Archive for the 'Geek' Category

Couldn’t Happen to Just Anyone

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

A number of short essays on a number of subjects follow.

  • Yeah, I picked up Grand Theft Auto IV. I’ve played other games in the series and despite its reputation for being vile, its primary objectionable content comes from two things: One, it has a very colorful approach to dialogue with most if not all characters taking the Quentin Tarantino approach to phrasing and two it has a sense of humor I’d commonly associate with thirteen year old boys in medium sized groups who think there aren’t any parents around. My interest in the franchise is rooted mostly in the oddly compelling way in which the game’s story unfolds considering the developers take great pains to allow you an enormous degree of freedom at any given moment. You can certainly play the game as if it had no plot to speak of (and it’s actually only the last two or three that have really made the narrative effective) and many people do. But when you experience the game as if it were a long, meandering Godfather-style crime drama, it shows some remarkable resilience as an escapist bit of entertainment.

    I said once that I thought GTA would be better if they discarded the juvenile fledgling criminal premise and since then other games have come along and done precisely that, following GTA’s loose blueprint for open-ended environments with optional narrative elements woven throughout. Last year’s unexpected marvel Crackdown, for example, flipped the tables and cast the player as a superhuman crime fighter ridding the city of its seedy underbelly in a sort of destructive, Dirty Harry fashion. The equally surprising Gun also did something similar with a wild west theme making the player a kind of bowlegged stranger moseying in to clean up a lawless frontier.

    If you wonder why I continue to play GTA despite its environs not being precisely my cup of tea, understand that these other games lift their playbook directly from the most recent Grand Theft Auto game so they hold an appeal largely due to their genre innovation. Except something I noticed playing IV is that even in open-world games (called “sandbox” games by hobbyists) where you are cast as a good guy, there is always a sort of anti-hero edge to the proceedings. I think this is because these games are equating freedom with the ability to be a pill in their created worlds. If you think about it, the open-ness these games are providing isn’t really from the fact that you can re-order the missions you accept (you could do rudimentary variations on that theme as far back as the NES days) and it isn’t about just wandering around a large but defined space. Adventure games have given us the wandering ability for decades. Instead the freedom, whether in Crackdown, Gun or any other sandbox-style game lies in your ability to torment AI-controlled characters of no consequence. It’s in the way you can blow things up that don’t require destruction. It’s in the fact that the developers put options in the game that aren’t devoid of consequence but that give the (perhaps mistaken) impression of mischief. Even as a super-cop in Crackdown, you spent most of your “freedom” either terrifying civilians with your destructive power (ostensibly only to be directed at the criminal element, but you were of course free to blow passerby apart as well, if you didn’t mind being “reprimanded” by your virtual employer) or climbing up onto buildings where no human should be able to reach.

    Some people like to point at this controlled mischief and say it encourages real-world emulation. I can’t say I agree but I also don’t exactly ruffle my feathers to defend the games because the cop-out standard party line of “it’s only a game” conveniently ignores the truth which is that if there weren’t some perverse joy to be had in the ability to whack a virtual pedestrian with an SUV because he’s wearing a dippy shirt, the games wouldn’t have much of an audience. In effect the mischief is the hook, even if the most recent game finds a certain zen by making the option almost more appealing than the act itself and framing a well-told story within the confines of that premise. No one who wasn’t already nuts would play these games and think, “It’s on my TV so it must be an okay thing to do.” But anyone who says the potential for senseless carnage isn’t significant is lying to themselves about why they play.

  • I missed the San Jose Sharks game on Friday. It was purely accidental; my TiVo has difficulty handling the hastily-scheduled playoff games and the several-hour HD broadcasts are too taxing on my limited disk space to make the typical set-it-and-forget-it principle of TiVo worthwhile anyway. Plus, I enjoy experiencing the games as close to real time as I can anyway. But on Friday I simply lost track of the time and when I did finally remember, the game was long over.

    I was relieved to see that they had won in OT, something they seem to have a hard time doing in the playoffs as a general rule, but it was a tempered relief.

    When the team dropped game three, I groaned and made some remarks about their lack of drive and determination. Nik took me to task at the time, saying how poor of a fan I was for not believing in them despite the long odds. “Isn’t being a fan rooting for them no matter what?” she asked, pointedly. I conceded at the time that she had a case but inside I felt it was coming from someone who didn’t really understand. She hasn’t grown up as a sports fan in the Bay Area. She hasn’t been pulling for the Sharks since their inaugural season. She hasn’t watched the Giants find spectacular ways to lose just on the brink of ultimate victory.

    But I do appreciate the sentiment she offers. How can I not be considered a fair weather fan if I let my cynicism born of years of disappointing seasons color my encouragement of a team that certainly carries within its roster the skill and talent to pull off the nearly impossible? Yet I continually find it a challenge not to fix my disdain directly on the team itself. The truth is they do have the talent, so why have they gotten to this unmanageable position of requiring a herculean four-game winning streak just to forge ahead? You can say they’re halfway there, but you also can say that they didn’t do it in a convincing manner. I see the glass, I see that there are equal parts liquid and empty space, but it’s difficult to fixate on the remaining contents and discount the void.

    My brother suggested via Twitter that should the Sharks win on Friday he suspected they could go all the way. At most all I can say for now is that I hope he’s right. I desperately want him to be correct, but then I think of the facts. Only two teams have ever rallied from 0-3 series deficits to emerge victorious and the last case was 33 years ago. Put another way, such a feat has never occurred in my lifetime. Also, this mandatory win in game six must take place in Dallas but more significantly the final and crucial game seven has to be won at home, a place where other than Friday the Stars have essentially owned the Sharks for the better part of two seasons, including these playoffs. And finally, I understand that the teams are painfully equal in terms of talent and drive. I wish I could hope for a 5-1 massacre tonight or Tuesday but I fear the best case scenario is another 3-2 nail-biter or at best a 2-0 defensive showcase. But that equality leaves precious little room for the unknown variables: Officiating, momentary lapses of concentration, lucky bounces, hot opposing goalies, you name it.

    I know they can do it. I’ll be pulling for them to be that team, to enter the history books. I want them to make it happen, I’m just not quite ready to believe that they actually will.

    And maybe that’s the problem.

  • I think about my career sometimes. Through an unexpected series of choices, curveballs and luck I’ve arrived at a position where I make a comfortable living despite not having the most impressive educational background. I’m competent at the job I’m asked to do and I generally make a favorable impression, mostly through subterfuge I fear, with my employers. But I work as hard as anybody who, you know, sits down for a living and I can’t complain too loudly about most of it.

    The only thing that trips me up sometimes is the fact that while I do well and feel good for the most part about my working life, none of it is really what I feel like I’m meant to do. I started with a short stint in an accelerated occupational school for graphic design, hoping at the time to put my interest in artistic endeavors to some kind of practical use. I did okay at it but quickly found that it was a hard way to make a living and transitioned semi-naturally into an unexpected area of interest with web design. The step from web design to web development (focusing more on the technical side of building web sites than the artistic) was fairly smooth and from there I found an endless well of fascinating challenges along the lines of programming, system administration and technical support.

    But I find that here in this unintentional place I’m encountering the same basic stumbling block I did toward the end of trade school which is that my natural ability has hit its peak and further development would require a level of interest and a desire for enlightenment that I cannot feign. As with graphic design I have just enough raw ability inherent to be a so-so field journeyman but not enough drive to hone my skill to the point of being a true asset to anyone, much less myself.

    I find myself at a bit of a crossroad. On one hand my primary marketable skill is an ability to glean a surface level understanding of any complex system fairly quickly. I also have a pretty broad background in technical and design work so my self-evaluations have resulted in thinking that I might be decently suited for management. There is some interest in me to pursue that avenue; it allows me to maintain my current course and use the skills and experience I already have while furthering my career without demanding a huge commitment of time and resources. But on the other hand it doesn’t necessarily address the fact that my main source of job dissatisfaction comes from being in a field that interests me in a vague intellectual sense but doesn’t offer a lot in the way of personal enrichment. It will only ever be, I fear, a mere job.

    On the other hand, I’m so well entrenched in this sector that any course re-direction would require the aforementioned resource dedication be it schooling or blind transition with the almost certain financial implications. I’ve toyed occasionally with pipe dreams of magical wishes coming true and having unlikely dream jobs like novelist or musician or freelance weirdo essayist. But when I switch off my wandering daydreams and examine reality I find that what I really want is to provide for my family which suggests that I may be happiest just where I am. I also find myself asking from time to time whether my creativity hits a roadblock when evaluating myself. Perhaps, I think, there is a job out there that meets all my criteria for perfection that I’ve never even considered. I certainly didn’t entertain the notion of being a NOC Engineer ten years ago. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Or maybe, I’m not missing a thing.

Sidestepping the Magniloquence

Monday, February 4th, 2008

I think it would be nice to say, “Hey look, I have a new post. It is well-researched, carefully edited and revised and thoughtfully written.” But you’d probably be like, “Where am I and what happened to ironSoap?” So in the interest of fulfilling your expectations… hastily written bullet points! Ahh…

  • Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. If you are part of a Super Tuesday state, I encourage you to vote. Now, I know that primary elections aren’t as significant as the general election in November so if you skate on this one, I’ll forgive you but only if you promise—and pinky-swear!—to vote later this year.
  • If you do vote tomorrow and can participate in the Republican election, would you please consider Ron Paul?
  • I know people like to say that voting for an underdog is like throwing your vote away but, well, tell that to New York Giants fans. Truth is, you never know.
  • And while I’m sorta on the subject, how weird was that Super Bowl? I mean it was the biggest snoozer of all time until the 4th quarter at which point it became a great game, seemingly out of nowhere. The telling statistic? There were three lead changes in the fourth quarter: A Super Bowl record. I listened to the end of the game on my commute home from work. When Manning tossed that pass for the TD late in the game, I LOL’d. Seriously.
  • You may have already gathered from the Twitter feed (had you been following along at home like I keep telling you), but I finally made my HD dreams come true last weekend. We picked up a Samsung 46″ LCD, got rid of the old 36″ Trinitron, wrangled some HD cable and iced the cake with a PS3/Blu-Ray, an HD-capable TiVo and a Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote. It was a lot of money… so much that I kind of freaked out about it for a little while, but then I caught my first Sharks game in HD and, well, I didn’t feel so bad about it after that. There is more to the story, of course, including a still-ongoing royal rumble with Comcast over the acquisition of a cable card for the TiVo, but I’ll spare you the details until I can provide the epilogue.
  • So… there’s this movie called ‘Sunshine.’ It’s deeply flawed but I think still worth watching. Either way, it basically did for Blu-Ray what The Matrix did for DVD: Sell the format.
  • I have, however, decided that I no longer have any interest in purchasing physical copies of movies. As such I won’t be “upgrading” my DVD collection to Blu-Ray. Aside from the general uncertainty of the format’s future, I just am sick of storing movies in my living space. First we had a pretty impressive collection of VHS tapes. Now we’ve finally gotten to where we have a lot of DVDs. I don’t care to go through the exercise again, so until we all figure out how too handle digital film storage, I’ll stick to rentals.
  • Of course, the PS3 came with Spider-Man 3 (ugh) and also included a 5-free Blu-Ray offer (which I felt obliged to take advantage of) so I will have at least six of the stupid things. But that’s it! I’m not paying for any more.
  • I am also fully aware my resolve has no bearing on the activities of my spouse, who loves to own her favorite movies and TV shows. I guess I better buy a new DVD rack.
  • You know what I think is tacky? That the Cheesecake Factory has ads in their menus.
  • However, TCF makes a mean meatloaf.
  • Nik and I saw Michael Clayton over the weekend. It’s a pretty great flick although I didn’t think so until the very end, and there is still a particular scene that I don’t quite understand once the “truth” is revealed. Or I guess considering what that truth does reveal. Either way, it left Nik and I scratching our heads. Also, it has to have the worst title of the year. Who wants to see a movie named after the fictional lead character? It’s not even some deeply memorable character nor a remarkable/memorable name like Forrest Gump. Michael Clayton sounds like the title of a biopic for some long-ago sports star no one remembers.
  • I would have gone with “The Fixer” or perhaps “The Settlement.” But that’s just me.
  • Snack Watch: So, if you like Sun Chips I implore you to find the “Garden Salsa” flavor, they are exquisite. However, you may also want to investigate Cinnamon Sun Chips (you read that right) which sound questionable but are in fact quite delicious (though more of a standalone snack than a lunch accompaniment). You may also be interested in knowing that the Black Cherry and Almond flavor of Clif bars are especially tasty if you need a mid-afternoon light meal. And I can say with confidence that the energy drink Nos is not suitable for human consumption.
  • On the flip side, has anyone tried Chocolate Chex yet? Nik is too chicken to try them and I’m hit or miss with Chex brand cereal, but I can see it being a fine addition to a batch of Chex mix. Anyone?
  • I’m committed to Lost for the long haul, but I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in the direction they’ve decided to take the show.
  • I have to give some respect to Netflix, a company which had such a terrible site back when I joined almost five years ago that I filed a bug report on it. Now they have one of the best designed, most user-friendly sites I frequent. As a simple example, I indicated to them that I was interested in getting Blu-Ray discs when available. Their system simply confirms that you know what you’re talking about and that you have the appropriate hardware and then it automagically goes in and replaces any movies in your queue with Blu-Ray versions. Brilliant.
  • I loved the book Freakonomics and since I finished it I’ve been following the Freakonomics blog, which often has funny, insightful or thought-provoking posts. Today they had one I found cynical and amusing in all the right ways: Choose a six word motto for the US. My favorite sarcastic suggestion: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” My favorite funny suggestion: “Just like Canada, with Better Bacon.”
  • As much as I love Rock Band, especially the multiplayer, Band World Tour mode is sadly flawed in a fairly fundamental way. And the fact that online co-op doesn’t allow BWT mode is kind of a criminal oversight. Still, I have faith in my Joey Big Hat bandmates to rise above the stupid game limitations.
  • It occurs to me that we need a band logo. And I think you can upload such files into the game and use them as tattoos for your avatar.
  • Excuse me, I have some Photoshopping to do.

The Occasional Taste

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

I’ve been sick for the last few days with a pretty hefty cold. I thought it was the flu at first because of the general sense of achy unpleasantness and chills, but after staying home on Wednesday and having it not manifest with the usual aches and fever I’m inclined to believe it’s merely an industrial-strength common cold.

I’m still recovering but I’ve been doing a lot of lying around and thinking so I have a few unconnected thoughts and anecdotes to share, in a familiar format.

  • For reasons that won’t make sense unless you’re a gamer who owns an Xbox 360 and an OCD-afflicted psychopath such as myself, I purchased a copy of Madden 06 for under $5 from my local game store and have been simulating thirty seasons worth of games. What’s significant about this is that, according to the software, the 49ers won’t win the Super Bowl again until the year 2033. Just something to look forward to.
  • I’m reading a wonderful book by Naomi Klein called “No Logo” about marketing, advertising and branding. There is a passage in the book that stuck with me:

    The people who line up for Starbukcs, writes CEO Howard Shultz, aren’t just there for the coffee. “It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community people get in Starbucks stores.”

    I guess that’s why I dislike Starbucks. Here I thought they made bad coffee and served them in pretentious and ubiquitous locations. Turns out the make pretentious and ubiquitous locations in which to serve bad coffee.

  • Our band name (comprised of myself on “vocals,” Nik on guitar, HB on drums and Gin as a roadie/groupie, but soon she’ll play bass… I just don’t have another guitar-shaped controller) is “Joey Big Hat is a Bit Much.” It’s completely an inside joke and probably not a very funny one at that. However, it still cracks me up whenever I think about it.
  • The above bullet refers to Rock Band, which Nik bought me for my birthday.
  • However, I’ve decided that this year I will buy a new guitar (I’m thinking Fender Telecaster), Nik has indicated that she wants to take guitar lessons and Lister has indicated that once he returns from overseas he wants to get a bit more serious about forming a jam band so music is on people’s minds. There may one day be a real-life variant of JBHiaBM. We probably won’t cover Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” however.
  • My folks sent me a very kind gift for my birthday which was essentially funds to be converted into San Jose Sharks tickets. I did some digging around and found that you can actually buy unwanted season tickets for a single game through Ticketmaster which seems to be the only way to get lower-reserve seating. But I found that the price differs wildly depending on what team is visiting. For example, for about $60 a ticket I can get lower-reserve center ice tickets (row 25) and see the Sharks play the Columbus Blue Jackets. For those same seats I can see them play the Anaheim Ducks… for $300 each.
  • I’m probably going to see the Blue Jackets.
  • We went and saw Juno on New Year’s Eve. It’s an exceptional movie.
  • Just days before my birthday I went to the eye doctor as a sign of solidarity with Nik, who was going because she’s had terrible migraines for about a month now and her doctor suggested she may be having vision trouble (the actual doctorese-to-English translation of that is “I have no idea what’s wrong, so hows about a stab in the dark?”). I hadn’t had my eyes checked in a very long while so I went along, assuming my vision was still 20/20. It’s not. Now I need glasses. Strangely, Nik and I need practically the same prescription.
  • I have no delusions that people who meet me or pass me on the street are fooled into thinking I’m anything but a nerd. However, for those few who may have been blinded by the ruse, I think glasses ought to remove all doubt.
  • Truthfully, I’m okay with that. However, with my basketball-shaped noggin, hairless pate and the chunky Buddy Holly style glasses I went with, I fear I may end up resembling Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

Every Once in a Little While

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

I realize I’ve been neglecting the three people who read this site, but even as I shed some commitments that I made with the best of intentions to free up some time, the crushing demand for my mental capacity remains unwieldy. It doesn’t help that my maximum threshold was… unremarkable to begin with.

I have nothing noteworthy to say, but I feel compelled to stop in now and again to say “hi” as if that compensated for my general malaise. Better that I could produce something of note, but I’m sure you’ve come to expect nothing of the kind. Lo, the bullet point!

  • I started following the Sharks about a month and a half into the season, or, if you prefer, several games ago. They currently sit atop the Pacific Division by a small margin, but they scarcely seem to deserve their position. What I’m more concerned about however is that it seems Sirius satellite radio’s loss of the NHL contract to XM escaped my notice. This development significantly impacts my affection for the service, and the terrestrial alternatives which ought to fit neatly into my driving-heavy schedule are so poor as to be nearly worthless. The general lack of appreciation for the country’s best sport remains a perpetual thorn in my side.
  • Are you on Twitter? If not, please acclimate yourself to it promptly. I realize that the beauty of micro-blogging takes some time to appreciate, but once you accept the elegance of the 140-character limitation and note the wide assortment of update/notification options available, it fits casually into one’s life the way few other technological/social cross-breedings can.
  • Had you been following my Twitter feed (which is conveniently updated on this very site), you would have noted that my Xbox broke about a week after my buddy Foster’s did. I tried to arrange a bait-and-switch scam with him to utilize my store warranty which I fear will expire presently without use. He declined for reasons that are his own, but when my machine broke the point became moot—until it began to be clear that a key component of the exchange (my receipt) had not smoothly made the move across town last spring. Hope still lingers that the mysterious boxes in the garage hold the valuable treasure, but they have become bed and breakfast facilities for several species of repugnant critters who respond to interruptions of their romantic vacationing by scurrying up one’s pant legs and distributing the crawling creeps whose effects last and last, sometimes for days.
  • I had occasion over the last couple of weeks to work on some projects that felt strangely like coding. Wednesday is the day when our weekly shifts overlap so we have double coverage on all shifts and, when the day and swing hours intersect, up to four NOC personnel on hand. Because of this and because we only have two workstations, I chose to pull out my iBook and just do some project work elsewhere and let others handle the task of watching the service. As I worked and switched between Terminal, MySQL, Finder, Safari, Colloquy, Mail and installed various unix applications, OS X applications and generally made a lot of progress I noted that I was feeling something reminiscent, something almost forgotten: Joy, while computing. I’ve been working on Windows machines for about two years now as my primary employment-based environment and while tools like PuTTY, Pidgin and Firefox make things sort of tolerable, I never feel happy to be working on them. I think part of it is also that the work I was doing was similar to the kinds of things I used to do at my City job and, before that, the kinds of things I used to do contractually at home. But the uniting thread was really that I was working in a comfortable environment on something that interested me. That’s been happening less and less frequently the last couple of years and I need to find a way to recapture that because on days when I’m being honest with myself I note that I’m getting dangerously close to burning out in this line of work. What’s terrifying is that aside from muddling through technology work, I’m utterly useless as an employee.
  • We’re heading up to Seattle for Thanksgiving this year, a departure of sorts but one I’m very much looking forward to. I went there last summer and absolutely loved it so I expect to have even more fun this time with additional folks along to appreciate it. And if you think I won’t be getting cream cheese hot dogs, you’re flat wrong. I’m not saying they will replace the turkey dinner, I’m just saying they are inevitable and given the choice between leftover turkey sandwiches carefully layered with gravy-moistened cornbread stuffing and cream cheese hot dogs, the outcome is not predetermined and may possibly result in paralysis. Of the mind.
  • Exercise is my foe. It’s like this: I truly love being active. It’s kind of taken me a long time to realize this, because it suggests something that isn’t precisely true. But when I had buddies at work who were willing to join me and the time to spare, a high point of every day was going to the gym. And all I was doing was light cardio and some minor weight training. Practically the second I switched jobs and lost my daily partners, I drifted away from my daily regimen. These days I try to make it to the gym as often as is practical, but in fact the only consistency I’ve had is meeting my buddy Dave a couple of times on my off days for tennis or racquetball. And yet, again, those activities are among my week’s delights. It’s not that I’m terribly athletic—quite the opposite, actually—it’s that I find the typical awkwardness of purely social encounters dissipates entirely when framed by physical activity. In a strange twist, when either element is removed from the equation the result is remarkably unsatisfying and I prefer to retreat to my default environment of inactive and antisocial. Note that the general benefit of exercise remains even without any social context, and that includes a general sense of well-being and mental clarity, but I cannot apply raw logic to the scenario. For someone who keeps unusual hours and yet spends most of them parked in a chair with ready access to an assortment of free or dangerously inexpensive snacks, the recipe is fraught with peril.
  • My brother, a generally awesome guy, upped his awesomeness factor once again by patiently waiting for me to come ’round on digital music mixing. His steady but non-pressurized acclaim for products such as Reaper ensured that as my inevitable curiosity finally got the better of me, I would readily find details I needed to dabble. Now, granted, Scott is a superb musician and I am… not. But, I have a strong affinity for creative endeavors and this is the kind of tech nerd/art nerd hybrid that touches the soft white underbelly of my soul. At the moment my technical and financial situation makes for a sort of interested observer level of involvement, but it would be the work of a nice bonus check or a few hours overtime to enable some deeper investigation which may result in… well, best not to speculate. But should such a situation arise, you can be certain I’ll subject you to it all.

Been Awhile, Hasn’t It?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

It’s been a long, long time since I posted programming-oriented stuff to ironSoap. A lot of it is because I haven’t had much call to do a lot of programming-related work for some time now, focusing more on other technology tasks. However, while my current job is not in development, it does often call for scripting and automation of common tasks.

Usually this kind of thing is a job for Perl. I like Perl okay, it’s got it’s quirks but since a lot of this stuff is being written for a small team and is of limited utility (that is, it’s far from production-level code), Perl’s shortcomings don’t become serious liabilities. There are also a handful of shell scripts, CGI hacks and JavaScript pages littered around to do various things which are all well and good.

A few people at my work like Python, which I admire but have never felt was really as intuitive as its supporters claim. If I were told I needed to complete a Python script by the end of the week or I’d lose my job I could make it happen, but it wouldn’t be as fun as if I were allowed to use Perl.

And of course nothing would be as good as if I were given the chance to write in my beloved PHP.

But here’s what’s strange: PHP is not a great language. Perl has it’s faults, too, but I can tolerate it. Meanwhile other languages that are arguably more elegant and refined are less appealing to me and, until this week, I had no idea why.

What led to my epiphany was my recent project which, on the urging of an engineering co-worker, is to be built with another language, Ruby.

Ruby reminds me a lot of Python: It isn’t built on a long legacy of shifting priorities and structured with it’s foundation on the sands of time. These are relatively modern languages built to be all-purpose from the beginning, to read cleanly and to avoid some of the pitfalls of other—flawed—languages I find more comfortable and preferable. They’re also supposed to be easier to learn and pick up on for the beginning to intermediate programmer (a class I slide into smoothly).

And don’t let me lead you off-course entirely: I said I admire Python and I actually really like Ruby and what it’s doing. These languages aren’t the problem. What drives me batty and makes me want to run screaming back to PHP is the lack of usable, coherent online documentation.

Nothing has ever been as useful to me as PHP.net for getting actual programs to work. And maybe that’s just PHP’s strength, to have solid documentation and a robust set of built-in functions to do almost everything you’d ever want to do already. Perl has a similar, if less friendly system, because it’s so popular with Web-folks that it’s been documented like crazy on about fifty different sites. If you have a question about Perl, chances are you can simply type the exact question into Google and someone else has asked the exact same question in the exact same way sometime before you. Plus, with CPAN, most common problems have already been solved in Perl so just like in PHP you’re rarely reinventing the wheel.

Which isn’t to say those same constructs don’t exist in Python or Ruby. In fact I’m pretty sure they do. The problem is the documentation, because there is no clearly written place to find answers about exactly how to use the standard modules and the best written documentation for the languages is all in tutorial or primer or narrowly focused pockets. What PHP (and to a lesser extent Perl) offers is plenty of places like that online, but also a central repository of clear, concise reference material that makes even O’Reilly volumes really redundant.

It’s frustrating because there is always this one blocking point where I’m sufficiently familiar with the new language’s syntax to start applying my basic programming knowledge but the language’s advanced features are relegated to technical references that are no more enlightening than man pages and I end up visualizing how I could write my scripts but unequipped to transform those concepts into functioning code.

I’d Say It’s Better

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

I don’t know if there is a gland that secretes some sort of hormone that facilitates writing. My grades in high school Anatomy were barely passing, partially because a huge chunk of our score was based on—I’m not making this up—coloring. It was presented under the guise of education and we were instructed to use colored pencils instead of crayons as a nod to our maturity, but you can slice it however you like, it was still coloring.

Anyway, I don’t ever remember coloring in a “writer’s gland,” but then I didn’t really color in a lot of those stupid sheets. I could have missed a few.

Assuming there is a gland, mine is running fairly dry these days. Whatever that hormone is, literasium or something, I’m kinda tapped out at the moment. Here’s why: I responded to a Craigslist posting that was asking for video game writers. Anyone who has read ironSoap can attest that I write, at length, about a lot of things but very high on that list of subjects is video games. I’ve recently dedicated an entire site to that pursuit in an effort to spare you all the dissections of my game sessions.

By the way, you are welcome.

So I saw the listing and thought, “Yeah, okay.” They gave me a chance to do a two-week trial run based on, I’m only speculating here, the fact that I was the only response they received. I went ahead and worked on the site through the next couple of weeks and it seemed to go pretty well. As promised, they invited me to come on board full time and become a regular contributor.

I don’t have all the details just yet, but the long and short of it is that I contribute 15 articles per week (mostly video game-related news, but I’ve also posted a couple features). They have said they do pay, just not much; the loose wording of the original email was “about enough to cover a broadband internet connection” which I guess means anywhere from $25 to $50 a month.

This really isn’t about making stacks of cash, though. Instead it is a matter of presenting my writing in a more public forum and following the ancient adage of “write what you know.” It turns out I know video games pretty well. I can wait while you recover from the shock. I can’t say at this point what, if anything, will come of this. I do know that having a schedule of how much I need to write each day has been an adjustment. It’s not difficult necessarily; I have written far more than I’m required to often enough for my own various projects. But those are writings born from desire to express, not mandated by responsibility. I’m curious if this transition of writing from pastime to necessity will affect my view of it. So far it hasn’t become a chore, only tapped my reserves a bit, which is why my personal writing locations have fallen relatively silent.

I am picking back up some of the pace, but I have to be cautious and preserve my literasium supplies.

tail -n 4 /brain/var/log/messages

  • Nik and I were discussing our summer movie experiences the other day. We saw some pretty good ones including Stardust which has a very strong Princess Bride vibe (read that as a major compliment) and Ratatouille which Nik said was her favorite Pixar movie to date. We also just caught Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix in IMAX 3D. I hadn’t seen an IMAX or a 3D movie since some weird thing they were showing at the local amusement park (Great America, for those keeping track) back when I was probably 12, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very good and did an admirable job with what must have been a beast of a scriptwriting task. The 3D stuff was pretty impressive for the most part, but I actually thought the sound system in the IMAX theater was the star of the show.
  • My co-worker kicked the power cord for my workstation the other day. It occurred to me as my laptop stayed on and was the only thing that wasn’t at risk of losing any unsaved work that there is no reason PC manufacturers can’t include a small 10-minute battery in every power supply. I know there are products that do this but for the most part they are aimed at server administrators, not consumers. I ask, why?
  • It’s wickedly hot here in California, which is normally not so bad since most places I frequent are air-conditioned, as my pale, nearly translucent skin will attest. The exception, naturally, is the room in I work within which contains too little space and far too many heat-generating electronic components. Many of my co-workers wear shorts to work to combat the problem, but as ragtag as I typically appear, I can’t bring myself to eschew actual pants when I arrive somewhere expecting compensation.
  • Perhaps I’ve discussed my Zuma addition previously, I can’t recall. The days when that game consumed my soul are dark and grim and my mind does not revisit them readily. As a defense mechanism this localized amnesia is then somewhat flawed because it allowed me to download the version on Xbox Live Arcade which is half price this weekend only via a special promotion. My thoughts weren’t even filled with pathetic delusional justifications like, “What could one time hurt?” or “I can quit anytime I like.” I simply did it, fool that I am, casting the shreds of my dignity back into that nameless void. The sale went into effect at midnight last night and the dark circles under my eyes today are a shameful testament to just how strong my will can be against this foe.

Commence Curmudgeon

Monday, July 16th, 2007

It’s been an exceptionally trying several months. I’ll spare you the long version; if curiosity overwhelms you I can be coaxed to reveal the Cliff’s Notes version via email. But as is often the case, more mundane matters have remained active in my frontal lobes and these are the kinds of pointless and uninteresting things that fabricate the cornerstones of our virtual communication.

It occurs to me that I owe you an apology.

  • I’ve come across a glut of “geek shame” lately, manifest in faux book covers for the upcoming Harry Potter book, eye-rolling disdain from video gamers when confronted with the reality of some new downloadable games based on German-style classics like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, that sort of thing. What always strikes me as ironic about all of this is that we have people who are posting on Internet forums whose primary topics are video games, Linux operating systems, iPod hacking, HDTV specifications and the like. Judging others or fearing being judged at this stage in the game? Really? You don’t think it’s a little late in the game for that particular concern to be crossing your mind, forum-monkey?
  • The Mac mini that functions as our primary household computer is starting to really annoy me. I can’t quite figure out what the issue is but it runs at a glacial pace with frequent beach-ball pauses. It’s especially apparent when trying to deal with iTunes which happens to be one of the primary apps the machine was intended to run. In terms of clock speed the mini far outpaces my aging iBook but I’ve gone to great lengths to upgrade the RAM in the iBook as high as it will allow and it doesn’t have nearly the same level of problems, even running multiple memory-hungry apps simultaneously. I know people are going to start to wonder about me after my last iPhone rant and now this, but it frustrates me that Apple’s base configurations for new computers are comically lacking in RAM. I mean, a new 1.66 GHz mini with 512 MB of RAM? What are we, neanderthals? And it costs like $250 to upgrade to a reasonable (but still not what I’d call “upgrade level”) amount of 2GB. Comparable Dell machines come standard with 1GB and allow upgrades to 2GB for $100. Listen, I get the whole “Macs cost more” meme, I really do, but this is RAM we’re talking about here. You can find 256MB sticks lying discarded on most sidewalks, so I really don’t think getting a normal amount of it should cost half as much as my system… especially when minis really aren’t supposed to be upgraded by the consumer.
  • I happened to catch an episode of the World Series of Pop Culture yesterday and one of the categories involved the bad-movie awards show The Razzies. The very next category involved the film The Breakfast Club. The announcer, after having the contestants do really well with both remarked, “It seems you know your bad movies and your good ones.” Call me a heretic, but can someone explain to me the appeal of The Breakfast Club? Or John Hughes movies in general? Look, I missed out on those during the 80s when they were I guess influencing everyone else from my generation but I’ve since been subjected to nearly all of them and I just don’t get it. They aren’t that funny, they don’t really touch some chord that strikes at the inner workings of high school life (at least not any high school I ever saw) and they all feature really whiney characters that I want to slap rather than root for. Did I just have to be there at the time or what?
  • Which reminds me: The Goonies is a terrible movie. Sorry folks, it just is, and I think it’s time we acknowledged that fact. Listen, it’s cool: I used to think that Flight of the Navigator was totally radical but I came to my senses eventually. I’m not even saying you can’t still watch it and think about how good you used to believe it was, but stop trying to convince people that there was some cinematic magic going on there. I guarantee you that at some point in the future some kid is going to post on the Internet v4.5 a dissertation on how incredible and influential The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D was back in the halcyon days of 2005. I swear to you, that’s exactly how you sound right now.
  • It’s been like National Bad Service Month for Nik and I lately. Yesterday’s gems included a pair of Target employees who couldn’t answer the yes or no question of, “Do you guys have an Arts & Crafts section?” The reason? They were out (which I can only assume means off their shift or on a break) and, instead of answering, choose instead to take the time to explain that we needed to ask someone from Home and Garden. Also at a sandwich shop I tried to order a Diet Pepsi and had the girl who was manning the register grunt and gesture as she tried to decipher my incredibly complex order because, apparently, she had never before heard or heard of the English language. At one point she mentioned something about bananas. I drank what she gave me but I was very wary of it, fearing some sort of tropical fruit-related cola incident.

Does This Mean They Take Away My Membership?

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Man, I simply don’t understand it all. The fervor over the iPhone has culminated into a painful hum that assaults my eardrums and eyesockets no matter where I turn or go. Every website in existence, no matter its base subject matter, has some sort of coverage or commentary or sniveling longing regarding this device; I turn on the TV to escape and CNN has become the 24-hour iPhone network. I change the channel—somewhere safe, like Animal Planet perhaps. In between ubiquitous iPhone commercials they have Bindi Erwin’s precious (precocious? I always get those two confused) mug demonstrating how she’s taught an orangutan to use the simple gestures-based navigation to check her email (kiki@primate.org).

I shudder and retreat to bed, pulling the sheets high over my head despite the summer heat. Outside my window I hear a neighbor greet a passerby on the sidewalk: “Did you get your iPhone yet? Have you seen the visual voicemail?” They then squeal and giggle and I imagine they have drawn close together, slapping at each other’s hands and stamping their feet in spastic glee before smoothing their brylcreem’d hair and readjusting their power ties. Death does not spontaneously strike to relieve me.

The frustrating thing is that I’m usually right there with them: This is Apple after all, and my love for the company and their smooth industrial design contours is well known throughout the land. Make no mistake, among the generic media white noise directed at me only because I belong to the mercurial entity known as the public there has been a steady flux of pointed questions which all orbit the central query: “So. Are you getting an iPhone?” The assumption here is that my Apple devotion makes this a given and they direct their question to me in a wary, steeled manner that indicates they fully expect a sermon which elucidates point-by-point the wonders of an Apple-branded mobile phone.

They get a sermon, all right, and you are now subject to a digital representation of its finer points, so it’s not really what they expect. I guess I like to keep people guessing.

I, of course, realize the irony in adding to the din about this device with my own naysaying. But my status as a “hater” is not one I relish. Would that I simply drank the Kool-Aid like a typical Apple consumer, hands cupped over ears and nonsense pouring loudly from my vocal cords to mask the cries of those who would take my place. I find I’m even arguing with myself on occasion. “For all it’s shortcomings, it’s still revision number one,” I say, ignoring the startled looks from others in line at the bank who cannot discern whom I’m directing my comments toward. “Apple is known for underwhelming first gen devices. Maybe by this time next year you’ll sing a different song.” I find myself pleased that I’ve quickly moved to the front of the line, but dismayed that all windows seem suddenly devoid of tellers. Strange, that.

But even with Apple’s predictable track record, I still don’t find myself getting very excited by the prospect of a cell phone. I can see the appeal in a convergent device, that’s for sure. But consider the Cingular 8525 for a moment. WiFi, 2 megapixel camera, full qwerty keyboard, bluetooth, large and spacious screen: Check, check and check some more. So far we’re close in feature list to the iPhone. Then there’s the 3G, expandable micro SD slot and integrated flash for the camera which, you may note, are all things that the iPhone lacks. Sure, it doesn’t have the spiffy touchscreen (it does have a cool slide-out keyboard thing happening, though) and it lacks the hefty hard drive for all that music-playing joy.

But then again, it’s only $300 which means I could buy it, an 8GB iPod nano ($250) and a 1 GB micro SD card to store extra stuff like Windows Mobile apps (did I mention the iPhone has no third-party application support outside of browser-based ones?) and still save $35 compared to the iPhone. Since you can’t use your iPod songs as ringtones on the iPhone anyway, I’m not losing any features there and from what I understand I might actually be able to check my email on the 8525 without hucking it against the wall.

Yes, I know, the comparisons sound remarkably like the ones people make when Apple people (like myself, let’s not forget) start talking about OSX. Or the iPod. Apple fans love to wail about the user experience: “Interface is king!” We cry, trying to hide our cracking voices underneath a muffled cough. I certainly don’t want to undermine the arguments I myself have made in the past but in this case I just don’t see that Apple is doing what Apple does best. Touch screens? Really?

Really?

Is there something fundamentally broken about the precision of the well-used stylus? Is the vaunted iPod click wheel somehow already obsolete? Have we already grown weary of the arcane and ancient button with tactile feedback? Are these relics truly ready to be put out to pasture? Perhaps you don’t have to navigate the world with my stubby and greasy fingers, worn slick from years of nearly constant application of Kleenex to nose to stem the tide of my allergy-collecting nasal passages (yes, the collection has grown quite large, thank you for asking!) but primitive though I may be, I still like interacting even with abstractions like electronic interfaces via some tool. I hope the 8525 can withstand the abuse of being dragged, along with my knuckles, along the ground.

Naturally the iPhone does do something… uh, righter than the competition and that is provide a robust and long-lasting battery solution. Judging solely on the performance of my once-awesome and now hopelessly mundane RAZR, plugging a phone in once every two days sounds, when you say it out loud, like a pittance of a chore—it very nearly relinquishes its chore status when you put it that way. But I assure you that is only the case if it were possible to apply some degree of leeway to that requirement. When you use your cell phone as your primary (read: sole) means of voice communication, a dead phone is an affront to your ability to function in society. I don’t know why exactly this is so. But faced with the prospect of severance from humanity or eating lunch, I often find myself racing home with my stomach growling like that dog in Cujo, eyes flitting down to the blinking battery indicator on my phone, glowing an angry red (also like the eyes of the dog in Cujo) and marking the countdown to my dissolution as a modern person. There is no sustenance here save at the business end of a grounded, three-prong electrical outlet.

Is a nine-hour battery worth the media blitz that haunts my nightmares?

Is there any chance that I won’t, at some distant point in the future, own an iPhone and find myself filled with shame for the words I’ve written today?

No. And no.

Seriously

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I’ve only been a subscriber to satellite radio for about six months, and the first several were for Nik, I only experienced the service peripherally. But, that level of exposure was sufficient to entice me and I now have my own receiver and subscription.

(As an aside, the linked article also has a follow-up that is very down on the Stiletto. To an extent I can’t argue with the complaints: As a portable Sirius player it requires a very bulky and ugly set of special headphones and even then the reception isn’t that great. But on the other hand, the portability factor probably shouldn’t have been pushed as a big selling factor to begin with since satellite radio, in my experience, is a limited use product. By that I mean that the beauty of it isn’t necessarily in just having it on, but in having the entirety of it available. Specifically, the 100% commercial-free music is fine but I find that, as with AM/FM radio, one is rarely stuck on a single channel for music anyway since inevitably they will play something you don’t like sooner or later. But having dozens of channels each with the possibility of playing something good and not having any of them hampered by being “on commercial” when you tune in gives a pleasant, seamless experience that is ideal in a car where switching channels is pretty much second nature by now. Outdoorsy people hoping the Stiletto would approximate that will be disappointed in the same way they would find trying to listen to terrestrial radio disappointing, because channel-surfing on a portable device is rarely as simple as all that. In a home or car, satellite radio shines: Elsewhere it was only ever destined to be a novelty.)

Ever since satellite radio came onto my radar, people have been talking about the two major providers, XM and Sirius, merging. Now the talks have surfaced again, this time with more veracity. Personally, I don’t really care either way. I’ve experienced both services and I vastly prefer Sirius (hence the choice) but I doubt much would really change with a merger since the focal points would be the premium content channels (mostly stuff like Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, major league sports and so on) which has, to this point, been spread between the two.

But were a merge to take place, the things I would want to see happen are as follows:

  • Leave the music programming to the Sirius guys. The XM channels—especially in my primary genres of choice such as Alternative, Rock and Indie—pale to the point of albanism compared to Sirius. The new 90s Alternative station on Sirius is a prime example of how well that company understands what actual people want to listen to.
  • I wouldn’t mind seeing some “talent” shake-up, however. One thing that XM seems to have over Sirius is less offensive DJs (or Stream Jockeys—SJs—as the forum lurkers call them). I could certainly live the rest of my days without ever hearing Jason Ellis, Madison or Bam Margera blather on in a lame attempt to connect with listeners. In my opinion, for a service that bills itself as a smart choice for savvy consumers over the alternative (FM), they seem to have carried over the worst parts of it in some cases.
  • Anything that could be done to improve overall reception would be most welcome.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, even think about making the sports content require an additional monthly fee. Should a merge happen I’d finally get all the major sports on one service (right now MLB is only on XM) and I would be happy. If they try to charge me for hockey games, I’ll cancel my subscription, sell my Stiletto on eBay and write as many nasty things about the executives and their heritage as I can think of.
  • Now get off my lawn.

On the Random Tip

Because you never demanded any such thing, I offer… more bullet points.

  • I hereby decree the end of the trend on the following phrase and all its variants: “…because that’s the way we roll.” It was funny for a while, but it isn’t anymore.
  • You know what I think the XBox 360 controller should have? A jog wheel. Think about it: The D-pad is only ever used in modern games for inventory or issuing orders to squad members or that kind of secondary input. Wouldn’t a jog wheel be easier to use than a clunky eight-point pad? Plus if they did that they could replace that atrocity with a real D-pad akin to the one on the DS. As it is that thing is almost unusable, even for games that need it like the old arcade classics ported over to XBox Live Arcade. It’s a shame, too, because other than that D-pad, the 360 controller is one of the best ever.
  • Why do french fries go so well with dessert? My favorite food from McDonald’s (the word “favorite” is being loosely applied here): French fries and apple pie.
  • I’m sorta learning to play piano after acquiring a very nice keyboard (free!) from HB. Currently, I know four chords: C Major, F Major, G Major and A Minor. That’s not a lot of musical variety… but I can at least play them with over 100 different sound effects! They sound really cool with swooshy 70s-style synth sounds.
  • I guess Norv Turner is going to the Chargers. I think it’s dumb that they had such a great record in the regular season and because they lost a playoff game the coach gets the axe. By that logic they should fire/trade LaDanian Tomlinson, too, right? Anyway, it’s kind of weak for the 49ers because Alex Smith seemed to be doing much better under Turner than he had before, so it will be interesting to see what happens now with Mr. First Round Pick.
  • Rhetorical Question of the Day: Why is it that when you have no use for change, it’s everywhere, as if it were multiplying like Tribbles all over the house, car, couch, etc. But the instant you need a few coins, you can barely find two pennies to rub together? Also, it seems like the more paper cash you have on hand (ie, the larger the denominations of your bills), the less change you can actually find.
  • They’re showing that professional fisherman (*snort*) on ESPN tonight who gets all “extreme” when he does his thing and, like, yells at the fish he catches. He literally taunts them as though they were some kind of crafty opponent instead of near-mindless beings so far down on the food chain from us that we’re like a dot to them (metaphorically speaking, of course). It seems like he may as well be talking smack to his Wonder bread, you know?
  • “I totally pwned that whole loaf, man! Did you see that? It was like 24 slices vs. just me and I ruled over it like a malevolent dictator! Woo!”
  • This just in: Professional athletes take themselves too seriously. Film at eleven.
  • You know what I don’t understand? TV shows of radio shows. Like, Getty and Armstrong or Mike and Mike. They literally just put a camera in the radio booth and show the people talking into a microphone. Even that tweaker Jim Cramer basically has the same “format” except he acts like a raving lunatic in the studio. What’s up with that guy?
  • It was slow at work last night so I was fiddling with the TV that is supposed to show CNN and I ran across TNT showing a 24 hour marathon of Law & Order. Turns out I can stand about five episodes in a row before that incessant “bah-BONG!” sound goes from semi-cool to completely grating. Also I decided that the show was best when it had Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach on as the detectives. Carey Lowell was the best ADA, even though she never overlapped with the Noth/Orbach pairing.
  • Here’s what I don’t get: When you order a hamburger with no mayonnaise at a restaurant, you get the driest slab of shoe leather stuffed between two Sahara-like buns. When did mayo become the de facto moisture apparatus on a burger? Mayo, to me, is like raw eggs: It has its uses but as an ingredient in and of itself? No thanks. Let’s try to work with something that actually tastes good on its own, hm? Ketchup: Think about it.
  • Also? I hereby decree the official end of the idiotic spelling “catsup.” Whatever the origin of that term is, it no longer applies to anything. From here on, it is “ketchup” only.
  • Although, “ketchup” is kind of a random term anyway. It ought to be something more descriptive like “tomato goo.” Either way, it turns out “catsup” is not in Firefox’s spell checker so maybe someone beat me to the punch in declaring that spelling invalid.
  • Way to go, Firefox spellchecker guy.

Bullet the Blue ‘Soap

Monday, November 6th, 2006
  • According to the latest poll, very few people here are taking my advice and watching Heroes. Get with it people, I’m telling you: It rules. Of course now I said that and someone will tune in tonight and the episode will completely flop.
  • My resistance to continued griping about the officiating in the NHL this season can no longer win. What exactly are these refs smoking prior to the games? Cheechoo booted for boarding a guy he hit in the faceoff circle and lost contact with for at least six feet before either player came anywhere near the boards?! An awkward and dangerous fall, sure. Fortunate that he was okay, certainly. Game misconduct? Uh, no. Also, two goals called back including one from a penalty to Mike Grier in which the goalie went back to play the puck and fell over his own stick? So, just to be clear: Hitting a defenseless San Jose goaltender in the back and throwing his head to the boards is okay; a San Jose player being in the vicinity of a clumsy netminder: two minutes in the box for interference. Got it. Just wanted to be clear.
  • I’m grouchy today because I’ve had a headache since Saturday. Have you ever seen parents of an infant try to placate the mysteriously fussy child? They feed them, change them, play with them, try to get them to sleep, and the baby remains grouchy. I feel like that with my head. I’ve eaten plenty, I’ve tried taking naps, I’ve taken Tylenol and ibuprofen, I’ve taken warm showers to relax my muscles and so on and so forth. Nothing seems to work for longer than about twenty minutes. It’s not so bad that I can’t function normally, but it’s annoying as all get out.
  • I saw a friend of mine this weekend who isn’t around too often since he decided to move overseas. He has been pestering the old XBox Live crew to upgrade to the 360 to we can get our online gaming on again and he point-blanked me with the question, “When are you getting a 360?” The sad thing is that I’ve already been thinking about it quite a bit and even broke down and included it on my wishlist so his question nearly broke my spirit clean in half. On one hand I absolutely don’t need any more goofy toys and on that same hand I have a vacation coming up, Nik and I are getting ready to move for the first time in three years and Christmas is right around the corner so monetarily it isn’t going to fly. But on the other hand: Shiny graphics and online gizmos!
  • In preparation for leaving my current job I’m tasked with cleaning out my work-provided laptop PC. I had forgotten how annoying it is to try and clean yourself off of a computer you’ve used for any significant amount of time (for me that’s about two and a half days).
  • I bought a few CDs last week including the new Muse album and Wolfmother’s disc. Both bands have a kind of 70s throwback feel with Wolfmother channeling Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull while Muse can at times be likened to Queen and Rush. It’s sort of cool although occasionally Wolfmother crosses the line between homage and outright thievery but both were worth the somewhat abbreviated prices ($10 and $11 respectively from Rasputin’s). One strange thing though, I noticed that I very much enjoyed Muse’s work when played from beginning to end in the original album order. When I listened to it again later on random, it wasn’t nearly as good. I’ve never encountered that before, I wonder why that is?
  • Above I noted that Nik and I are gearing up for a move which has been necessitated by my new job acquisition since the distance from our current apartment to the new office is, according to Google, 66 miles compared to the 29 miles I travel now. More significantly, travel to the new office from our current location during normal work and commute times would require sitting it no fewer than five heavy traffic spots. If we end up where we’ve started looking, I’ll reduce that to three traffic spots and the mileage will be about halved to 34 miles.
  • Also regarding traffic and commuting, some relief is in sight since there is a strong chance I’ll end up working at least some graveyard shifts (which would basically eliminate the traffic concerns) although Nik is not exactly thrilled with the idea of having certain evenings entirely to herself. Even if I do end up exclusively working grave shifts, they do run a 4×10 schedule which will give me three nights at home per week (ideally Thursday, Friday and Saturday) so I’ll be home for a pretty large part of the week. We’ll be all backward in our sleeping schedules, but I’m confident some sort of arrangement can be made.
  • Tomorrow’s voting is going to be somewhat unpleasant since I have to get up very early in order to make it happen, being that I have two tickets to the Sharks game tomorrow night. The elections are really stupid this year with practically every ballot measure being some sort of smokescreen to bilk more cash out of Californians and (as usual) 98% of the candidates running for office being either schmucks or despicable wastes of oxygen. But I feel even more inclined to vote in elections like this when the options are all really lame because I honestly shudder to think what your average Californian would come up with on some of this stuff without my expert guidance.
  • So what is standard procedure when leaving a place of employment for handling all the lame company schwag they dump on you? As of this moment I have it all sort of sitting in my cube where it is of no harm to me or anyone else, but I have no need for a goofy (and highly illegible) desk clock branded with this company’s logo, nor do I need a laptop bag, a wine glass or a stress ball, all adorned with corporate branding. My inclination is to just toss it but I’m afraid that might be construed as excessively rude, so am I to take it home and then junk it there? How is that really better? I guess it’s a matter of plausible deniability; where they can go on thinking I cherished this stuff long after I departed when in fact it all ended up, blissfully out of their realm of knowledge, in a dumpster at my apartment complex. Still, a large part of me wonders what kind of doofus would actually care enough to keep track one way or the other.
  • I just learned that Lister got himself a Nintendo DS. Looks like local multiplayer goodness (as opposed to WiFi multiplayer goodness which Dr. Mac and I have had trouble co-ordinating) is about to be on.
  • Turns out I have nothing else to talk about. I guess it’s time to go back to counting the minutes until tonight’s Heroes episode.
  • Actually I do have one last observation: I am a total dork.

Moron-a-Thon

Friday, October 27th, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I was getting frustrated with my TiVo constantly being out of available space. I have a fairly low capacity 40-hour Series 2 which, when combined with the horribly poor reception I receive from the non-boxed cable signal that requires me to record pretty much everything on one of the highest quality settings (thus taking up more space), often leads to issues where things don’t get recorded not due to scheduling conflicts but lack of available disk space.

After a particularly frustrating couple of days earlier this month during which I had this happen to me several times, I went through and fiddled with my Season Passes to try and help the problem. One of my solutions was that I trimmed the “Keep at Most” option of several high-profile SPs (shows I watch pretty much right after they air or at least no more than a day later) down to “1.” My thought process was, “I’ll always watch and clear these shows out, so why keep them around?”

Well, here’s why: Nik and I both watch Lost. But Lost comes on at 9:00 PT and I never start watching a one-hour show any earlier than twenty minutes after it has begun airing. The reason is that after twenty minutes you can usually skip through all the commercials because you’ve built a sufficient buffer and by the end of the show you’ve only just caught up to the live broadcast. But 9:20 is pretty close to when Nik heads off to bed. Being a more night-owl type (or just being more content to zombie-walk through my day) I don’t mind staying up until after ten or even after eleven. But Lost night is kind of tricky because I work in an office full of Lost fans. If I don’t watch the show the night it airs the inconsiderate TiVo-less hacks that work there will spoil the whole episode with their water cooler chatter before I even have a chance to watch it.

So this season we’ve been splitting the views up; I watch the show Wednesday night and then sometime during the next week Nik sits down to catch up and I re-watch it with her (because Lost usually is good for at least two viewings).

Well, last week the episode (“Further Instructions”) was pretty weak. When I griped about it, Nik faltered on wanting to watch it and in the end never got around to firing it up (actually, getting her to watch any sort of TV, including rented DVDs, has been something of a chore lately since she’s clearly addicted to playing Ticket to Ride online). But I forgot that I had changed all my Season Passes so I didn’t think to delete the previous episode before this week’s began. When I snapped on the set around 9:30 to start watching, I was confused that Lost wasn’t being picked up. It took me a few minutes to piece together what had happened and by the time I did I ended up with only the last twenty minutes of the show recorded.

I was pretty annoyed but I figured that it wasn’t a huge deal because abc.com makes a big to-do out of offering episodes of their shows online. Yeah, that may be theoretically true but the actual execution of those online episodes leaves something to be desired. I tried four different times with three different browsers on two computers to try and watch the whole show on ABC’s website. I only ever got the first fifteen minutes in before it would restart from the beginning or just stop playing and refuse to ever start again. After copious frustration I ended up settling for those first fifteen minutes and then the last twenty I had caught on TiVo and tried my best to piece together what happened in between.

Nik and I decided we would download the episode from iTunes Music Store later this week to watch the whole thing together but I don’t know that I can properly describe the level of frustration I was feeling yesterday.

And that was before I watched the Sharks game.

I Hope He Got a Big Bribe

I’ll give the Nashville Predators one thing: Their forecheck was phenomenal last night and the Sharks didn’t seem to puzzle out what was being done to them all night, even when they were pressing in the Nashville zone. It was clear from the sidelines that the Preds struggled in their own zone and knew it so they were going to do everything they could to keep it out of their zone as much as possible. Checking the boxscore, you might think that plan simply worked.

But you would be overlooking the one other part to the Predators’ plan which was obviously to grease the officials’ pockets with fat wads of cash to ensure that the Sharks lost, no matter how unfair it was.

I’m sure I’ll be accused of seeing the game through teal-colored glasses but I challenge anyone to watch the full game and not feel like the Sharks were the victims of bad call after bad call as well as having blatant, dangerous plays made against them in full view of some ref and there was no whistle to be heard. I think even Nashville fans should worry about the officiating in that game because if the Preds think they can play that way and get away with it every night, eventually they are going to jack someone up badly and have one of their players end up suspended or fined or put on a five minute major penalty.

I’ll go ahead and ignore the first boarding call that was blatantly overlooked late in the first period. Whatever. The guy wasn’t hurt and as much as I griped about it at the time, I would find out soon enough that it could get much, much worse. Third period comes and Toskala is whacked by several late coming after-the-whistle Predators. A minor melee ensues in which offsetting minors give the teams some 4-on-4 time. Questionable maybe but one could shrug it off. Then a few minutes later Toskala moves behind the net to play a puck and is promptly boarded by a forechecking Nashville player.

Was he really boarded? You better believe it. His face was to the wall, he was playing the puck and the Predators player hit him square in the numbers and tossed him in the boards. It wasn’t incidental contact, it wasn’t the result of some defender pushing him awkwardly: He flat-out checked the goalie and did so in a very dangerous way with the referee standing no more than five feet away.

No. Call.

Actually, there was a call on the Sharks defender following up on the play who put his stick down on the Predators player and got called for cross-checking. Cross checking. I’ve seen superstar goalies get goaltender interference calls for accidentally tripping them up behind the net by spraying ice on their pads, but Toskala gets full on checked in the back toward the boards where he could have easily been injured in full view of the ref and there’s a call on the Sharks? Absolutely unbelievable. And what makes it really suspect is that this happened right at the end of the game with the Sharks down by one and pretty much in full press on Nashville and threatening to score.

Maybe I’ve been watching too many online conspiracy theory videos lately, but I’m just saying that seemed like the worst possible call at the worst possible time.

But my suspicions would amount to nothing if the Sharks had been ahead or tied at the time. And the fact is, they were, only the scoreboard didn’t reflect it because the referee straight up stole a goal from the Sharks. It went down like this: The Sharks rush Tomas Vokoun who stacks the pad and goes down. A Sharks forward crashes into him and the puck rebounds clear and is stuffed home by the trailing Sharks player. The goal light goes on, the Sharks start to celebrate… and then the ref skates up with speed flinging his arms wildly in the “no goal” motion. No goal? What play was that guy watching? Even if he lost sight of the puck, he was in a bad location to see it and certainly shouldn’t have whistled it down that quickly.

So they checked the tape. Clearly a goal. Then they decided the call must have been that the whistle blew before the second Sharks player actually buried it in the net. So they play it real-time with on-ice audio. And the puck sails into the net a full three seconds before any whistle is heard, even from the bribed mistaken referee.

At this point the Sharks fall prey to my biggest pet peeve in all of sports: The non-reviewable call.

Okay so let’s assume for a moment that you aren’t one of those technophobes who think that instant replay doesn’t belong in sports. What is the rationale for including instant replay review in a sporting contest? To get the call right. I mean, why else? The assumption there is that the officials are fallible humans who don’t always have the benefit of watching plays from various angles and in anything slower than real-time (which in a game like hockey is pretty fast). So you offer them an “out” by allowing calls to be corrected based on video evidence.

Now I understand that certain plays or calls don’t work from a review standpoint. For example, if a player fumbles a ball in football but the play is called dead by an official which stops the progression of both teams, it’s hard to fix that because the teams should have had the opportunity to try and recover the ball and make a play with it. Overturning a call on a play whose result can’t be re-created simply won’t work.

But in this case we’re talking about a goal. A goal. This is a binary play: Either it was a legitimate goal, or it was not. A referee can’t say “I meant to blow the whistle earlier” any more than a player can say, “I didn’t mean to sock that guy in the head during his breakaway.” Intention doesn’t matter. In this case the on-ice call was no goal but so what? We reviewed the play and the no-goal call was flat incorrect. But it’s not like something happened that couldn’t be re-created. It’s easy, you called it no goal but you were wrong because the video replay shows that it was a goal so you overturn the on-ice call to “goal” and give the Sharks the point they deserve and swallow your pride.

Although I’m sure it’s easier to stand your ground with all the money in your pockets weighing you down.

A Slew of Screeds

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Today’s agenda will be dealing with Heroes, T-Shirts, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco and TiVo. Also if you visit GameSpot or subscribe to the RSS feed, my video game-specific blog has a post regarding the New Super Mario Bros. game for DS. You may have noticed that I put an RSS feed thing over in the right column for the GameSpot blog (titled “A Gamer Darkly” for no real particular reason) which may not be all that useful but does at least provide an updated link to the latest posts made over there.

The Hero Lies In You

Someone on the TiVo web forum mentioned in the discussion of last night’s episode of Heroes that so far the Heroes aren’t really acting very… heroic. This is a fair criticism for a show called “Heroes” but I think one of the themes the show is very effectively dealing with is that just because someone is born extraordinary doesn’t mean they’re born with an understanding of how to cope with that. Many of the characters on the show are either in denial about their abilities or not convinced that they aren’t just plain crazy rather than remarkable.

Another complaint I’ve heard a lot was regarding Hiro’s ability to communicate with Nathan in the diner in this week’s “Hiros” episode. I’m not quite sure I understand that gripe since in a previous episode (in which Hiro travelled to the future) he was able to more or less communicate with everyone until the conversation got so specific and law-enforcement related (which is almost a subset of English in itself) that Hiro realized he may not be fully comprehending what was being said and wanted his English-fluent friend to talk to the officials to make sure he didn’t get himself into more hot water than he was already in.

It’s not unreasonable for a Japanese guy to understand basic English (probably at about a third or fourth grade level speaking-wise) and he seems to have a decent grasp for reading it (based on his familiarity with American comic books and television) so his ability to have a fairly simple conversation about a topic he is familiar with in English terms makes total sense to me. As a few people pointed out also, there’s no better way to crash-course language than through immersion and he’s certainly been immersed in English-speaking environments for several days now. I didn’t find it at all unusual for him to speak to Nathan.

Some people have wondered what is so special about Claire that she warrants the “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” mantra. My personal theory is that Peter is the key to stopping the bomb, but he needs the powers of the others in order to do so and specifically, he needs Claire’s ability to regenerate to keep him alive long enough to pull off his world-saving gambit. But that’s just speculation.

One interesting question that I haven’t been able to determine from the information presented so far is whether Isaac’s future-reading powers are triggered or in any way related to his heroin use or if that is simply a mechanism he’s instituted for himself to cope with the ability. I would guess based on the fact that Peter can use the power when in his presence without any drugs (and Isaac wasn’t high at the time either) that the heroin-power connection is all in Isaac’s mind.

Here’s something else that’s interesting: Most supernatural comic book characters (i.e., those that aren’t just heroic humans like Batman) have a hefty amount of combat-readiness to their powers. Consider that Spider-Man has exceptional strength and agility (certainly an asset in a fight); Storm can control the weather such that she can send bolts of lightning at foes; Cyclops is practically all combat with his laser-eyes and so on. But most of the characters in Heroes actually don’t have a lot of combat ability: Isaac’s future-seeing (at least in its current incarnation) wouldn’t help much in a fight; Matt’s mind-reading is certainly useful but not really combat-ready; Peter’s power absorption isn’t intrinsically combat-ready unless he was fighting someone who’s powers were combat-oriented; even Nathan’s flight ability is helpful but aside from the apparent speed he has, he hasn’t shown any hint of being capable of handling more pain or taking more punishment than anyone else which means that while he could speed-fly fist-first into a foe, he would probably hurt himself as much as whomever he was fighting. In fact, only Niki (whose powers are still vague at best but who may be super-strong based on the fact that she probably weighs about 110 lbs. and she cut a guy in half), Hiro and Claire are likely to be of any real use in a fight and even then, Claire would survive the fight for a long time, but her ability to win such a combat (except by attrition) is questionable.

Shirts Shaped Like Tees

So I ordered some shirts off of Threadless.com yesterday because they were having a sweet sale where most of the shirts were only $10. The site is pretty cool in that it allows people to upload T-shirt designs which get voted on by the site users and the most popular designs actually get made and put up for sale.

I have a strong dislike for clothing that turns me into a walking billboard which is why most of the clothes I wear are either plain or feature something I like such as a band. I guess band shirts make you into a walking ad for that particular group, but somehow that works for me since it’s something I actually endorse versus wearing a Nike shirt or something that very obviously came from Wal-Mart or whatever.

In this case many of the designs are clever but avoid being at all ad-like, which means I don’t feel quite as boring as wearing one of my (literally) six plain black shirts but I don’t have to worry about my soul.

Plus, $10 each. How can you go wrong?

Powerhouse?

I was reading an article on ESPN.com about the Red Wings’ fall to mediocrity and in the article columnist Damien Cox uses the adjective “powerhouse” to describe the Sharks.

That was kind of nice to read.

Of course the Sharks are obviously not invincible. While I’m certainly happy with the start to the season 7-2-0, and it is definitely a plus that three of those seven wins have been shutouts in the Sharks favor, those two losses were kind of ugly. One was the really bizarre game versus the Edmonton Oilers in which there were two natural hat tricks (one by Cheechoo to put the Sharks up 4-1 and then one by Ryan Smyth which ended up putting the Oilers ahead). That game could be written off just because of the strangeness of it all but the 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild was pretty sad considering the Sharks out shot the Wild 32 to 18 and the Wild beat Nabokov four times while Manny Fernandez only missed one of the barrage.

I certainly understand that the Sharks can’t be expected to win every game and I don’t mind giving up the occasional 6-4 insanity game or even a 3-2 nailbiter that goes down to the last five minutes of the third period. But I certainly don’t want to the see the Sharks out there in a futile effort through two periods and only score once just to keep themselves off the shutout. The tough thing about the Sharks being a “powerhouse” is that it’s hard not to watch them play and expect them to win pretty much every game.

The big test comes tonight when the Sharks play in Detroit, a road venue they have practically never emerged from victorious during the regular season. They handled the Red Wings soundly the other night in San Jose but if they can show the same poise and ability in Detroit, that will be quite a statement to Sharks fans.

One other thing I was thinking about which stemmed from my recent visit to the Tank for the Dallas game is that the HP Pavillion needs to do a bit of upgrading. For one thing they need those arena-spanning HD screens between decks. They installed them at AT&T park in San Francisco and I noticed that several of the road games the Sharks have played have been in stadiums with those wraparound screens. They look nice because for one the quality is phenomenal which means you can put player photos and stuff on there and they actually look like someone you might recognize (versus the aging JumboTron technology which still looks like staring at a newspaper print way too closely to my eyes) but also because they wrap around the whole stadium you can get some nice graphical effects going with bright, vibrant colors that really help with the atmosphere. Plus, I thought the Sharks were supposed to be this very technology-friendly team and they have these embarrassingly antique Lite Brite-looking signs. So lame.

Fog City

Nik and I spent some time in San Francisco this weekend, belatedly celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary. We would have celebrated closer to the actual date but I was afflicted with my hades-spawned flu which was not very romantic, to say the least.

Anyway we mostly just hung out and wandered around the touristy areas like Pier 39, which we’ve both done about a thousand times before but the point wasn’t what we were doing but who we were doing it with. Eventually we wandered down the waterfront so we could eat at Joe’s Crab Shack which is a sort of tacky little place that has some really tasty food and, of course, copious options for crab lovers.

I recently was able to turn Nikki on to the joy of crab and she’s been near-insatiable ever since. I think her 1 lb. fresh dungeness crab order may have cured her for the time being but she certainly seemed to enjoy her meal. We stayed there for quite a while, talking and eating and watching the Bushman across the street.

If you’ve never been to San Francisco you probably aren’t familiar with the extraordinary number of street performers that crowd the touristy locations around the city. Street performers are a kind of unique beast in that they are simultaneously fascinating and yet annoying. Some of them are actually remarkably talented: Musicians, performance artists, etc. But at the same time they are only a slight step above your average panhandler which there are far too many of in SF anyway.

Still, all that is forgiven in the case of the Bushman.

The Bushman is a street performer whose schtick is pure genius in its cleverness. Basically he gathers up a bunch of random tree branches; medium-sized ones, obviously never anything that requires a large amount of effort to obtain. He gathers two fistfuls of these branches and squats on a little stool or empty bucket, clutching the branches in front of him so he is basically hidden from one side of the sidewalk. He does this right on a regular sidewalk so to careful observers he basically sticks out like a sore thumb. But most people aren’t that observant so if they’re coming toward the “bush” they will probably dismiss it as nothing spectacular and continue on their way.

When they get close, Bushman drops the branches just a bit a scares the heck out of the passerby.

The good thing is that he doesn’t go out of his way for the huge scare. That would probably be a little mean. And part of the joke is that once you’ve been burned, you realize how silly it was to not notice a random bush in the middle of the sidewalk.

The best part (and where Bushman makes his money) is being in on the joke as an observer. Bushman is pretty good about understanding when to try his scare (too often and people would see it happen up ahead and be prepared, too infrequent and the constantly gathered crowd would get bored and drift away). A few folks with good senses of humor will tip Bushman after falling for his trap, amusingly it is often the boyfriend or husband of the startled woman (girls react far more entertainingly than most guys) who drops some cash for the laugh. But mostly the Bushman hits up the crowds of laughing onlookers for tips.

Sitting up in Joe’s Crab Shack (right across from Bushman’s favorite haunt), you can observe his prowess without being prone to his requests for donations. It’s a good time. And the crab ain’t bad, either.

TiVo is Hurting Itself

Much has been made of the demise of TiVo. Granted, they have and will continue to have a hard time competing with cable-company and satellite TV company offerings, despite the constant complaints about those knock-off interfaces and feature sets being sub-par. Users will put up with a lot of crud for the sake of convenience.

But there are things that TiVo could do to help itself, and it seems to me that they aren’t doing them.

For one thing, they move slow. I would expect the behemoth cable companies to be playing catch-up to TiVo, but I haven’t seen that to be the case. How long did it take TiVo to get a unit out that could record HD? And when it did come out, they priced it at an insane $800 MSRP. Whew.

And don’t even get me started on Mac support for the TiVo2Go software/feature. After “working hard” on the issue for like two years, we get this back in January and then nothing for nine months. Look, it takes less time to fabricate a human being than it’s taken to even see a beta of this product. Come on.

What really frustrates me is the simple things. TiVo’s features should be fairly easily updatable and yet there are so few service upgrades getting pushed out to users it’s kind of criminal. Take a look at this list of requested enhancements. Most of those are very reasonable requests, especially stuff like complete boolean capabilities for Wish Lists. I can’t tell you how badly I want to have my “49ERS” season pass not pick up junk like “49ers Preview Show” and “49ers Total Access” and “49ers Playbook.” I want the game, not the rest of the junk. But 49ers games show up on a title search as the generic “NFL Football” so I can’t just get a Season Pass to that or I’d get the stupid Jets vs. Dolphins games and stuff, probably at the expense of Niners games or at the very least at the expense of something else I’d rather watch. If I could say “Title = ‘NFL Football’ AND Description CONTAINS (‘San Francisco’ OR ’49ERS’)” I would be golden.

This has been a problem since the Series1 TiVos, so what’s the holdup? In the meantime I end up juggling my Season Pass list constantly, trying to find a happy medium. For example, I want Sharks games almost all the time. But sometimes it depends on when the game starts and what else is playing. I can put it below something like Lost or Heroes and know that the Sharks game will always be pre-empted for those shows, but what frustrates me is that if the Sharks game starts at 5:30 and a show I don’t want to miss will start at 8:00, I’d rather have the first two and a half hours of the game and then switch over to the show. I thought that was what the clipping feature was supposed to do but unless I’m doing something wrong it doesn’t work like that.

At the time it hardly matters, I’d rather have my TiVo than not and I don’t really qualify (what with our freakish cable situation) for any other options. But eventually we’ll move out of this apartment and when Comcast comes knocking on my door offering me a $9.99 additional fee for dual-tuner DVR functionality with a higher capacity than I have now my loyalty to TiVo is going to be tested because I just don’t feel like TiVo is working hard enough to keep me loyal.

So what do you say, TiVo? How ’bout you step it up and keep a once-happy customer?

Want to Catch You Awake

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

A few thoughts:

  • I mentioned yesterday that NBC would be re-airing all the non-Pilot episodes of Heroes in case you missed them. That’s happening Sunday, October 22 or this coming Sunday evening at 8/7c.
  • I’ve had a chance to play with the iPod adapter interface for the new head unit on Nikki’s car stereo. I have to say, this is the way to listen to an iPod in a car. It sure beats the heck out of the clunky cassette adapter interfaces and FM transmitters. Very much the way to go as far as that kind of thing is concerned.
  • This is sweet as those LightScribe devices are something I’ve been interested in for a while now. Nik and I have been burning a lot of CDs lately since I’m much more comfortable having a CD folder crammed full of 100 burned disc copies than I am having 100 of my $15 CDs sitting around in a car and it’s nice to be able to make minor adjustments to certain discs (leaving off songs you don’t care for, etc).
  • Of course with the Sirius radio and iPod connection, CDs seem a bit less useful than they may have been previously. The one instance where they are useful is with specific mixes because both Nikki’s Nano and even my 20GB iPod are too small to hold our entire collection so we have to update via playlist which prohibits having multiple playlists on the iPod itself (which is not a limitation when your iTunes Library is smaller than the capacity of the iPod). I haven’t really paid close attention to the latest iPod models but it looks like I could get an 80GB model for about what I paid for my 20GB 4G. Unfortunately as is fairly common with Apple their options aren’t really ideal for what I’m looking for. 80GB is excessive, but 30GB is a bit too small (my Library is running around 26GB at the moment) and the price differential between the two is kind of baffling. $249 for the 30GB and $349 for the 80GB? Especially when the 8GB Nano is also $249? Huh? In my mind the pricing would be $79/1GB Shuffle; $99/2GB Nano; $149/4GB Nano; $199/8GB Nano; $249/30GB; $299/50GB (what I would consider, if it existed); $349/80GB. That leaves the bottom and top end models at exactly the same price and doesn’t have any crossover from one model or price point to the next. It does make the jump from Nano to regular iPod pretty hefty in terms of price-per-gig but at least it makes more sense than offering 8GB and 30GB for the exact same price. Good grief.
  • While I was sick I watched a lot of ESPN because it is a heck of a lot more interesting in the middle of the day than any other channel. What drives me nuts about ESPN is their obvious sports bias: This is ostensibly a channel devoted to 24/7 coverage of the world of sports and yet they run about seven and a half hours of repeats per day, of which the breakdown by sport is something like 75% NFL, 15% MLB, 5% NBA, 3% NASCAR, 2% Golf and the remaining 1% being split equally among the NHL and any other sport they can come up with which happens to have a “newsworthy” highlight that particular day, including horse racing, ping pong, professional bowling, poker and that Scottish sport where they throw the telephone pole straight up in the air in an attempt to… uh, not get conked on the head by it when it inevitably lands and tips directly back toward the tosser as though he were some sort of cartoon lumberjack. I fully understand that part of the problem is the American sports audience who would rather watch NFL press conferences than see potentially exciting Soccer highlights or definitely exciting hockey recaps but to a certain extent I wonder exactly how much analysis people are really clamoring for at the expense of decent sports news. Especially when they seem to struggle as Sunday fades and it gets to be Wednesday, Thursday, etc to come up with new stuff to talk about. Football teams only play once per week so there’s really only so much to say. At some point the news itself starts to create stories just to have something to talk about (“T.O. brushes his teeth left handed and Parcells tells him he’s jeopardizing the team’s unity!”) which is something that simply wouldn’t stand in any other type of journalism. I just wonder if it would really be so bad for ESPN to go ahead and do nothing but highlights and cover all kinds of sports from all over the world. I certainly wouldn’t mind being kept aprised of the English Soccer leagues (or, heaven forbid, the MLS) and amateur gymnastics or track and field events in non-Olympic years. It sure beats listening to John Clayton babble about how important Shaun Alexander is to the Seahawks for the sixth day in a row.
  • They decided to install a new application to manage all of Support at work. This is both a blessing and a curse: The old application had some very specific quirks that made it something of a pain to work with and it was also based off of old versions of our products so it was kind of embarassing for us to be so far behind our own customers in a lot of cases (especially since we spend so much of our time trying to get people to upgrade). Also the server that was central to our day-to-day work was very much showing its age and had started to become a serious liability for us. So the new application addressed a lot of those problems, which is a good thing. But the old application had been around long enough for several user-created interfaces to pop up that were designed by Support people which meant they did what we wanted/needed them to do. Now those interfaces have to be re-done to accomodate the new systems and most of them haven’t been updated yet. As a result my return to work has alternated from mild to severe pain as I’m forced to work with clunky, IT-designed interfaces that don’t work they way they should and in a lot of ways severely hamper my ability to do my job. Of course being out for almost two weeks means I’m behind as it is and this certainly isn’t helping me get caught up.
  • My dad posted a bunch of old movies for me to check out that I added to my Netflix queue this morning. If anyone else has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

Leaf Brinks

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006
  • My Dad sends out a monthly email to family and friends (why he doesn’t just maintain a blog is sort of beyond me, but to each his own) and in his latest he was talking about ugly sports uniforms. He specifically mentions the University of Oregon and I couldn’t agree more although clearly he hasn’t seen the new Buffalo Sabres duds. Gah. What was wrong with the old ones?
  • Speaking of sports, Sharks pre-season starts tonight. Yay!
  • This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Sah-weeet.

Zen and the Art of Randomness

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

My brain is working in incompletion mode, which is to say that I can get a thought formed, but my attention wanders before it gets more than about halfway through. It may make this post a bit challenging to read, but if you’ve been coming here for the last five years or so I’ll assume you’re used to that sort of thing.

  • My co-worker is currently engaged in the most epic battle of support vs. customer I’ve ever witnessed. Sample dialogue, “I understand where you’re coming from, but if you don’t try to understand where I’m at then I might as well hang up this phone.” The crazy thing is, I think they’re both enjoying it.
  • I made dinner last night which hasn’t happened too often lately due to a lot of weird schedules and a general malaise about cooking the same dozen or so dishes that Nik and I have perfected. Actually the cooking isn’t so bad (although even that gets a little dull) but eating the same ol’ stuff gets tiresome which isn’t exactly a great reward for putting in the effort to cook it in the first place. At least if you eat the same crummy fast food over and over again you may be bored but it takes no effort. Anyway I tried something new last night: Apricot chicken. It’s basically just baked chicken breast with a sauce/glaze made from dijon mustard, apricot preserves, salt and chili powder so it was nice and easy but combined with some roasted red potatoes and a batch of crescent rolls it was the best meal we’ve had at home in several weeks.
  • Speaking of best meals, I forgot to mention that my friends have engaged in a new pasttime: Perfecting barbecued ribs. You will note that I have not yet taken part primarily because I don’t have a BBQ grill and also because I’m not that great of a grillman, but I have certainly done my fair share of judging their progress and what a delicious chore that has been. I think HB almost has it nailed, and last weekend he smoked and then indirect-heat grilled a few racks of ribs for something like 10 hours grand total. Before those ribs Lister‘s eight-hour applejuice-basted spareribs were the best ribs I think I’d ever tasted but HB’s probably topped the list. You’ll note this isn’t exactly a competition, it’s more of a collaborative effort as they try different techniques and seasonings to try and get them perfect. They’re very close after the last batch, I think all that they’re missing is a signature sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s is good, no doubt, but I don’t think you can enter a BBQ competition with store-bought sauce… that’s like cheating).
  • The only—only—downside to the rib mania sweeping our circle of friends lately is that it has me really digging ribs but everytime I look at them on a restaurant menu I can’t help but think, “There’s no way these are as good.” I usually end up ordering the fish.
  • So the 49ers lost, which is no great shock, but what was somewhat surprising was how much of an actual game they made it. Sure Alex Smith is still not exactly a dominating presence back there, but at least he didn’t get picked off every drive, and he’s got Frank Gore back there who looked very good (and helped out my fantasy team, to boot). Meanwhile I watched the Monday Night game, mostly to root against the Raiders, and I was very impressed with San Diego. I think they rely on LT a bit too much (note the beginning of the second half when they went three and out a lot, mostly because the Raiders gave up on defending the pass and threw everyone they had at Tomlinson) but their defense looked pretty good and Philip Rivers made some nice plays despite the fact that they didn’t give him the nod very often. Now granted, the Raiders were wonderfully, delightfully horrible and embrassed themselves on national television (which is something they normally let their fans do for them—and they never fail to deliver) but I think San Diego deserved more credit than they got for pwning that game.
  • I jacked up my shoulder somehow. My hip finally seems back to normal and now my shoulder on that same side is tweaked. I think it happened while I was trying to attach a keyboard tray to the bottom of Nik’s desk at work with a fairly heavy drill, some stubborn screws and some very poor planning which required ripping it off and re-doing the drilling three times. But despite my handyman ineptitude, it shouldn’t be killing me to reach out and grab a can of Diet Coke a week later, right?
  • Political sidetrack: There are probably Bush supporters that read ironSoap, and that’s fine. But do me a favor and watch this 4-minute clip from an interview with Matt Lauer. While you watch it, keep this in mind: This is the same guy that has demonstrably and repeatedly lied about motivations, actions and methodologies when it comes to combating terrorism post 9/11. What his whole diatribe amounts to is, “Trust us, we’re not doing anything wrong here. I won’t tell you what we’re doing, but just trust me, it’s for your own good.” I have to ask the question: What reason have we been given to believe and/or trust him? It certainly isn’t the stellar track record, after all. And I for one would really like to know just what these legal but secret methods of extracting information are.
  • While mildly amusing, I really have to wonder a couple of things about this survey or study about attire for IT workers versus non-IT workers. Question one: Who cares? I mean, how does this impact anything? Then the random correlation at the end:

    “Intermedia.NET believes the findings in this study to be very valuable,” added Bradbury. “Both business managers and IT professionals are quickly adopting hosted Microsoft Exchange, and this research helps us to better understand the mindset of our customers.”

    Huh? But when you get right down to it: Was this really necessary? I mean, did you really need statistical analysis to determine that geeks wear black and have ponytails? Puh-leeze.

“Whatever tomorrow brings / I'll be there” – Incubus