Friday, December 25, 2009

A swift punch in the face

I woke up about three hours late for my flight to Nebraska on Tuesday, about thirty minutes before the arrival of the bus I planned to take to the airport.  Luckily, Jason woke me up and I hopped in the car, drove to work to park, and then hurried to the bus stop as quickly as I could.  I made it there a minute or two late, but the bus was picking up a large number of people so I managed to be the last one to board it before it left, tired, sweaty, and unshowered.

While waiting in the terminal for my flight, I started hearing this annoying dog whimpering sound.  It went on for several minutes, occasionally interrupted by yipping, and then back to more whimpering.  I thought to myself that if that dog was going to be on my flight it was going to get a swift punch in the face.  Then I started hearing the people around me talking about it—apparently it belonged to an elderly woman who was indeed heading to Minneapolis with me.  Great.

I heard from the other people that she was going to be on row 17.  How they knew this I'm not sure, but it turned out to be mostly accurate.  I passed by row 17 and didn't see anyone, but it didn't matter too much anyway since I was all the way back in row 44.  After ages of waiting for people to incorrectly and inefficiently stow their overhead luggage, I made it back to my seat to find it occupied.  A nearby flight attendant explained that they had moved me to... row 20.  Ugh.

So after another eon, I made it to my new seat at row 20, and the dog was indeed there right in front of me.  But no elderly woman.  The dog was still whimpering and yipping.  After five minutes of that I was strongly considering plan A of punching the dog in the face.  Finally a flight attendant turned to us and said "just a moment, folks" and left to first class.  He came back a minute later dragging an irritated and confused elderly woman, and he told her that she was now sitting in coach, and if the dog didn't stay quiet it was going in a closet.  There was a collective sigh of relief.

My mind still boggles at the idea of someone buying a first-class ticket for theirself and another coach ticket for their unattended dog.  The woman still received her first-class amenities in her new coach seat, and the dog received plenty of pretzels and water.  The vindictive part of me is pretty happy that this extremely inconsiderate person was downgraded in her seating, though all things considered, I'd have preferred just to have not had to hear that dog bark for an hour.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I've been tracking what browser plugins my site visitors have over the past few weeks. Overall, my numbers match up pretty well with the internet at large, with one exception—a lot fewer of my visitors have Silverlight than on the web at large. I'm thinking that this is mostly due to the fact that my site gets a disproportionate number of Mac users, since it's a product popular with teachers and schools still have a disproportionate number of Macs. (This is sort of sad since my product is Windows-only and therefore basically 100% of those Mac users are going to leave disappointed.) Silverlight is available for Mac OS, but it is significantly less popular than on Windows machines, at about half as many users.

Internet average97.7%78.0%73.3%


Java used to be on just about every browser; now it's down to less than three-fourths, which is below my threshold for considering it a viable technology for reaching a broad user base. Silverlight, being much newer, is pretty far behind it, but in the same category—enough users have it that it's an interesting possibility for some kind of side project, but too many people would need to download it (and probably wouldn't) for me to depend on people having it. The difference between 50% and 75% isn't actually all that large to me: something's either a niche technology that I can't depend on at all under 35%, or it's broad enough that I could base a product on it at 90%, and anything between there is all sort of the same in the "interesting" category.

Flash is certainly dependable, but I'm not really that excited about building anything with it. I've had too many poor experiences with it (even more than Java) to make me care anymore. It might be the best choice from a "business" perspective, but as much as I sometimes pretend that they are, my side projects are not a business; they're a way for me to be productive while having fun and keeping my skills sort of relevant. That makes Silverlight actually the most attractive option of the three for building cool new internet stuff, despite the fact that it's the least common: it's in the same category of rarity as Java, and from what I can tell so far, a lot more interesting to code for.

Of course, I say all this like I'm actually considering building some cool new thing in my spare time, when in reality I don't have nearly enough spare time to start something new. I can only handle a few side projects at once, and more than one of my current side projects are add-ons for World of Warcraft. Those are a pretty good "deal" for my time—they're mostly fun to write, give me an interesting new perspective on development, and I get to actually use what I create, unlike my crossword builder or stuff I make for work.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Vatican's MySpace page

The short version:
Basement Jaxx—Scars: 6/10
Zero 7—Yeah Ghost: 5/10
Muse—The Resistance: 8/10
Nelly Furtado—Mi Plan: 8/10

Several of my favorite artists have put out new albums recently, and I've been dutifully listening.  The first disappointment is the latest from the electronic dance wizards Basement Jaxx, Scars.  Their music can be a bit grating to listen to for a full hour (example: the intro and title track), and this album is certainly no exception, but generally they make up for it by creating really catchy tunes that make me want to get up and dance if it weren't for the paralyzing fear that someone could witness the horrors.  But this CD just doesn't do that to me.  The second track Raindrops is probably my favorite, but it's a bit generic, and listening to it I probably couldn't say "this is so good that it could only have come from Basement Jaxx," which I could say about many of the tracks on their last couple of discs.  Feelings Gone (featuring Sam Sparro) and My Turn (featuring Lightspeed Champion) are both pretty good too, but if this album had never been released I'd still have had a higher opinion of the band... and I wouldn't have heard Yoko Ono moaning orgasmically, either.

Up next was Yeah Ghost, the latest from Zero 7.  Apparently, without the influence of their emotional lead singer Sia Furler, they've rather ironically lost some of the soul of their music.  A lot of the songs here are pretty bland, and the fully instrumental tracks fit the weird title and theme of the album but don't add much.  The best Swing, Medicine Man, and Sleeper, but as was the case with Scars, these are a really poor substitute for Zero 7's awesome past work.  The fairly painful track Ghost Symbol is a great example of what's wrong with this disc.

The Resistance, the latest from Muse, took a while to grow on me, but I've come to like it.  It's also the only CD on here from which a track is featured on the playlist of hopeful pop songs on the Vatican's official MySpace Page.  (Wait, Muse is on the playlist of pop songs on the Vatican's MySpace?)  (Wait, the Vatican has a MySpace page?)  The song in question is Uprising, my second-favorite on the disc, behind the sexy and catchy Undisclosed Desires.  The "previously unpublished Queen song" United States of Eurasia is amusing, and the 13-minute closer Exogenesis Symphony is purdy.  There's a lot of variety in the sounds of this album just like there was in their last, and that's part of the reason that I've decided that I really like it after all.

Finally, Nelly Furtado's latest CD Mi Plan is all in Spanish, and it too is pretty good.  I don't know Spanish, which makes it hard to fully appreciate this, but Nelly sings well, and the songs are produced well.  Other than the change in language, it's in the style of her first two albums, not the recent Timbaland-produced one Loose, so if you found that transition distasteful, you should give her another chance.  Her music is full of conviction and emotion while still being catchy, and whatever she's singing about, she really seems to feel it.  The best songs on here are Manos al Aire (Hands in the Air), Suficiente Tiempo (Enough Time), and Silencio (Silence).

I'm also listening to the new OneRepublic album which is turning out to be better than I was expecting, and I'm looking forward to the latest from Shakira soon as well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Less adorable than you might expect

Today on the way to work I waited for a short Indian woman who looked strikingly like an Ewok without the facial fur to hobble across the street.  She however looked angry at the world, and less adorable than you might expect.