Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Giant foam hands

People often find it odd that I generally drive sockfooted.  I'll admit that it is uncommon.  I find driving with shoes on to be terribly awkward, though, now that I've gotten used to driving without them.  It feels so clunky and it just doesn't seem like I get nearly the level of control I want when I'm wearing shoes.  I'd liken it to driving while wearing two of those giant foam hands: you could do it, but it's clearly superior to have more physical contact with the steering wheel.

I recommend trying it out sometime.  It's especially easy for me since I wear sandals when possible, and it's much easier to take those off than shoes.  It felt sort of strange the first time I tried it (I was 16 or so), but since then it's always felt natural and "right."  (Some people I've talked to thought that it was illegal for some bizarre reason, but it is perfectly legal everywhere in the US and Canada.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Azure wouldn't want to pay that much

I've got a lot of websites, and they're hosted in a variety of places, partially for cost reasons, partially for convenience, and partially just because what I had was working and it's a pain to switch. I spent most of my spare hours this weekend beginning the process of consolidating my sites to one place, and I've gotten it mostly working on the new server. If nothing else, I've learned several things about hosting.

I spent a while evaluating Windows Azure from Microsoft, and I concluded that while it's a really cool service, it's not priced with me in mind. It's pretty sweet that with a few clicks you can upload a package of files and a server somewhere will create a virtual machine, deploy your changes, and start serving up your content with basically no effort on your part. When you feel like making a new version, it'll start up a second virtual machine, and once you're done verifying that everything works, you click a button and it magically swaps out the servers for you. If your service starts to slow down under heavy load and you want another server, you click another button and a few minutes later you've got a server farm hosting for you and storage distributed across the world. Unfortunately the lowest tiers of service come out to like a hundred bucks a month if you want to just host a simple website, four or five times what I'm paying this new company. I don't need that level of power or flexibility or reliability. Maybe if one of my websites made money, but that is certainly not the case right now.

Even ignoring services on a higher price tier like Azure, it's tough trying the find the right balance between cost and convenience—I could easily have just paid the same company more money each month and avoided spending a weekend working on this stuff, but the difference would have come out to, say, $15 or $20 a month, and that can add up pretty quickly, especially given that I've been hosting these sites for more than a decade. ($20 monthly for a decade comes out to $2,400, if you're not in a mathy mood.) I'll definitely spend a weekend poking at things to save that much, especially if I can turn the experience into something mildly educational. It's a one-time time cost to avoid a monthly dollar cost.

I always have such a hard time putting a dollar value on my time. I've gotten a much better understanding since starting full-time work that my time is a precious, limited resource. When you're young, you have all the time in the world, and especially when you're poor, it's easy to trade time for money. Preciousness and scarcity of money is something that was drilled into my head constantly throughout my life, and now that my financial situation is very different from my family's when I was growing up, I often wonder if I'm making the "right" time and money tradeoffs. I try to strike a balance and use the lessons I learned in frugality while still spending and saving my money in a way that makes me happy.


I've now been in my new team exclusively for a week, and I don't have much to report, really.  I'm sort of in team-limbo, where I no longer have responsibilities with my old team, but I do not yet have responsibilities on my new team.  I've been using the time to read up on our target customer segments, try out the prototypes, set up machines, and lots of uneventful stuff like that.  It's rather refreshingly low-stress.

I've met my teammates twice, and they seem like fun people.  I think it's going to work out well.  In the meantime, I don't mind taking it easy for a few days one bit.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Holy crap you've spent a thousand bucks

I was trying a game called Mytheon a few nights ago, and in the game there are vendors that sell things for gold, and vendors that sell things for United States Dollars, which are cleverly disguised as very special blue coins, coins that come from your credit card.  (Guess which vendor had the best items!)  It's a pretty standard thing for free online games to do, and it's a wildly successful business model in Asia, and growing in popularity here.

I wonder if I'm forever conditioned to hate those sorts of things by Magic: The Gathering.  I find the idea distasteful, and I never really knew why; it seems like it disrupts the "purity" of the game, but I wasn't really sure.  In Magic, people who spend the most money at the game have the most power.  It's not clear-cut; certainly a player with less expensive cards can defeat a player with more expensive cards, but money can directly replace or complement skill.  (I guess, similarly, in pro sports, money can buy you skill.)  It's messed-up, and strangely addicting.  It's only ten bucks, or twenty bucks, and you get yourself a rare, powerful card or a few packs of cards that might suck or might be great.  Over time, this becomes very expensive, but you stay focused on the individual cards you want—the small picture—and ignore the big picture that holy crap, you've spent a thousand bucks on this game.

It might not even be the power aspect.  Some free-to-play games offer things for sale that are no more powerful than what you would otherwise get without money, but the items that cost money are easier to get, or take less time to get, or are still clearly better than the free items in some way not relating to game mechanics.  That's still obnoxious.

To play World of Warcraft I pay Blizzard about $12 a month, and I'm perfectly fine with that.  That $12 gets me as much WoW as I feel like playing.  It's probably sort of a ripoff because I play way less than some people and waste fewer of Blizzard's expensive human resources as other players who are constantly contacting game masters for assistance and I'm paying the same price as those people, but I think I might actually prefer that to having to worry too much about how much time I spend logged in.  (This model probably works best for them because now I have this tiny feeling that I should play more to get more use out of my subscription, and the more you play, the more you have emotionally invested in the game, and the more likely you are to continue to play for long periods of time.)  Really, I'm fine with paying that monthly fee because I can easily see that for that money I am getting regular (though quite slow) content updates like new dungeons and quests and game features, and it just seems logical.  If the game were financed through small transactions, I think I would overanalyze things, and either be disgusted by the commercialization, or spend way too much money, then realize that I spent too much money, and then quit in anger.

Every time I play some game that tries to finance itself through "optional" purchases, I find myself annoyed by the practice.  I place a high value on the quality of my gaming experiences, and I'm very much willing to pay for them (often fairly absurd amounts of money), but I guess what I really want is for real-life finances to be completely and utterly separated from my games.  Intrusion of money into the experience ruins the immersion for me.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An offer for a new job

I've just accepted an offer for a new job within Microsoft, on a team working on a secret project. Now that Office 2010 is out the door, this new team was my top choice of jobs, and I made the cut, so I'm pretty excited about that. It'll be a little annoying to not be able to tell anyone anything about what I'm working on, but I think that it will be a rewarding experience. I've really enjoyed working with my team, and some of these people I've worked with for the whole time I've been at Microsoft, but it's time for me to do something different, and this new team's planning on building something brand new and cool that I'm actually interested in. (As it turns out, I'm not actually that passionate about building workflows that run on SharePoint servers.)

This position was really competitive, and I have a small fear in the back of my mind that it's going to be hard to stand out on a team of superstars, but I do good work, and it'll be easier to do good work when it's something I'm excited to be working on. Should be fun.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The short version:
Goldfrapp—Head First: 6/10
E.S. Posthumus—Makara: 7/10
Air—Love 2: 4/10
P!nk—M!ssundaztood: 6/10
The Who—Who's Next: 3/10

I picked up Goldfrapp's latest CD, Head First.  It's a notable departure from her earlier work, and yet still old and familiar.  If you have her prior albums you can still immediately tell who's making this music, but you'd wonder who's been lacing her Nalgene with Prozac—the "happy and perky" dial on her synthesizer has been turned way up, and though it sounds cheesy, it's admittedly kinda fun.  The tracks are a bit more "normal" than before: no more harsh electronica, and only one track of bizarre, sparse soundscapes.  I like Rocket (weird video, yet not nearly as weird as her others), Alive, and Hunt, and if you've liked her other CDs you're going to like this one too, but I was still hoping for something a little better.

I also had anxiously ordered E.S. Posthumus' newest, Makara, and as soon as you start the first track you're going to be overwhelmed.  The first track, Kalki, is like the massive crescendo of an hour-long symphony that was already over-the-top to begin with.  In terms of quality it doesn't quite match their first CD—it sounds more artificial and forced—but it's certainly better than their second.  It's good overall, but it's less an album and more a collection of 15 eXtreme action movie trailers strung together, and that makes it hard to listen to all at once.  One of the more eXtreme tracks is Unstoppable, featured in the Sherlock Holmes trailers, and even hiding behind the explosions, it still sounds like it's going to punch you in the face.  Only half of the disc is like that, though, and there are several understated gems like Lavanya in there, and some of the over-the-top ones like Kuvera still sound excellent.

It stands in contrast to Love 2 by Air, an album that just sort of alternates between sleepy and annoying.  Eat My Beat is upbeat and pretty decent, and then the best of the rest are the tracks that just sort of avoid getting in your way, like Sing Sang Sung and African Velvet.  I'm not averse to slow and understated music, but most of this CD is just uninteresting and mediocre.

After great success with her newest CD, I picked up P!nk's first one, M!ssundaztood, and it's a letdown to hear them in that order.  Funhouse is far more evolved and, er, fun than this one.  Well, that's not entirely fair.  It's an old CD with some radio-friendly singles, and I've heard Don't Let Me Get Me and Get the Party Started way too many times already.  If I were just hearing them now I'd be much more impressed.  There are a few songs on here that are just painful to listen to.  Surprisingly, my favorite on here is one I hadn't heard before—18 Wheeler.  Besides that and those two great singles, I don't care too much for the rest.

And then going way farther back in time to nearly forty years ago (1971), I decided to check out Who's Next by The Who, mainly because of how much I like the song Behind Blue Eyes.  I only know about the song from the terrible Halle Berry movie Gothika, featuring a cover that I like better than the original, by (ugh) Limp Bizkit. I'm sure that more of this record would be recognizable to me if I were more schooled in classic rock, but the only other songs I recognized were Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, both pretty decent.  And the rest... was probably pretty popular four decades ago, but it's not my style, and I don't have the context to see what's particularly special about it.