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Friday, October 16th, 2009
16:16 - WoW update
Pretty sure I'm done with WoW. However, there's always a chance of relapse with these sorts of chronic conditions, so I may yet eat those words.

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Monday, September 14th, 2009
12:55 - Cell Phones & Space Aliens
So I've been thinking for a while that maybe cell phone companies are run by space aliens (ok, not really, but bear with me). Today, I've found clinching proof of the fact.

Here's how it went down. Yesterday I was helping Alison buy art supplies. I normally keep my phone in my shirt pocket. Now, one of these art supplies was a box. Pretty fancy box, at that. I assume that's why it was uppity. Shifting things around to get to my keys, I shifted the box in such a way that it gave a forceful tap to the bottom of my phone. Pursuant to paragraph 3 of Newton's Laws of Motion, my phone went sailing out of my pocket in a beautiful parabolic arc, flying gracefully through the air, with a slight tumble to its motion. It stopped suddenly and with an audible thud roughly a second later when gravity brought it to Earth. Even the landing was beautiful. My phone hit the sidewalk face down, almost perfectly flat. It didn't bounce or skid or skitter. It simply landed and made the sort of noise that plastic makes when it hits concrete. On picking up the phone, I discovered a dazzling array of colors where the previously reliable graphics of the Sprint UI had been. Thus, more attractive, my phone was also useless.

That brings us to this morning. I took an early leave for lunch. On arriving at the Sprint store, I was greeted by an attractive young woman named Maria who very helpfully and pleasantly guided me through the jungles of Sprint customer service. Maria made a face when I showed her the dazzlingly artistic, but static, new UI of my phone. She called up my account information, and rattled off the cost of replacing my screen with something less attractive, but more functional. So far, this seemed like a normal transaction to me, but it was at this point where we diverged from reality as we know it, into the Bizarro World of cell phone economics.

Without getting into too much more detail (I know this post is already long), the upshot was this. For an additional $35 up front, I would get the following:
* Brand-new phone, identical in all its particular to my old phone
* $50 mail-in rebate, making the overall cash transaction cheaper than repair
* After a series of alchemic/financial transformations that mortals cannot grasp, a $10/month reduction in my phone bill
* An additional phone number that I will not use

Maria was also nice enough to have the helpful young man in a cage behind the retail space transfer my contacts into my new phone, and transfer the phone number from my broken phone to my new phone. So there we are. Proof that space aliens have not only come to Earth, but have influence over marketing decisions at Sprint Communications.

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Friday, September 11th, 2009
20:15 - Full of fail
Today has been full of fail. I'm going to chronicle all the fail just for kicks.

Alison gave me a copy of the Aion installer. Windows XP unzipper says it's corrupted. Deleted it and tried to download off the net.

Attempting to download the Aion installer failed. FilePlanet doesn't work for Firefox. No really. They require an ActiveX control to download.

Tried to download Aion from the other web site listed. Failed to start downloading after 15 minutes of waiting.

Tried to download Aion via BitTorrent. This actually works... just slowly. By this time, Alison had copied the installer to my computer again, and using something other than Windows unzipper resulted in a functional installer.

Aion installer is distrbuted as a ZIP archive, rather than a self-extractor. Fail.

The space bar on my keyboard crapped out within 2 months of purchase. Again. Back to the old wireless that I've tried to replace twice now. I have to recommend against buying this keyboard.

Aion won't let me copy/paste a password during the login process. I use an encrypted password DB and don't know most of my passwords. Having to select and remember a password is very annoying to me.

I own a copy of PlayOn. I'm not entirely sure why. So far, I can't recommend the thing for anyone else to purchase. It works about 30% of the time for viewing Netflix movies via my PS3. About 60% of the time for watching Hulu streams. About 90% of the time for watching YouTube streams. And the Amazon Video On Demand support is completely and utterly broken. About every two weeks, they tell me to update to the latest version, but I can't tell the difference from one to the next. It doesn't seem to improve. And they don't publish release notes.

The upshot of my gripes about PlayOn is that Alison and I meant to spend the evening watching movies, but we can't get PlayOn to work at all tonight. Or rather, it seems to only want to show Ghost In the Shell: Solid State Society, which is really not worth watching.

EDIT: Forgot to add in the story about ordering dinner. We ordered food from a local sandwich shop. Normally they're not a problem. Tonight, they left out part of my order. When I called to tell them so, they pretty much accused me of trying to scam a free sandwich out of them. At least they didn't charge me for it. I hung up and bitched to Alison. Alison called them back and bitched. They sent me a sandwich... which got charged as a cash order... which was inconvenient, since I don't actually have that much cash on hand.

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Thursday, August 13th, 2009
2:22 - The Watchmen
Should I update this userpic to be a butt shot of the Silk Spectre? Anyway, I just saw the Watchmen film and wanted to write down my thoughts while they're fresh in my mind.

Overall, I have to say I wasn't really impressed. I think the film makers were just trying to make a cool movie about cool comic-y stuff and really didn't have a strong grasp of the story, characters or themes of the original work. It felt like a lot of 'gee whiz' and not much attention paid to the story or, in many cases, the characters. I'll go over my personal litany.

Let's start with Rorschach. He shares the role of POV character with Dan Dreiberg (Night Owl II), and we see much of the story through his eyes. He's very earnest and uncompromising and, in his own way, trying to do good. He's very intelligent, talented, clever and resourceful. He's also a crackpot, more than a little un-hinged, cruel, violent, misogynistic (misanthropic, for that matter) and just generally not a good person. The movie presents him in a much more positive light than he deserves. It conveniently omits a lot of his crackpot and misogynistic comments and the movie's general treatment of violence really dulls the impact of the horrible things that Rorschach does to almost anyone he meets.

Since I'm on the subject of how the film treats violence, I'll just say I didn't like it one bit. The fight scenes were so over the top as to be almost comical. The gore and blood were played up at every opportunity, quickly desensitizing the viewer to anything but the most extreme violence. This treatment really dulled the impact of a number of scenes that were meant to show character. The Comedian's attempted rape of Silk Spectre seems almost like a playful romp. Y'know, just a few bruises and cuts. She wasn't hurt that badly. I mean, there were no bones sticking out of her at weird angles. She didn't have a knife driven through her neck sideways. Nothing major.

The scene where Dan and Laurie fight off a gang of thugs in an alley strikes me as the most egregious example. The fight opens right up with an image of a thug's bone getting broken so severely it almost pierces the skin. The two "heroes" murder most of their attackers in spectacular ways. The scene is transformed from a fight for their lives to a bizarre courtship moment between two video game caricatures.

I could go on for a long time dissecting the film scene by scene, but I'm sure others have done that far better than I ever could. I'll skip straight to my other most hated scene, after the alley fight. The final scene in which Ozymandias reveals his master plan, fends off the smaller-minded heroes only to be defeated himself my Dr. Manhattan's near-omnipotence. In the end, his plan was successful, but the cost was very, very high. Finally, even the man who would be a God is shown to doubt. To be human. "Did it work out in the end?" No, the actual God tells him, nothing ever ends. Or at least, that's how the comic book ended. The movie ends with Ozymandias' vindication. He was right. There can be no doubt or human frailty in a figure as great as him.

Not to say I hated every second of it. I'll give the movie props for a few things. First of all, the actual content of the grand plot to draw the nations of the world together was much better. The explosions mimicing Dr. Manhattan were much better than fake alien squids. Once again, however, the impact of it was reduced. In the final scene, you see a number of character who had screen time in the comic, but not the movie. They're terrified and they know their world is ending. But who cares, they're not even characters in the movie until that last second. The comic spends a lot of time developing the newspaper seller, the black kid who's his patron, the reluctantly lesbian cab driver Joey and so on. When they die, it has an impact on the reader. My God, these people were just living their lives. In the movie, it's just an explosion.

All in all, it was disappointing. There were a lot of good moments and good characters, but that all mostly gets muddled into a poor understanding of the story and characters, and the pointlessness of all the violence in the film. I can't recommend seeing this and I can only say I'm happy, in retrospect, to have waited until I could rent it.

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Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009
15:40 - Pi Approximation Day
So, my friend Steve just found me on Facebook. That's cool, Steve's an interesting guy and it never occurred to me to look for him. Anyway, I quickly scanned his recent comments and he pointed out that some folks write July 22 as 22/7 ... which is a famous historical approximation of pi (handed down to us from Archimedes). So, today is Pi Approximation Day... which I find to be at least as interesting as Pi Day itself (March 14).

According to my windows calculator program: 22/7 = 3.1428571428571428571428571428571
According to my memory: pi = 3.1412565359

So, that's accurate in the first two digits, with an error factor of roughly 0.04%
Pretty cool

Archimedes' method for approximating pi
Formula that gives the n'th hexadecimal digit of pi without reference to any of the previous n-1 digits

OK, so the second one isn't an approximation... it's actually pi. Anyway, that's what I could come up with in 15 minutes at work. Thanks, Steve!

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Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
Here's a fun couple of articles.


The short version: in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration created a variety of intelligence gathering programs that were not only wildly illegal, but so badly mis-handled as to be essentially worthless.

EDIT: to be fair, virtually everyone in government at the time (including both Republican and Democrat Congressmen) basically either looked the other way (deliberate ignorance), or quietly ignored the legal facts of the situation.

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Friday, June 26th, 2009
13:14 - PHP Editing
So my job involves editing a lot of PHP. Can anyone out there recommend a good editor that meets the following criteria?

* Not Eclipse (or based on Eclipse)
* Not NetBeans
* Supports XDebug (or Zend Debugger)
* At least some nod to code navigation features
- something like the Eclipse 'outline' window that lets me click on method names
- something like the Eclipse 'explorer' feature that lets me click around my project

You'll not that I actually like a lot of the individual features of Eclipse... but I don't like the fact that it periodically seems to send my computer into a thrashing state that requires a reboot. And before anyone suggests it, no, upgrading my computer isn't an option. Nor is switching my OS, nor switching languages from PHP.

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Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
In other news, I'm cutting back drastically on my wow time for the next few weeks. It's gotten to feel too much like a job. I get home, prep for raid, raid, eat, then sleep. I do this up to 4 nights a week. Having personal appointments after work leaves me wondering if I'll be able to make raid times. Anyway, less warcraft, more study. I have GREs to prepare for and subjects to study up on, if I plan to do this grad school thing right.

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Monday, June 15th, 2009
13:54 - More on grad school
I'm feeling cautiously optimistic. Currently planning to apply for a Masters program starting next fall. There are a number of part time / evening programs out there and I've spoken to two of them so far. Solid letters of recommendation and GRE scores have a good chance of offsetting my poor grades (assuming I get really good GRE scores). I have a little over a year, then, to review topics in undergrad math and CS, study up and completely destroy the GRE, and line up 1-2 letters of recommendation beyond the one I already have.

The letters of recommendation are the only part of this that I don't have a plan for. I've got one from a professor at CMU who's been very supportive and helpful, answering questions and so on. I'm not sure who else to talk to. It may become apparent as I work on my application. For now, I'm not entirely sure.

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Friday, June 5th, 2009
Speaking of loving my job... I'm starting to put a lot more thought into grad school. Either a M.S. or Ph.D. in computer science. We'll see if I can make the finances work, and also whether I can convince any grad school in the country to admit me with my undergrad academic record.

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Thursday, June 4th, 2009
18:28 - I love my job... really
So... Seattle is hot right now. My Australian friends tell me that 85F is actually cold. But they're Aussies and live in a giant damned desert and have to contend with things like Wombat wrestling on their commutes. So we can safely assume they're crazy.

So let's see here. I work in an office. It's pretty typical. It has forced air heating and cooling through vents.

Pictures of VentsCollapse )

Those vents don't work. Nobody knows why. Could be the heretofore unknown Northwestern Duct Wombat. Anyway, we've been complaining about this to the building management all week. We actually know for a fact that the building is owned by an Australian. And apparently his madness extends to the tubby dude who fixes the AC. At one point, it was suggested that we close all the blinds and open all the doors, including the one to the server room... because the server closet AC works. I'm fairly sure he was high at the time.

So this heat isn't surgically targeted at downtown, but also affects my apartment in West Seattle. Today, I went out and bought myself a lovely free-standing air conditioning unit. Alison and I have spent the past few days reviewing them and picked out one we like that also had the merit of being available for pickup at a local Sears. That's why I was late to work today.

I was also told that the AC guy came in and, low and behold, did something useful! And oh, did he ever! Mind you, this did not come in the form of fixing the ducts. He was thinking outside the box! He did so in a very literal sense. I immediately noticed two things on the way to my desk today.

On the way to Coder VaultCollapse )

What should await me but...Collapse )

Ok... the ghetto box fan was good for a chuckle... but the exciting AC solution in the code pits literally had me stopped and staring for a few long moments. My apartment lacks central air. My landlord has some rule that I'm not allowed to use a window-mounted AC unit. I didn't expect this marvel of modern engineering to show up in a building with central air. But the final, true and grandest piece of this is yet to come. Witness, if you will, the installation of the exhaust hose...

Taped and plastic-wrapped to perfectionCollapse )

It just doesn't get any better than this, folks.

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Friday, May 29th, 2009
Just for kicks, I've decided to try out Google's Chrome browser... months after the rest of the world tried and made their decisions. Here are my random first impressions after a few hours of use.

* It is indeed zippy
* It's not gonna set the world on fire
* Very solid browser
* Undecided on whether I like the look-and-feel or not
* Like the built in developer tools

Overall... it's a browser. I have to say that Google's managed an achievement here just by managing to make the thing inoffensive. Rendering HTML is a nasty and complicated business, and getting that right is non-trivial. Other than that... it's a browser. A little different from the others. The only real standout feature, for me, is the "New Tab" page. It provides ready access to a number of useful links relating to your browsing history and it's a feature I hope to see Mozilla emulate. That said, I don't think I'm likely to switch off Mozilla as my web development tool of choice.

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Monday, May 11th, 2009
13:42 - Ask the Internet: Linux mouse
So, I've grown fond of these modern mouses with their profusion of buttons. It has the normal two buttons that normal people use, a pressable scroll wheel, "forward" and "back" buttons that Windows maps to web browser functions, three buttons with cryptic labels and fallout icons, one more with a pictograph for "your mom", and several others that I simply can't understand.

Well, ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration.

Nonetheless, I use Linux as a desktop OS at work fairly regularly, and those extra "forward" and "back" buttons never quite seem to work the way I'd want them to (usually, they don't work at all). My scroll wheel seems to work just fine. Are there any Linux nerds out there who have some familiarity with all this, and who might assist me? If I'm missing some obvious document floating about on the sea of tubes, please feel free to inform me.

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Monday, April 13th, 2009
17:48 - Musings about my former employer
Blog entry about this lovely business at Amazon
LA Times story about the same thing
My personal entry point into this mess
Some yoyo on LJ claims responsability
Former Amazon employee posts some potentially interesting information that might be based on actual contact with current employees
Why the particular yoyo mentioned earlier almost certainly didn't do what he claims

So, if you care to wade through the hodge-podge of links I just posted, you'll discover several things that you may or may not have already known.

1. A number of GLBT-related books were recently de-listed from Amazon.com because they were "adult".

2. This caused a typical Internet backlash of GLBT folk assuming the absolute worst possible explanation. I assume the imagined scenario is that Jeff B spoke from on high and decreed that Amazon shalt not sell that heathen tripe. I'm unclear on why people think Amazon would suddenly decide that they don't want that chunk of business anymore.

3. Amazon has come forward pointing out that a whopping 57,310 books were de-listed across a wide variety of categories, as well as internationally, and that the problem is some kind of horrible 'glitch' in Amazon's systems that is being resolved as quickly as possible.

4. Everyone and their brother thinks Amazon is either lying through their teeth, or must be populated by morons depending whether they believe Amazon is lying or not about the 'glitch'. That's the point I want to address.

Honestly, I wouldn't expect a straight story from Amazon on this one. I wouldn't expect a straight story from any large corporation.

I think the conspiracy theory (company policy) is laughably stupid. Amazon is in the business of selling, among other things, books to as many people as they possibly can. This sort of PR backlash is predictable for an incident like this and is certainly costing the company in lost sales, customer service contacts and (we'll get to this shortly) technical resources. Particularly in cases of people being involved, it's money that would be better spent driving new sales, rather than responding to this issue. That Amazon would deliberately bring this on themselves is a notion that only someone with a really well developed persecution complex could develop.

Given Amazon's own statements about the actual nature of the issue (large number of titles, affecting many categories and international sales), I will guarantee you that this issue is being treated as top priority inside the company. That means people getting pulled out of bed. That means customer service contacts from irate customers. That means well-paid, highly qualified professionals being pulled away from profitable activities for the company to make sure this issue is handled both quickly and correctly. Again, the notion that Amazon would do this intentionally is ludicrous.

So, what about this hacker or the indicated glitch. I don't put much credence in the hacker's story. Especially the bit where he gained complicity from a web-admin at a major high-traffic site. One of the links up top also contains the musings of someone who examined the details of the so-called hacker's claims.

So, what about a glitch? While unsatisfying, I can certainly believe that something like this happened. An error of some sort - possibly user error, compounded by very powerful and difficult-to-understand tools that have access to modify, pretty much, everything. No conspiracy, no agenda, just a mistake that's being corrected and a botched PR effort.

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Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
10:16 - Statistical Reasoning...
... is valid, despite what a few people in my life have tried to tell me. Here are some moderately interesting statistics, mixed in with some commentary you may or may not agree with. Thanks to Bruce Schneier for drawing my attention to this.

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Monday, March 30th, 2009
13:07 - wow geeking
My gnarled little wow raider heart is pleased... there will be a tanking sword that drops off the first boss in Ulduar 25. My human protection warrior is drooling already... first upgrade in that slot since I was doing heroic 5-man runs. I'm aware that Naxx 25 contains a solid upgrade from that sword, but it has yet to drop for my guild after something like 12 Kel'Thuzad kills... mind you, we now use the Wall of Terror for party decorations and as a novelty dinner plate.

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Friday, March 27th, 2009
It's 4:00pm on a Friday... and I just wrapped up a week-and-a-half project... sooo hard to get moving again on something new.

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Wednesday, March 11th, 2009
16:51 - Conversations with Management
My boss is pretty cool. He's got a sense of humor and was, until he started this job, a software developer. A few weeks ago, I installed a Wiki on one of our internal web servers at his request. About once a week, he asks me to make some configuration change to it. I just take this as part of learning how to administer one of these things and it's been a straightforward process. This is a rough transcript of the most recent of those conversations. His name isn't actually Dave, but that's what we'll call him for this post.

Dave: Hey Aaron, can you enable file uploads on the Wiki?

Aaron: Sure. I'll take care of that later today.

... 90 minutes or so later when I get around to it

Aaron: I've got file uploads enabled, but it only allows images by default.

Dave: Can you just make it wide open for any kind of file?

Aaron: I think so. Yep. So what are you after?

Dave: Pointy-haired manager stuff. Word Docs and Excel Sheets...

Aaron: And PowerPoint!

Dave: Fuck you. My hair's not that pointy yet.

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Monday, March 9th, 2009
18:50 - What a day...
9:00 AM -- wake up. I meant 8AM... forgot to change my clocks...

10:00 AM -- Call the state, make sure I have all documentation needed to renew tabs

10:30 AM -- Show up at vehicle licensing center... I'm missing a piece of documentation that they forgot to tell me about

11:00 AM -- Show up with additional documentation. Find two typos on the doc... explains why they couldn't find it in their computer. I'm told I have to get my emissions inspection corrected before I can proceed.

11:15AM -- Sneaky suspicion causes me to double check my VIN... turns out the inspection station got it right, and my car has been registered under the wrong VIN.

11:30AM -- Already a shitty day, I stop for lunch

12:00PM -- Go back to the licensing center to get temp tags and now I have to visit the State Patrol for a VIN inspection.

12:30PM -- Legal to drive for 15 days, and I have an appointment to fix the typo on my registration on Friday. State phone system kicked me out three times before I reached a person. Person was very friendly and helpful.

1:00PM -- Finally able to get to work after all this running around, I discover that the land lord has changed the garage codes without telling me... again. I am unnecessarily snippy with the building manager.

Isn't privatization wonderful? If I still lived in Pennsylvania, I could've had this all resolved, most likely, in under an hour. The people I'd have been dealing with actually are allowed to make corrections and fix problems. After I get my registration fixed, I'm pretty sure I still have to run back to the emission testing station to get them to fix their inspection record... since they wrote down my license plate number wrong.

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Friday, March 6th, 2009
10:14 - 5 minutes with the WoW 3.1.0 PTR
So, I installed the PTR and played around for about 5-10 minutes. Here are my first, vaguely informed, impressions.

Dual Spec: Huzzah! Been waiting for this for ages. Seems to work. Haven't really put it through its paces yet. It does everything it needs to, though - swaps out your talents, glyphs, action bars and key bindings. It takes 10 seconds to do while you're out of combat. Wow. This is looking to be an amazing addition to the game.

New Talent UI: Never again to waste 50g on a mis-click! You get a 'learn' button when you respec, so that you can fiddle your talents until they're right.

Gear Sets: While this is almost certainly a welcome addition for people not already using a UI mod with similar features, I'm not going to get rid of Outfitter. My very brief experience with it was that it was buggy and hard to use. It was almost guaranteed to mess up my weapons and/or shield - especially when I used it in conjunction with dual spec. Oh yes - fun dual spec foible in the current PTR: if a warrior swaps from a Fury/TG spec to prot... you'll still have your two huge two-handers equipped while you're prot. I'm assuming this will be fixed, but it was funny. One issue with this feature is that it allows you to select an icon... but it doesn't have any process for choosing sensible defaults. Outfitter lets me choose an icon for my outfits by selecting a piece of gear in that outfit.

Still to come: new quest tracking UI. I enabled it, but haven't spent any time questing yet.

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