Archive for Random Thoughts

Woes of a DVR Owner

Not mine… I have no woes. My 6 Tuner Medusa PVR using Snapstream’s BeyondTV works wonderfully. But a guy I know has issues.

Its a problem I see many people with DVRs complain about, that oddly scheduled programs or late changes often get missed because the show listings on the DVR don’t get updated. That’s one thing I love about my Medusa. BeyondTV, however they manage to do it, is always up to date (as long as my internet access hasn’t failed). I’ve never missed a show because it ran a few minutes long, or even when the President decides he wants to assure the nation that he is not an idiot (or confirm to the nation that he is an idiot, you can never be sure which he is going to do).

The only time I’ve ever missed a recording was when the power went out while I was on vacation. Usually, power outages come in twos or threes. Power off, power on for a few seconds, power off… then it either comes back on again or stays out for a while, but its that little flicker that causes the problems. Sometimes its just the once like I describe here, sometimes its two or three flickers before its out for real. I set up my Medusa, all my PCs in fact, not to reboot on power failure because I don’t want them powering on and off repeatedly during the flickers.

Oh, and I missed a show once when a channel broke in with breaking news. Of course, I didn’t see the breaking news until three days after it had happened, so all it did was annoy me.

But back to the DVRs… I don’t think I would put up with that, it being wrong all the time, as it kind of defeats the purpose of it. Is it a failing of the software? of the service provided? Is it the DVR or the cable company? I’m going to have to look into it, because unless they roll out the CableCARD 2.0 standard and start supporting it, I’ll have to get an in-box DVR to be able to record digital cable channels. But there’s no rush, not until they decide to stop providing the analog cable feed.

RAD is not rad

Rapid Application Development is not a horrible idea. Of course, much like Communism, it is not a problem with the idea it is the implementation. When most companies get into a RAD style of work, the result more often than not is just flying by the seat of their pants. No project plans, minimal design documents… usually it is just a list of features and a deadline, or a dozen lists and a dozen deadlines, and the lists change daily.

Having worked for two years on one RAD project, and then two and half on another, I really would like to work on something with more structure, or at least be part of team that is doing RAD instead of people one guy trying to work on multiple phases on the same RAD project by myself. I go into one meeting about phase one in the morning, then in the afternoon I go to a meeting on phase two when I have to pretend that I am not aware that phase one is behind schedule… it really is quite maddening.

Thoughts of Spender

This is going to be a stretch, but maybe I won’t seem too off the mark by the end.

Monday, a man took a couple of guns to the Virginia Tech campus and killed thirty-one people. He wounded another twenty-nine. At least, those were the totals I remember from the stories I read. Immediately, before the bodies were even counted, the airwaves were full of people talking about why someone would do such a thing. Most notably, to me anyway, was Jack Thompson. I’m not going to provide a link, if you want to know exactly what he said you can find it. He certainly doesn’t need my help getting his message out there.

Jack, and he probably was not alone, came forward immediately to lay the blame heavy at the feet of video games, violence in the media and today’s popular culture. I’m sure if pressed he’d blame music and television and movies, but his favorite target is video games. He believes that violent video games are a training ground for violent action. He was blaming video games before the gunman’s body was cold, before we even knew the name of the shooter. Jack is a fool, but he’s a grandstanding fool who knows how to work his audience.

People… and I do mean to make a sweeping generalization here, because from time to time I’ve been known to do it too… seek out external sources for problems. They want to point a finger and say, “Ah ha!” They want to be able to identify a specific action or object that can be blamed for the problem so that it can be removed. But issues like these are usually more internal, more specific to the individual than can be dealt with by calling for blanket legislations and bannings.

People hate cancer. Cancer comes in three forms. The one cancer that everyone hopes they have if they get it is the kind that is someone else’s fault. Be it living next to power lines, or cell phones, or second hand smoke, or radiation they were exposed to at work, they want it to be not their own fault. That kind of cancer is, unfortunately, the rarest kind. The other two forms are the most prevalent. The second is self-inflicted cancer, the kind you get from smoking, the kind that comes from laying out in the sun too long too often, and people hate this cancer because they could have avoided it, probably knew the risk and ignored it. The third is the unknown cancer. You are in perfect health, don’t smoke, don’t lay out in the sun, don’t work with radioactive materials, live far away from power lines and cell phone towers, you’ve got no reason at all to have cancer, then one day you go to the doctor for an indeterminate pain in your gut only to find out you’ve got cancer. This is the one that scares the crap out of people.

It is scary because there is not anything you could have done to prevent it.

When there are shootings, like this one at Virginia Tech, or previous ones at other schools or other public areas, when one person just kinda flips their shit and kills a bunch of people, it is important to examine that person’s life and try to understand what the hell went wrong. But it is the kind of thing you cannot go into with an existing theory. If you approach it with the idea that video games did this to him or influenced him, then if you find video games you will assume that they had an effect. Jack Thompson would love nothing more than to find out this guy had a PC full of First Person Shooters or a couple of Grand Theft Auto titles for his PS2 because it would justify his theory. But the reality is that the games themselves are not justification, they are just evidence. The gunman is dead and can’t tell you if he even played those game. Now, of course, we know that he was an English major, and a playwrite, who wrote some very disturbing works and was even thought to be the school shooter type by his classmates. But at the time of the shootings, as all these talking heads took the airwaves, no one knew that. Now we know that he made videos and wrote things and had a sketchy medical history and previous encounters with faculty and staff, but even though from here it looks like a giant pile of “Hey! Look am me! I’m a nut job who is going to shoot people!!” you have to keep in mind that all this information, all this stuff, was in different people’s hands. No one saw a complete picture until it was too late.

There was a guy at my high school, he was a creepy kind of dude. Very tall, shaved head, ROTC gun nut kind of fellow… not that all ROTC guys are nutjobs, but I’m trying to paint a picture here… in addition, he was standoffish, not a whole lot of friends. I didn’t really know him that well. After graduation, during that first year when I was going to college and working full time, I woke up one morning to a horror story. This guy I didn’t know very well killed his parents and his sister. Sure, he was weird and a loner, but kill his family? His brother had escaped, jumping out of a second story window. This guy got caught, they piled up the evidence against him and his accomplice and threw him in jail. About a year later, I hired a new kid to work in my department down at the Kroger. It was the brother. After working with him a while, one night while closing up, I asked him about it. He paused, then after a couple minutes he finally spoke. Now this isn’t an exact quote, I mean, hell, it was nearly 15 years ago, but… “My brother killed my parents and my sister, and he tried to kill me. There is no question he did it. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. No one really expected it. He was weird and all, but the truth is all the stuff they found in the garage, the knives, the bows and arrows, the kerosene and stuff, it wasn’t his. He kept all his stuff in his room. The stuff in the garage was mine. Nobody ever asked me if it was though. Isn’t that funny?” And I clearly remember all the newspapers from back when it happened talking about all the things they found, the “indicators of violence.” But this kid, the brother who got away, he just liked target shooting with the bows, collecting knives and setting things on fire. Dangerous? Sure, but he was no killer.

I remember at the time thinking of a quote, that really doesn’t apply if you consider the context of the story that it comes from, but the words, the phrasing, fit. It comes from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles:

“And last—if it helps any, just think of me as a very crazy fellow who went berserk one summer day and never was right again. It’ll be a little easier on you that way.”
-Jeff Spender

And I thought of this again on Monday. Maybe this guy had his reasons. People will view his tapes and read his words and look at the pile of evidence and try to understand it. And maybe somewhere, somehow, it will make sense. But maybe it won’t. Perhaps it is impossible to know why he did it until you are afflicted like him, troubled like him, and if you are that troubled, that afflicted, would you act the same? Even if it somehow made sense, would you really want it to? Would knowing all the hows and whys lead us to the magic moment where his life could have been fixed if just one action had been taken, and one person could be blamed for not seeing the problem? I’m not sure that’s a road I want to go down.

You really can’t prepare for the extreme. You can’t prevent it, you can’t legislate it. You can try to keep the middle ground large and even, but nothing we can do can stop the determinedly broken from doing what they do, not without compromising the rest of us.

I think perhaps I’m better off believing that he was just a crazy fellow who went berserk one day and never was right again. It’ll be a little easier on me that way.

Next week I’ll return you to our regularly scheduled game design and commentary; book, movie and TV reviews; and the rest of the usual random crap that comes from me emptying my brain onto the internet…

I Hate Spam

The canned meat food product substitute is okay, and should the world go zombie overnight, you can bet your ass that I will be down at the Safeway hoarding the precious little tins of yummy life sustaining goodness. But when it comes to the internet, I hate Spam.

My blog here isn’t awfully popular. Even so, I get on the order of a hundred spam comments a day. Thankfully, being the slightest of blips on the radar means that my spam filter catches 99.999% of them. Once a week or so, I’ll have a few make it through, and I delete them within a day. One day, if I ever get an audience, I may have to install more protection as Akismet may not be enough. Sadly, it probably won’t matter since there are people like this out there.

Of course, emails are another story. I get over five hundred a day. Again, my filter gets alot of it, but some makes it through every day.

Then there is the joy that is fake websites designed to get you to click ads. Jeff Freeman has a run down of a particular offender related to gaming news.

And finally, there are the people out there who click on this junk… if you need viagra, see a doctor, don’t click a link in an email or on a website. Same goes for all the other drugs… and for loans, go to a bank or other lender, not something from your inbox especially if it is not actually addressed to you! People… PEOPLE! Please… pay attention, be responsible.

Buckwheats for the lot of them.

You`ve been Data Mined!

Over at Broken Toys, Scott has brought up an issue that was the butt of one of Blizzard’s April Fool’s Day gags. How much of a game’s data is public fodder?

Personally, there are only two valid reasons I can see for having the Armory work as it currently does.

  1. Virtual dick measuring. Some people love to compare gear, to lord over others the awesome gear they have. It is naturally inherant in any item-centric game.
  2. Harassment. I, personally, have already had one instance of someone telling me I should be able to solo certain content, then retracting that statement after they pulled up my Armory profile and began telling me how crappy my gear was. And the number of gold and item auction site tells and mails I have gotten has increased.

Honestly, I could do without the dick measuring. There already exists enough of it within the pre-Armory game, but localized to servers. Now you can pull up the inventory (including bags, bank and talent builds) of any character anywhere. Do we really need that?

As for the harassment, sure my story is anecdotal, but that doesn’t make it less true. And if its not being used for this widespread yet, it will.

There is really only one “good” use for this tool, and that is statistic gathering. No game has ever made available (that I know of) this level of character information to the public. But this one good function would not be hurt by allowing players to “opt-anonymous” of the Armory. Show my gear and talents and bank and everything, just keep my name and my guild out of it. That would solve both of the aforementioned problems and have no impact on statistics gathering.

I’d really like to see Blizzard offer this option.

Why I Dislike Oprah

Most of my life I have been a skeptic and a pessimist. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

This is why I dislike Oprah.

I’ve gotten into a bit of a tiff with a friend of mine because I mistakenly used the word “hate” while talking about Oprah, and I appearantly wasn’t clear that my dislike has nothing to do with Oprah Winfrey personally but only with the brand Oprah that she has created. Much the same way I have a dislike for Microsoft, or any large brand.

If you read up on Oprah, she has done some wonderful things with her life, her show, her magazines, her charities… she’s made a few mistakes along the way, most famously is James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces where she and her people didn’t bother to do the minimal background work that thesmokinggun.com did that proved his book was a pile of lies. But, overall, she does good, and that’s why when she suggests or recommends something I give it attention and look into it for myself.

Sounds like I don’t dislike her, right? Let me continue…

Where I start to get uncomfortable is the cult like following that she has engendered and nurtured. There are literally millions of people who will take her at her word and do what she says without thinking for themselves. She says a charity is worth giving to and suddenly that charity gets record donations. She’s probably not wrong, but I am worried by the blind faith that people have… almost the same problem I have with many organized religions. Follow, don’t question.

Is it really her fault? Can she stop people from just doing what she says? No, not really… people like knowing that other people know better, following a strong leader is easier than trying to lead themselves. But what I dislike is that Oprah, as a brand, seeks to gain by maintaining this blind following, and not once have I ever heard her openly state that people should do research on these ideas, books and charities themselves before acting. It would be bad for business to give people advice and in the same breath tell than that you could be wrong and they should really figure it out for themselves.

Most recently, Oprah has funded the building of a school. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. Building the school is clearly a good thing, but to prove a point, I discussed the school with some coworkers, and while all of them said it was good, not one of them could tell me why Oprah felt the school needed to be built beyond “because they needed a school for women.” No one could tell me why that school, why there, why now… all that was lost in the Oprah publicity of the school being built and how great it was.

Along with that, I find I am put off by the fact that she puts her name in the forefront of everything, on everything. I watched one of the TV specials about something she was doing, it may have even been the school, but I completely lost interest because in the ten minutes I watched, Oprah was always center frame, even when she was talking to someone who, in the context of the special, should have been more important than her. With Oprah, it seems that the subject is never “Here is something worth knowing about…” its always “I’m Oprah, and behind me is something worth knowing about…” There is a distinction there that I think is very important.

In this argument with my friend, she brought up other brands (Microsoft, Nike, etc) latching on to the idea that it must be brands that I “hated”, not Oprah. But the truth is, I bring the same skepticism to those brands. I never buy software because its Microsoft, I buy it because I need the functions that it does and from my research it fills my needs. Microsoft Office is a great example, I love the product, but only because I’ve gone down the road of using other software. I’ve installed Star Office and used other email readers, and in the end, after trying dozens of other products, it turns out that Microsoft Office is the one that does everything I need in the best way possible for me. And Nike, well, I’m a skinflint when it comes to shoes and refuse to spend more than $30 for any pair. I’m rough on shoes, and spending $100 for a pair is like throwing money out the window. Again, I’ve done the footwork, pardon the pun, and realized that buying Ocean Pacific sneakers for $19.99 was a much better fit for my lifestyle.

In a way however, these companies are more honest than Oprah, because they are trying to directly sell you on their products… Oprah, on the other hand, is often trying to sell you other people’s work, their books, their deeds, their charities. And while you can look into Oprah’s eyes and see if she is sincere, she has put a layer between you and the product, potentially hiding from you if the original purveyor was sincere, and you have to trust that she has done all the proper background work, which she has shown on occasion that she (or her staff) has not.

So what am I trying to get at with this blog? In the end I suppose the core of it is that I am adverse to any person or group that encourages, actively or passively, people to stop thinking for themselves.

Misguided vs. Wrong

Note: The following post has nothing to do with any particular issue. Its just something I thought of and wanted to put out there.

I am rarely ever wrong.

Now, before you get all upset and fire off a ten page missive about how I am wrong, read on…

If you were to want to borrow my car, and I hand you the keys and tell you “It’s the first white car on the third row.” If you now go and try use my keys to open the door of the second red car on the first row, you are wrong. I gave you the facts, you forgot them or ignored them, you are wrong, and now you are setting off the alarm on someone else’s car. If, however, I were to tell you it was the second red car on the first row when it is really the first white car on the third, when you go to the red car, you are not wrong, you are misguided.

When I get into discussions with people, when I write long blogs here, I do so from the vantage point of everything that I know, every fact that I have… if I am misguided, I expect and appreciate when people show me how I am mistaken, clarify something I don’t understand, or show me the right path. I tend to try to treat others the same way… I try not to slam people when they state things I don’t agree with, I’d much rather get into why we disagree and see if I can learn something from them or teach something to them.

So… if you read anything on this site that you feel is not correct, please, feel free to show me where I have gone awry. I may disagree at first (because obviously I am under the impression that what I know to be true is true), but I’m pretty much always amenable to changing my mind if I can be convinced.

On the other hand, if all you are going to do is say “You’re wrong!” or some other definitive yet unexplanitory statement, don’t bother. If you can’t be bothered to show me where I am misguided, I would rather not be bothered by you at all.

Forewarned is Forearmed

Be careful what you read today
Be careful what you believe
The truth is out to lunch all day
And lies have a reprieve

They may tell you what you want to hear
They may make you want to scream
Do not do anything rash today
Though important it may seem

Double check your sources
And remember to keep your cool
Because you would not want to be
The one who is the fool

The Grapevine

In the last five or so years, I have, despite being employed, always kept my resume updated at a number of job sites. I even occasionally call recruiters I have worked with to get a feel for the marketplace. Most times I am not really looking for a job, but I want to keep my eyes and ears open just in case that opportunity of a lifetime comes by.

The drawback to this is that at least once a week I waste five to ten minutes of my life talking to a recruiter, most of whom really stink at their job. They call, ask if I’m looking for work and then say “We have some really great opportunities that I think you might be a perfect fit for, just email me your resume and I’ll get back to you.” Most of them never get back to me, not even to just say “Hey, got your resume, but it looks like we don’t have anything for you, sorry.” This is why I say they stink.

The recruiters that I stay in touch with are the ones who know how to handle a job candidate. They didn’t just ask for my resume, they asked about my jobs, my work. They took notes, often making recommendations for how I might punch up my resume to get me what I’m looking for. When it comes to sending me on an interview, the good recruiters give me a run down of the company, the people I’ll be talking to, and what I can expect. The bad ones never do that, they just set up the time and say “Call me after so I know how it goes.”

This is where I come to the reason I titled this post “The Grapevine”.

Have you ever played that game as a kid? Where you line up and the person at one end is whispered a couple sentences that convey information, then each person in turn whispers the sentences to the next person in line, and at the end the last person says the sentences out loud and it is compared to the original sentences. Often times its hilarious how much the original content can change as each person relayed what they felt was the most important parts. This, in essence, is often what happened in job recruiting.

A company needs to fill a position, but they don’t feel they have the time to personally sift through applicants and only want to interview the most qualified, so they hire an agency to do the leg work. The company gives a description of the position to the recruiting company contact, who is often times not a recruiter themselves. This person then enters the job requirements into their system, and this is where, I feel, the first errors begin to creep in. The job description will get altered just a little bit to fit the recruiting companies standards, emphasizing key words and phrases, trimming to fit, elaborating out of thin air.

Meanwhile, on the other end, I, the job hunter, builds a resume, trying to outline my skills. I then go to a job website, where I’m forced to break down my resume into key words and phrases for searching. Some times breaking down the resume completely distorts the information.

Now enters the recruiter who searches the job site using the key words from the job description looking for matches. He reads the resume and the requirements and tries to decide if the two marry up well.

The result: 9 out of 10 interviews I go to usually ends up in disaster. Sure, the key words of my resume matched up with the key words of the job description, but the realities of both are completely different. I say I’m a .NET/C# programmer for web applications, the job is looking for someone with .NET/C# experience but for desktop applications and really they don’t use the .NET platform, just the C# language to support old C++ DLLs and COM Interop, but I’m here because my resume and their job description were both boiled down to simply .NET/C# and looked like a perfect match!

There is nothing quite like the feeling of spending ten minutes shooting the shit with someone, getting a feel for the person and liking them, only to start the technical interview and realize that your skillset and their needs are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

And the recruiters always ask “Are you working with any other recruiters?” Yes. Of course I am. With results like these, how can I afford not to?

The Reviews Are In

I love to browse Amazon.com. Every since they improved the hell out of their wish lists and organizer functions, I love looking at the recommended products for both myself and for the people whom I’ve registered gift giving occasions for. (If you haven’t taken advantage of the gift lists and organizer features of Amazon, I suggest you do.) Its kinda neat to see what gets recommended to me and why it got recommended. Is it from stuff on my wish list? Is it from stuff I own? I’ve even been recommended things because of stuff I’ve rated low… it didn’t come out and say it, but basically it was showing me an item because I’d rated “opposite” items with only one star.

Once I’ve found an item that is intriguing to me, I then find myself browsing the reviews of the items. Sometimes you come across some real comedy gems in there, like the now long deleted review of the xbox 360 where it overheated setting the house on fire and killed his family but he gave it a 5 star rating because up to that point the games were really fun. But mostly, I spent my time actually reading the bad reviews of items.

Frankly, I could not care less about the opinions of someone who thinks that the product is the best thing since sliced bread, because… well… a gushing “my god this is awesome!!!!!1!1!!!!!” review just doesn’t help. So instead I sort the reviews from lowest to highest rated, and start reading in the gutter. The negative reviews are so much more helpful. Firstly, its easier to spot a negative nutjob than to spot a crazy product lover. “I bought this book and it had pages!! You mean I have to read it myself?!?!” Second, once you’ve decided the reviewer isn’t a nutjob, you can focus in on what exactly they didn’t like and decide if you also will not like it, which is often more beneficial than trying to align your tastes with someone’s positive review, mostly because people who love something tend to be willing to overlook flaws… flaws which to you might be very important.

Anyway, those are my random thoughts of the day…