I awoke to the sounds of my alarm.


I just swallowed (by accident) half a mouth of toothpaste. Now I'm going to be tasting it all night. It just won't rinse away. Fantastic.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Big Haircut

You hear the phrases "Big Oil" and "Big Tobacco" to refer to large corporations in a certain industry collectively. It has a certain negative ring to it. But it doesn't seem to apply to too many industries. You never hear people talk about conglomerates of budget hairstylist chains, for example.

Ron: You seriously cut your own hair?
Jude: Of course. I don't want my money going to Big Haircut.

Currently listening: Hybrid—If I Survive


I am annoyed by people who are annoyed by artists who they feel are doing the "wrong" thing with their creations. Let me elaborate. Probably the best example of this is when the original Star Wars movies (IV-VI) were released on DVD, and subtle changes were made, such as inserting Hayden Christensen's image briefly into a scene to make it fit better with the prequels. I totally support George Lucas doing what he feels like with the Star Wars movies, and I can't side with those who feel that just because they're really attached to the Star Wars universe, somehow he doesn't have the right to make changes to things. Now, once he dies and his kids start tinkering around with things to milk more money out of the franchise, I'd be more inclined to side with the raving fanbase. But Lucas is alive and kicking, and I think that gives him the right to creatively control his own story.

Same sort of deal with JK Rowling revealing after the last Harry Potter book was published that one of the characters was gay, despite this not being stated in one of the books. A bunch of people went nuts, saying things to the effect of "well, you published, so it's out of your hands now." I think that's absurd.

The area where I see the worst instance of this is (you guessed it) in World of Warcraft. The Warcraft storyline is constantly evolving, as there's a new product in the franchise every couple years. But the bitching... oh, the bitching. People complain about everything that they do with the story. I don't even get what these people want. People complain every time one of the villians of the Warcraft universe is killed off. Back in the base game, people were angry that players were able to kill Kel'Thuzad. In The Burning Crusade, people are angry that players are able to kill Illidan and Kael'thas and Zul'jin. And people have been bitching for a year now that when Wrath of the Lich King is released, they'll be able to defeat the new Lich King Arthas. When new characters are introduced, people complain that they weren't already introduced earlier, so clearly they shouldn't be playing a vital role in the story. It's as if these people don't want the story to advance at all. But then the same people complain that the story never advances.

I don't get it. Sure, I'm attached to the Warcraft universe. The games have always been fun. I didn't even think that I'd have any interest in World of Warcraft, but I bought it years ago because I liked the universe and the story that the authors had created. But that universe is not mine. It's theirs. They're in control of it. I think that they utterly, completely have the right to move it forward. If that means killing off characters that people like and introducing new ones, good for them. The producers of creative works deserve control over their own creations, and people who insist otherwise annoy me.

Sweltering seventies

How abruptly the heat has begun. Today it was in the 70s. A week or two ago it was snowing. Pretty soon I'm going to be very happy that I got air conditioning installed last year.

I was at Lowe's today looking at ceiling fans. I went there with the intention of signing up for their installation services, but it was going to be $130 to install plus $35 to get an estimate plus some arbitrary amount of money because I want one in my stairwell, which is greater than ten feet tall, all for a fan that cost like $60. The department manager successfully bargained me down from my budget of a few hundred dollars to spending about $75 and doing it myself. This worked by appealing to my sense of manly pride, prodding me with "I've even heard of ladies doing this themselves. You can do it." Also, part of it was that he just kept talking and talking and talking and I wanted to do whatever would get him to shut up as soon as possible; I had a bus to catch.

So now I have a box containing a ceiling fan in my living room, and really no clue what to do with it. Hopefully my neighbor's ladder will get me up to my stairwell ceiling where I can have a 50/50 chance of either falling to my death or electrocuting myself. Should be a fun time. He insisted that the fan he selected would work for me, though I really don't know how it's going to install on a slanted ceiling. Only one way to find out. Unfortunately I think that that way ends with returning to Lowe's to get my money back and ordering something online. But I'm a pessimist.

Currently listening (appropriately, too): Sia—Sunday (video)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

An Inconvenient Interpolation

This weekend I planted a small shrub near my house. As of tonight, it's more than doubled in size. At this rate, before the end of the year, it will have grown large enough to affect the Earth's orbit. I think that the time to wonder if we should be worried is over—now is the time to wonder what we can possibly do to stop it.

It's not even the fifth of November

I just got a strong craving to smell gunpowder and fireworks. I miss fireworks.

[Congratulations! Now I'm a suspected terrorist.]

Currently listening: Basement Jaxx—Smoke Bubbles

Deer in headlights as a business tool

I've discovered that the "deer in the headlights" look is a great business tool. Someone just stopped by my office and I used it to great effect.

Bob: Hey Travis... do you know: to apply fine-grained permissions to a list item, do—
Travis: [silent, terrified look with eyes wide open]
Bob: Okay, that's a no. [leaves]

The whole conversation was over in ten seconds. Great success!

Area 52-zero

Since I mentioned my odd and/or lazy way of writing the lowercase letter "a" in a previous post, I was asked how you tell the difference between it and "z". Here's an image to demonstrate "a," "z," and "2."

Z is the easiest letter to tell apart since I've crossed my Z's and 7's for about ten years now. The tough one is A and 2, but about half of the time I curl the number 2 so it's more distinct, and the other half of the time you can tell what it is from context.

I try to write a bit more legibly if I'm writing something that someone else needs to read, but writing significantly less legibly is slightly faster, so I kinda default to that.

Fun related fact: when I was designing this blog template I got most of my feedback from one person. Like everyone else, I had to prod him to give any sort of negative criticism. The only comment I got at first was that I needed to choose a different font for the header.

Currently listening: Hybrid—If I Survive

Images to wake up to

Today I awoke to the image in my mind of Will Ferrell dressed up as an Amish man in an SNL skit that I'm somewhat certain does not exist. No context.

Update: While showering I recalled more details; Will Ferrell was sitting next to two old men. All three were singing, and one was playing a banjo. They had the initials P, B, and S, and the image was made to look like an old-timey black and white film reel, but of course it wasn't really.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

We're Basement Jaxx...

My dream started off in a situation similar to those in The Aviator. Howard Hughes was test piloting a new high-speed boat that could also jump out of the water and glide for short distances. He claimed it was faster than anything the Navy owned, so they were racing. His experimental boat won, but at the end of the race the boat crashed into the land.

After that the dream cut to a board meeting with a lot of executive-type people, and then four people—two men and two women—who seemed dressed inappropriately and completely out-of-place. Hughes was arguing that his test was a success, not a failure, despite the crash at the end, and was demanding more funding and a greater share of the eventual profits. People were laughing at him. Soon, the person leading the meeting turned to the strange people and asked, "Who exactly are you?" Two of the strange men turned to look at each other, and then answered as if more confused than offended by the question, "we're... Basement Jaxx, of course." "Yes, but... why are you here?" Now more annoyed, one of them just replied, "because we're Basement Jaxx," matter-of-factly. One of the women smiled and leaned forward and then said, "I suppose you'll be wantin' some dance music now." The other woman grinned and added, "with feathers!"

But that was the end of that. I then found myself in the lobby of my building at work. There were a lot of people in black and grey military gear that just screamed "special ops." As his whole crew poured into the building, he whispered to his team of ten or so that they had complete access to the building with their badges, and they were to accomplish their mission and then leave immediately; terminating anyone who got in the way. They didn't notice me standing there with them, listening to their plans. I never really got a sense of if they were the good guys or the bad guys.

One of the military types made his way to the stairwell, and I followed him there. I found that there were stairs down that I wasn't expecting (they don't exist in real life), so I took them. They brought me to a very first person shooter-style industrial underbelly of the building with loud gears and mechanical doohickeys, and walls made simply out of chainlink. I had lost the military guy, but I continued to wander around in the basement of my building, and I finally found a room containing one of my coworkers, my roommate from college, and his mother, sitting around and chatting. There was a chalkboard in the room—chalkboards seem to be a recurring theme in dreams that I've had recently.

As soon as I entered the room I started to warn them that there were people in the building who might be after them, but they didn't listen to me. They didn't seem to notice my presence. I went to shake my ex-roommate's mom by the shoulder, but my hand passed right through it. I was a ghost.

I tried to find a way to communicate with them, but they couldn't hear me, and nothing I could do seemed to affect their world. Then I noticed that I could affect things that had electricity running through them: when I tried to pass my hand through a live power wire, it stopped. I shook one of the mechanical devices in their room—that got their attention. Then, I grabbed an extension cord and carefully wrapped it around a piece of chalk. Now that the chalk was wrapped in the extension cord carrying electricity, I could move the chalk. I took the chalk and wrote on the board (very slowly; the extension cord was cumbersome) as the three people watched in amazement:

This is Travis
People are coming
Get out now

Only my ex-roommate's mom seemed terribly freaked out by the ghostwriting. My roommate said "that looks like Travis' writing; look at the way he wrote his A's." (I have a very distinct way of writing a lowercase letter A—see my blog's header.) My coworker helpfully added, "but he's dead." The roommate replied, "I think we should take the advice. We should get out of here."

And that was the end of the dream.

Currently listening: Sia—Breathe Me (video)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Just a game

(This is a games post, not a World of Warcraft post, I swear.) One thing that bothers me when I'm playing (or reading about) World of Warcraft is the phrase "it's just a game." Well, yeah, sure, it's just a game, but it's also a game you're playing with other real people. I've occasionally heard this in reference to board games and sports, but I hear it all the time referring to WoW, and I hate it.

"It's just a game" is the phrase you use when you do something that you know somewhere in your mind is not acceptable, but you want to pretend that it's excused because you're playing a game. Actually, it's kind of like the phrase "just sayin'."

  • "Hey, you're an ass-ugly dickface and not even your mom likes you."
  • "Hey, you're an ass-ugly dickface and not even your mom likes you. Y'know, just sayin'."

Surely you've heard something like that before. Apparently you can defuse anything by adding "just sayin'" to the end of it. Anything's fine as long as you're just sayin' it.

  • "Hey, I know we've been working on this dungeon for 90 minutes and it took us half an hour to get the group going and we're about ten minutes away from finishing so we can all get our rewards, but I'm kinda hungry so I'm going to go get something to eat. Bye."
  • "Hey, I know we've been working on this dungeon for 90 minutes and it took us half an hour to get the group going and we're about ten minutes away from finishing so we can all get our rewards, but I'm kinda hungry so I'm going to go get something to eat. It's just a game!"

And that's pretty much how it goes. Yes, sure, it's just a game, but you're playing it with real people. If you're an asshole, World of Warcraft makes it strikingly easy to waste an hour or two of four other peoples' time.

It's a perhaps-unfortunate design decision of World of Warcraft (and from what I can tell, basically just ripped off of EverQuest) that dungeons take a group of people of a specific size (five) that includes two people filling specific roles ("tank" and healer). This increases the possibilities of tactical complexity in the various dungeons, but it also makes things a lot less flexible. In Diablo, people could pretty much come and go as they please, and the game would adjust difficulty accordingly. It takes a tank, a healer, and three other people to make their way through the Magister's Terrace and kill Kael'thas; in Diablo, you can basically do anything and everything with any kind of group. (Hellgate: London tried that in an online game, and it seemed to reasonably succeed in it, but I put it on hold since it was so crashy...)

I think that a lot of it is that the anonymous nature of the internet and games played online brings out the worst in people. There's no real accountability, so you can be as much of a jerk as you want most of the time, and it doesn't hurt you. You don't lose friends or even have to hear someone else nag you about it the next day. That's why a large number of people only play with people in their own guilds—there is a sense of accountability since you're playing with only people you know. But none of that excuses the lack of respect given to games outside of the online world. Fine, it's just a game, but that doesn't excuse you for only paying attention to your own desires and ruining someone else's leisure time.

Run Honey Run

The short version:
Muse—Origin of Symmetry: 5/10
Sia—Healing is Difficult: 5/10
Hybrid Tango (Tanghetto)—Hybrid Tango: 8/10
Morcheeba—Dive Deep: 9/10

Quelle surprise that I've been listening to a lot of music recently. First up is the last album in my string of Muse albums that I've bought, their second album: Origin of Symmetry. (Showbiz, Origin of Symmetry, Absolution, Black Holes and Revelations.) It seems to me that they've been making small tweaks to their sound over the last six or seven years, but nothing too dramatic. The biggest change was with their very latest, which I think sounds considerably better than the previous three. This one's my least favorite of the four; it's a bit more screamy, and just seems to be less diverse in sound than the other three. It's pretty good, but it's probably not good enough that I'd really have bothered getting any of their other albums if it's the one I heard first. The best tracks here are the opener New Born, Space Dementia, and Feeling Good.

I also imported Sia's first album from Australia (it wasn't released in the US), Healing Is Difficult. I think I can see why it wasn't released in the US; it's just not that good. There are a bunch of different sounds and styles here, but her unique voice is at her most annoying here, and some of the songs sound off-key, and there are a bunch of little filler bits with obnoxious children talking over a beat. There's nothing worse than a worthless filler track, except for a filler track that's attached to a song, and not even on its own track. Still, I like her music, and this isn't a terrible CD. It shows promise, but definitely feels like a debut. My favorites here are Taken for Granted, Drink to Get Drunk, and Blow It All Away.

For a little change, I also picked up a self-titled instrumental CD, Hybrid Tango, a side project of a group I'm unfamiliar with named Tanghetto. I tend to like traditional music given a more modern treatment, and that's exactly what this is. If you've heard Gotan Project and liked them, there's a good chance you'll like this CD too—tangos with a modern beat. Check out Mas de lo Mismo, Barrio Sur (video), and El Deseo (live video).

And finally, my favorite disc of quite a while is Dive Deep by Morcheeba. Despite Morcheeba being a "big" group in a genre I'm pretty interested in, I haven't paid much attention to them; I'd heard a few songs and wasn't that excited. But this album is fantastic—a very solid 9/10 with "likely Travis' favorite CD of 2008" written on the front. It's relaxing without ever being boring, and interesting without being annoying. Everything on here sounds perfect and is expertly crafted. I can't stop listening to Run Honey Run (featuring Bradley Burgess and Manda), an amazing cover of a forty-year-old country song, and I also really love One Love Karma (featuring Cool Calm Pete) and Gained the World (featuring Manda). I can heartily recommend this album to anyone who has an interest in downbeat or chill-out music. (One Love Karma is the only rap on the CD, if you're the kind of person who's bothered by that kind of thing.)

Featured: Morcheeba and Cool Calm Pete—One Love Karma

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Office socks

It's pretty well-known that if you're in college and you want to let your roommate know that you're having sex and therefore he or she should not enter the room, you put a sock on the door handle. At work, when people are busy with an interview or just won't want to be interrupted, they put a sticky note on their door that says "EMAIL ONLY." I wonder how many people would get it if I just stuck a sock on my door handle instead.