Monday, December 30, 2013

Apparently, the future is a pluperfect hell.

As part of an email conversation recently, I was directed to a video on YouTube, titled "The Future of CX". CX is apparently shorthand for "Customer Experience", and while the video purports to show how wonderful things will be in the future, it is in fact a vision of uncounted ways to get things horribly wrong. It begins poorly, and only gets worse from then on. But, before I viciously deconstruct precisely WHY it's horrendous, you ought to watch the video. Here it is, and below the jump I will unsheathe the claws.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I got one heck of a productive day made today, despite starting off with a serious whack to the noggin. My anti-anxiety medication had been getting slightly less effective, so my psychiatrist suggested I switch from taking it without food to taking it with food (active stomach means greater absorbed dose - this particular medication states in the accompanying material that you need to pick one and stick with it, and since it had been without food in the psych ward, that's how I'd been taking it) and the breakfast dose made me lightheaded and shaky for a couple hours. I wound up having to snap myself out of an anxiety attack (using a technique I figured out from talking with my therapist, who's very good at giving me ideas that I can work out the techniques from; she specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy, and I understand that part of that discipline is getting the patient to think they worked it out on their own) but then I got on with the day and was absurdly productive. Grocery shopping, mostly produce (when a 15lb bag of spuds is $5, compared to $4.50 for 10lb or $3.25 for 5lb, it doesn't make sense to buy anything but the 15lb bag), and then I got laundry done, got a couple meals made up, had to take over baby care for the LA for a decent chunk of the afternoon, and ran more errands to finish the day off. Somewhere amongst all this, I also found time to finish the book I'd been reading, despite not feeling like I'd had two minutes to myself.

Monday, November 25, 2013


The LA and I are still around. It's just that most of the time we're either caring for a baby, or taking a well-earned break from such duties. The baby is doing magnificently; she's up almost a pound from her birth weight, and well ahead of her developmental milestones. Things have been a little more difficult for the LA and me, though. The reason is a little personal, so it's going behind a link.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I feel like I'm not doing my share...

I'm feeling like I'm not shouldering my full share of the burden, and so does the LA. We've been gently dropped into the deep end, and we're learning rapidly how to keep Munchkin happy at home (the answer so far: give her a swaddling she can fight her way out of, change her diaper often, and feed her far more than you ever imagined necessary) and how to stop worrying and love the gurgles. I'm still in the mild panic at every noise stage, but Munchkin is a noisy sleeper, so my brain will have to develop a filter to distinguish important noises from charming little baby snores.

We brought her home yesterday, and the cats are working on figuring her out. Sheba has gotten to smell her, and is probably well on her way to conspiring with her, while Graham is being a stereotypical nervous-father type. He panics at every noise, and is constantly hovering on the sidelines wishing he had the nerve to help.

We're both too shattered to cook anything worth eating. Fortunately, we have friends who know the score, and we can cope with other people cooking for a while. The sole exception is my morning porridge; what I make isn't a patch on my dad's porridge, but it beats the heck out of anyone else's. I think that's the case with anyone who likes porridge; theirs is the second-best, whoever introduced them makes the best, and anyone else is a distant third...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Books I miss, or would like to miss.

While in general the selection of books in the US is good, there are some I've been having great difficulty finding. Therefore, if you're stuck for a gift idea for me, and you run across any of these, feel free to consider them. I'm very much in favour of secondhand books, so long as no pages fall out and nobody's been at them with a highlighter.

Barry M. Hughart, The Story of the Stone; this is the middle one in a trilogy, the ends of which I have. I don't know how available it is worldwide, but it's in the "duelling algorithms, silly money" state on Amazon in the US, which means people aren't selling copies.

Goscinny & Uderzo, trans. Bell & Hockridge, Asterix (series); these comics were a major element of my childhood, and I'd love my daughter to have access to them as well. Besides, I can now read them as an adult and understand far more of the jokes than I used to.

Lindsey Davis, M. Didius Falco series; so far, I've seen ONE of these excellent historical-comedy-detective novels this side of the Atlantic. Naturally, I snapped it up, but it was Venus in Copper, and I'd forgotten most of the details of The Silver Pigs and Shadows in Bronze. I'd love to re-read, and indeed to continue reading after I left off (which I think was somewhere around Last Act In Palmyra), and besides, Amazon tells me that the US covers are terrible. No character at all, nothing to draw the eye, and no relation to any events within. Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but I would suggest that a good cover is a particular necessity when dealing with unconventional content.

Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2033; this one is translated from Russian, and distinctly dark. It's since been turned into a very interesting computer game.

Friday, October 18, 2013

We're a little bit busy.

The LA and I are currently in the local hospital. Well, one of at least four I can think of off the top of my head; this one is shiny and new, and ever so concerned about security. They're also very concerned about patient care, which is good. You see, the LA is a patient. I am in a strange sort of state wherein I have elevated visiting privileges; I've actually been sleeping in the hospital the past few nights, but I'm not under any sort of care and they won't feed me at all. I do, however, have an identifying wristband. The reason for this is simple: the LA is now a mother. And yes, this does make me a new father. I've been wandering around with the beatifically shellshocked expression common to such men, mostly wearing the Cthulhu-feet novelty slippers the LA gave me for giftmas a few years ago.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Some musings on Mass Effect's gameplay changes.

The Mass Effect series is noted as having a jarring gameplay change between the first two games. In the first game, your various firearms never run out of ammunition; they instead build up heat with each shot fired, and if this heat hits a certain threshold they deactivate for a few seconds to cool down. This eliminates one piece of tiresome bookkeeping from the game (sadly, many remain, and the interface is not generally of the highest quality) and fits in well with the space opera theme. Below the fold, there will be spoilers, as if that matters...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A surprisingly big step...

Things have been humming along quite rapidly of late. The LA's work schedule has been interesting, and for one reason and another she's currently not driving much if at all. Since my car is currently on limited service pending the replacement of the tailpipe (which, having been bent by backing into a kerb by the previous owner, was always going to fail first) which began shedding chunks the other day, her lack of driving isn't a major imposition; it merely means I'm driving her car, a Prius v. The Prius is a perfectly sensible car, and frankly rather boring; it never does anything hoon-worthy, and being front-wheel-drive, is less than wonderful in twisty bits. My favourite freeway exit is less amusing in the Prius than the Volvo, since the Volvo allows me to steer using my right foot; the Prius is boringly stuck to the road.

Anyway, things have been going along at such a clip that merely ferrying the LA back and forth to work has been accounting for many spoons (essentially, two commutes daily; another reason to drive the Prius, especially since I've developed the ability to exceed the EPA-listed fuel economy in just about any car I drive) and such things as washing the cars have been pushed to the back burner. Yesterday, though, it rained, for the morning, and that resulted in two things; first, I cleaned out the problem gutter, it having been left uncleaned since last year. It turns out that I can confidently state there were about 5 years' worth of autumns in there before; it was MUCH less clogged this year, and I left it as sparkling as was possible given its internal rust. We shall have to replace it at some point, and make sure the replacement is properly painted internally. The second result of the rain was to wash off the dust and pollen from our cars, and while they're not squeaky clean, they ARE now mostly clean.

And that led to the LA deciding to put the Baby On Board magnet into the Prius. She also had me fit the base into which the car seat clips; this was very simple, since I'd actually read the instructions. Set the correct angle, clip the LATCH connectors onto the hardpoints (for those of you in Europe, that corresponds mostly to ISOFIX; they're not exactly identical, but they are largely compatible) and then set a knee on it, force it into the seat, and haul on the tightening strap as though you're hoisting the mainsail. It's solidly connected, which means our impending daughter does have at least one safe transport option once she arrives. She's still due on the LA's birthday (one day before my mother's birthday; what is it with me and women with late-November births?) but if she shows up a little early, we can at least bring her home in safety.

We've also begun packing our hospital bag. The usual toiletries, changes of clothes, device chargers, and so on. We've figured out how best to drive to the hospital, which routes to take and how hard I can get away with hammering the loud pedal at each stage; for that journey, fuel economy will be a non-issue. I've decided to make sure both cars have plenty of fuel at all times, so there's one less thing to worry about.

Going back to the status of my car, the replacement tailpipe is on its way from a warehouse on the other side of the country, since Volvo USA have decided that exhaust parts for cars old enough to vote aren't worth selling. Given my prejudices' incompatibility with the range of Volvos available in the US currently (I dislike turbochargers, front-wheel-drive, and the practice of lifting the suspension of a car six inches and covering half of the bodywork with plastic in order to pretend it's an SUV; Volvo don't sell a damned thing without a turbo, they're effectively all front-wheel-drive, and the only estate they sell now has been lifted and clad) I suspect they're trying to lose me as a customer. Such is life; I shall look for a well-paying job, as the vehicle which most closely matches my preferences on the US market right now is a BMW.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The benefits of cheating

Yesterday, I was in the grocery store, looking at the packets of spices for making various things. some of these, I consider cheating; the "Mexican Rice" packets, for example. That, I can do myself; fry the rice to start with, add cumin, dump in chicken stock and sieved tomato, and then just let it cook. No need to pay far more money for a packet mix that won't taste as good.

Tacos, though, I cheat on. I buy the spice mixes for those, just to make it less fiddly with flour and suchlike. That was why I was looking at the packets. But as I looked, and saw the "Mexican Rice" packets, I remembered that it was a long time since I'd made anything using rice. Then I had an idea; instead of the somewhat boring dinner I had planned, I would instead make some chicken, in a nice mildly spiced sauce, and serve it with rice. I already had everything needed for that.

So I started cooking somewhat aimlessly; this was going to be distinctly experimental. Fry off the roughly cubed chicken and some back bacon, with garlic and onion; add "Enchilada Sauce" spice packet, which is mostly flour with some cumin and paprika; add sieved tomatoes and a decent amount of water. Then I started reducing it; about halfway through, I realised it wasn't going to be sticky enough for my tastes, so I made up a little ooblick to thicken it (cornstarch and water) and added that in, then kept it on the heat, boiling down. It ended up being fairly similar to my "bolognese" sauce, but it definitely tasted Mexican; I'd have been very happy with it as a main course at a Mexican restaurant. The sauce was thick, sticky, and delicious, the chicken was meltingly tender, and it went perfectly with the rice.

And all because I sometimes cheat, and sometimes don't. Cheating on tacos led me to the rack; refusing to cheat on rice caused an idea to sprout, that turned into a very good meal to add to the repertoire.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A guide for the confused

Let's talk about intellectual property for a while. Now, before we go any further, I must note that I am NOT a lawyer (I merely sleep with one) and CANNOT and WILL NOT offer any kind of legal advice. Everything I say here is liable to be incorrect. Do not rely on it. If something I discuss is relevant to you, do your own research and talk to a lawyer.

I'm also going to skate over the discussion of whether intellectual property is a valid concept.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


At the third try, with me actually putting in an order, I finally got the correct wiring harness. To give the vendor their due, they refunded the cost of that order; my final total paid was the same as if they'd sent me the right wires in the first place.

So yesterday afternoon, I sat in a lawn chair and exercised my crimping skills to make a wiring harness. It ended up a yard long, almost unbelievable to think that it would disappear into my dashboard. But, disappear it did, after I'd removed various pieces to expose the necessary connections. As a side note, if I ever find the chap who decided the connections to the rear speakers of my car should be made above the driver's left knee, I would advise him to call for an ambulance immediately; the sheer volume of shouting I intend to direct at him will likely burst his eardrums!

This oddly-located connection meant that I was upside down, laying across the door sill of my car (thankfully I'd found our one-step hop-up to support the parts of me outside the car) with my head in the footwell, one hand reaching deeply into the radio recess with the plug in hand, and the other hand attempting to sneak into the space just above the kick panel to get a hold of the plug to pull it through. Once I'd got it through, I decided to bite the bullet and commit; I lopped off the old plug to pull that harness out. Then it was simply a case of making sure all the remaining connections were solid, and reassembling the dash, and I could reconnect the battery and try it out.

My car now speaks iPod. As a bonus, the new stereo sticks out less than the old one.

I shan't be installing a new stereo any time soon, though. If it becomes necessary, I'll have a professional do it; I found the experience rather painful in multiple ways, not unlike being a combination contortionist and OB/GYN to a box of dull knives.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The saga continues

I still don't have a new stereo in my car.

I called the vendor, explained what had gone wrong, and the nice chap on the other end of the phone got things sorted out to send me a harness adaptor. Unfortunately, despite my giving him the correct part numbers... but that's getting ahead of myself. The first thing was timing. He reckoned that sending it via standard shipping would have it here by August 2nd, which was last Friday. Friday and Saturday passed with no sign of it, and I'd given up hope this morning when I decided "Screw it, I'll just plain BUY the correct one, and return it if I end up with two."

Well, I'm not going to end up with two. The situation is that there are two potential stereo harness adaptors for a 1994 Volvo 940, and which one is correct depends on which stereo was fitted at the factory. I need one that we'll call Type A, since it's the older version; the vendor's website offered me a Type B, and hid the Type A's existence. I was pretty sure when I got off the phone that I had a Type A on the way, but it failed to arrive as scheduled and I had no tracking information.

And so, I was a little annoyed when the Big Brown Truck Of Where Is My Stuff pulled up, and the driver hit the doorbell and ran. At least he hit the doorbell; UPS has a less-than-stellar record in achieving that. Anyway, I opened the large envelope, and found... well, let's call it a Type Q. I have no idea what vehicles it fits, but I can assure you that mine is not among the set; it's described as being for some vehicles from 1999 onwards.

So I shall wait a week or so for the correct harness, and in the meantime this one will go back to the vendor, since it's not for me.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Things never go smooth. Why can't things ever go smooth?

I've been becoming more and more frustrated with the distinctly low-end aftermarket stereo in my car, and decided finally to replace it. Picked out a nice Kenwood, ordered it and what they were certain was the right harness adaptor from Crutchfield. It took a week to get the package, and when I had it I went out, looked, and from the view I had through the slot in the dashboard, it all looked good to go. So I pulled out the wire strippers, and the crimper, and with a merry chorus of clicking noises I connected up the wiring harness adaptor. That done, I decided to just install the new stereo and be done with it.

So I pulled out the old one, pulled on the wires, and... wait a moment. That's the wrong plug. There's no second plug. This is the wrong harness adaptor. So, now I'm out $15 because their website was wrong. There'd been a review mentioning that this might not be the right adaptor for a 1994, but I'd trusted them.

Turns out, the reviewer was right. I needed the other adaptor, which the website didn't even show me until I searched by the part number he'd given, and which the website insists won't fit my car. Sorry, website, but I'm rather more inclined to trust the actual wires and plugs under my dashboard.

So now, I have two options. I can either whomp up another set of splices in the wiring I have, or I can telephone the people who sold me the stereo, and explain to them that their website steered me wrong, and I need the other harness adaptor. It turns out, you see, that which harness adaptor is needed depends on which of the two options for a factory stereo Volvo installed, and I didn't know which stereo my car had had since it was long gone when I bought it. I'm definitely inclined to telephone them and say that they really ought to have both options shown, since their unwarranted certainty caused me issues.

In the meantime, I shall continue with the declining stereo that's fitted. It mostly works.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Releasing the feline

As you know, since I've been harping on about it, the LA and I are expecting our first child. We've been awaiting today rather anxiously, or at least I have; today was the 20 week anatomy scan, since the sprog is now expected to be large enough to count fingers, check for presence of kidneys, and so on. As it turns out, like the vast majority of pregnancies, ours is proceeding normally; there are no gross abnormalities, and it already looks like the poor child will be saddled with a rather axe-like nose. Both the LA and I tend towards the larger end of the scale in that department, with long straight noses.

The kid was active, yet cooperative; the check went very smoothly. I'd post a picture, but all they provided were some "3D" shots which, frankly, look like nothing so much as a half-melted candle; the old-fashioned 2D pictures are much easier to interpret.

And now for the big news. Once we got home, it was just about within the acceptable time window for calling my mother, and so she was the first family member to get the news: we are expecting a girl. I'd been watching the screen, and thanks to some pointers from friends who've been through it before, I had some idea what I was looking for; I was pretty sure we were dealing with a daughter even before the tech confirmed it.

While we don't have any illusions of being able to entirely avoid pink, frilly things, we'd like to request that if there's a choice, you please lean towards the version which isn't pink. There will be plenty of pink, you need not add to it!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Not the finest of vehicles...

As previously noted, the LA and I are expecting a child. One of the many consequences thereof is that the hitherto merely undersized bed we'd been sharing rapidly became far too small, and so we wanted a larger one. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately with respect to the forthcoming sprog and its inevitable deleterious effect on finances, we were both raised with deeply ingrained habits of frugality, and effectively throwing away a nearly-new bed sat ill with those habits.

Enter the LA's parents, who had a somewhat larger bed which they were not using. One size up, from a "Full" to a "Queen", would be a significant improvement, and would also result in a better-sized guest bed for the inlaws. And so it came to pass that I arranged with a couple of friends that I'd rent a U-haul van, they'd help me hump the heavy stuff, and we'd swap them.

I hadn't known when I arranged this that one of said friends is currently sans driver's license, for petty reasons, and so I had to detour to collect him as the first step in this. Once he was in the van with me, we repaired to my home, and got the mattress, box spring, and headboard into the van. Once we were done with that, the second assistant arrived, and we convoyed to the inlaws', since the van only had two seats. Whatever happened to bench seats? It's not as though there wasn't ample space, with the column shifter and foot parking brake; but no, silly captain's chairs it was. Once at the inlaws', we found our first real snag: the frame we'd all blithely assumed could be adjusted for a full... couldn't. Into the van it went, then, and with bed F at the inlaws, disassembled, and bed Q in the van, it was back home.

Reassembling the bed was easy enough, and with that I bid farewell to my assistants and returned the van to whence it came, with great relief. I'd appreciated the very high seating position (with my long torso, I was able to look straight over full-sized SUVs; quite the change from my usual position in a car!) and I'd enjoyed the oomph provided by the big, lazy V8 I was sat over, but everything else had been rather terrible. Once I had my car again, I took myself home and knocked down our adjustable frame; it came apart into three long pieces, two of which required the ski hole in my car's backseat, and then it was time to reassemble bed F. That done, having found out that my MIL had not been using a waterproof mattress cover, I took a trip to Target for a waterproof one (with a baby on the way, it's mildly to moderately essential) and finally came home, to finish dressing the bed and then take a shower.

After all those shenanigans, I was in no fit state to cook, and we headed off to one of our regular Italian eateries; having managed to miss lunch entirely, I was running on fumes and needed good solid peasant cooking. Plenty of pasta. Shortly after we were served, who should sit in the next booth but one of my erstwhile assistants and his wife! So there was an amusing end to a very strenuous and remarkably satisfying day.

Of course, I'll be unable to sensibly comment on the comfort of the "new" bed tonight. After a day like that, I could sleep on a freshly felled oak.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Don't release your coding exercises

Things have been distinctly complex for the LA and I of late. We're rearranging the house, because we have a child on the way (and a swap with the LA's parents arranged such that we end up with a larger bed; I shall document the inevitable tribulations thereof once it's happened), the LA's grandfather recently passed away, and to while away the inevitable downtime on that trip, we bought a nook e-reader for me. I still keep calling it an e-book, because it's an electronic thing that I use like a book, but that's beside the point. The point is that it has one of those fancy electronic ink displays, which means that keeping a static image on the screen uses the same power as blanking it: none whatsoever. This leads to it having screensavers; I'd rather not have the portraits of authors one on there, and the built-in "nature" one rather wore on me after a while, between limited images and some less than wonderful conversions from colour to B&W photos. It's not as simple as desaturating it until it's black and white!

And so I availed myself of Flickr's Commons feature, which is a huge collection of copyright-unencumbered images. They're too old for copyright, they're US Government produced, they've been released into the public domain... whatever the reason, they're suitable for use without infringement concerns. Many of them are low resolution, but the spec size for screensaver images is 600x800 pixels, which is definitely low resolution in this day and age. And so, I searched for "ship" and found a veritable cornucopia of monochrome images.

Unfortunately, Flickr has recently given itself a short-notice redesign, about which I'm distinctly unhappy. The old interface was clean, uncluttered, and fast. The new interface is busy, and relies so heavily on JavaScript that it requires a high-speed connection and a ridiculously powerful computer to run, and that very slowly. The heavy scripting also makes it fragile, and prone to crashing browsers. It also allows them to use one of the great annoyances of the scripting age of the Internet: so-called infinite scrolling.

Back in the days before scripting took over, content was divided into pages. Often, these pages would be larger than would fit on one screen, and so one would scroll. Vertically, for preference; horizontal scrolling is regarded as evil by most denizens of the net. When one reached the end of a page, on to the next page, and so on. It wasn't really possible to keep adding on a little bit more to the end of the page. Now, we see two extremes when it comes to content delivery. The first is prevalent among newspaper websites: divide the content into tiny chunks, and have each paragraph on its own page, to make the user ignore as many ads as possible. The second is common on social networking sites: just keep adding a little bit more to the bottom of the page, every time the user reaches it. This is "infinite scrolling", and it's a truly hideous misfeature.

Why is it a misfeature? Several reasons. Firstly, it demands heavy scripting, and places lots of demand on both the client and the server; the client for rendering, the server for fetching data. This makes it slow and clunky to use. Second, it breaks user expectations; by now, we're used to pages having a bottom. Third, it can render important aspects of the site unreachable; any website which uses a footer (such as Twitter) will be broken by infinite scroll, as the footer runs away from the user. Fourth, it's fragile and breaks the ability to share links; a browser crash in a paginated interface will, when recovered from, return the user to roughly where he was when the browser crashed. An infinite scroll interface doesn't have this ability. A paginated interface will allow the user to share a link to a given page of search results; an infinite scroll interface won't allow that. It's still possible to share a link to a single result, but there are times when context is necessary or just pleasant to have.

So, while I'm very happy that you've figured out how to make this thing happen, and you can reasonably be proud of yourself for doing so, please stop using it in the wild. It's the wrong tool for presenting search results.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More on EA, and free services.

I've said before, as have many other people, that if you're not paying for a service (such as Twitter or Facebook) and sometimes even if you are (such as cable television) then you are not the customer; you are the product. To cable TV providers, there are multiple products flowing in each direction; your eyeballs are the primary product, but they also see the scheduled programming to get you to watch the ads as a product. This attitude is actually somewhat characteristic of middlemen; there's some customer nature and some product nature on both sides of whatever deal they're in the middle of.

And that's where EA sits: as a middleman. The games they produce are a product; the sales we generate by buying those games are the product that EA sells to the developers, and that essentially means that we're product to EA as well. An intangible product, and that's where the trouble arises.

Normally, with a tangible product, it's both easy to determine damage and costly to incur damage in the delivery of the product. This means that the suppliers of that product will go to great lengths to avoid damaging the product; enormous amounts of expanded polystyrene stand testament to that. Intangible products seem to get no such care. Twitter will change its user experience radically, with no warning, resulting in disaffection among users; this is damage to the product, because a disgruntled person who's shown an ad will be FAR less inclined to click through than would a happy person. Facebook does similar things, to a greater extent due to its more pervasive nature, and yet advertisers will continue to buy its product. EA will make decisions which annoy buyers of games, making them reluctant to do business with EA, because EA haven't yet figured out that this is essentially damaging one of their products deliberately.

I've no great objection to being an intangible product, but I would like it if the various companies selling me as such would wise up and try to avoid damaging their product. My doctor would no doubt be much happier with my stress levels, and the LA would find me far less irritable!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why EA is unpopular.

After the horrible mess that was the launch of Sim City, and all the fallout from that, combined with the stepping down of its CEO, EA seems to be in a pretty nasty fix. It's clearly hurting, and worse, gamers don't like it. EA can't quite figure out why, but I have my ideas.

Let's look at that in detail. To do that, we have to understand what EA is, and is not.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I don't know how to answer...

So, the usual thing happened: the long weekend was DunDraCon, and I attended. Thing is, like last year, I only attended for one day; there just wasn't enough of a value proposition for me to attend more than that. The trouble is that I won't even bother trying to get into any games there.

Let me explain. My first DunDraCon was four years ago, and I went for a weekend pass. I did online games registration, and I lucked out; I got into my first choice of game for the first slot. That was a blast, thanks to Sean Nittner's excellent work in getting the situation complicated. If you ever get the chance to play the Burning Wheel scenario The Gift, do so, and if it's Sean running it, be VERY glad!

What I didn't realise at the time was I was lucky as hell. See, DunDraCon has a game assignment system which uses a random number generator to  decide who gets to be in which game. This means you've got no guarantee of getting into any game at ALL, never mind the one you want to play in.

Ryan Macklin has outlined his problems with the shuffler system more eloquently than I can. Suffice it to say: I don't even try to get into games at DunDraCon any more. I don't even attend KublaCon, because it also uses a shuffler, and doesn't have as attractive a seminar track. I attend DunDraCon mainly for the City Building seminar that tends to happen on the Saturday, and whatever other panels Kenneth Hite happens to be on, since he's always worth listening to and potentially debating with.

But the survey asks how satisfied I am with how the system works. There isn't a box for "not applicable" or "broken as designed". My only real option is to keep on complaining on the publicly accessible internet and not paying for a full weekend pass. They could make almost twice as much money from me; but until the shuffler is removed, I simply don't see enough value in paying for the whole weekend; it's better for me to wait until the seminar track is visible and then plan to pay at the door on that day. I wouldn't save any money by pre-registering (and that means the con misses out on getting my money early, with attendant problems) and so it's just not worth it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Zero Sink Rate

With a title like that, you might expect this to be about glider technology - I mean, gliders are pretty awesome, right? I know I'd love to try it. But no, this is about kitchen management, and the fact that a kitchen is a system in which cooking is only one part.

In my last post, I mentioned a tendency to get behind on cleaning up after meals, and the knock-on effects that had on future meals. That got me thinking, and I came up with some rules for myself to keep my kitchen more usable.

Rule 1: Making a meal includes cleaning up. If I have enough spoons to cook, but know that I will run out before I've cleaned up after it, I don't have enough spoons to make a meal. The easiest time to get pans clean is right after use; if I let them sit, I'm making work. I'm stealing spoons from myself and throwing them away. So the only valid reason for the pans from a meal not being cleaned up is the meal still going on, whether in active eating or conversation.

Rule 2: Thou shalt not soak. This one isn't quite rigid; if I screw up, there might be carbon that doesn't want to come off. That's acceptable, but I have to have made a genuine effort to remove it before resorting to soaking, and I MUST make a genuine effort to remove it each time I enter the kitchen until it's gone. The same goes for peanut butter jars (the LA loves it), which do require soaking to soften the peanut butter; but each time I enter the kitchen while one is soaking, I have to get it half-full with water and shake the dickens out of it to knock the tenacious stuff off the sides.

Rule 3: Drip-dry is fine. Sit dry is not. What this means is that once pans are dry, they should be put away at the first opportunity. That way, when the time comes to cook again, I know where they are. I don't have to waste spoons on remembering which pans are next to the sink and which are in the cupboard.

Rule 4: Load the dishwasher. The LA and I both have the bad habit of setting plates, glasses and the like on the counter rather than in the dishwasher. In the LA's case, it's because she knows I'm particular about how the dishwasher is loaded (engineer brain working out the optimal stacking for cat dishes, how to keep can covers restrained, and so on) but in my case it's purely and simply a bad habit. I'm aiming to break it.

Rule 5: Unload the Dishwasher. This is the automated version of Rule 3. In the dishwasher's case, it's fine to wait for it to cool down (attempting to remove a plate right after the cycle finishes will erase fingerprints, and hurts even my notably heat-resistant hands) but then, put stuff away rather than letting it sit.

I'm not necessarily doing well at following these rules - but I do want to let them guide my actions and decisions, and I want to make them public for anyone else who's having trouble with keeping their kitchen usable.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The insidious cycle

As you probably know, I'm one of those people who suffers from chronic pain. I have arthritis, I'm currently dealing with a knee injury, and it all adds up. This limits what I can do, both from a physical capability perspective (sitting cross-legged on the floor is not within my capabilities, unless you're going to pay for the necessary painkillers and a hefty guy to haul my carcass back upright) and from an available resources perspective; I simply don't have enough spoons. Do read that piece, if you haven't already, and then come back.

It's the lack of spoons that leads to the insidious cycle in the title. It's common for me to have enough spoons to cook a good dinner, but run out of spoons (having been sure to reserve enough to go to bed) before I can finish dealing with the mess generated by it. So now I have dirty pots and pans sitting in the kitchen, waiting for me to deal with them. This is somewhat daunting mentally, and of course requires spoons. So now, the next dinner is a higher spoon project than the one I did last time, because I have to clean things up before I can start it. And then I run out of spoons before getting ANY of it cleared up. The vicious cycle means that even though I might have enough spoons to cook, I don't have enough spoons to make dinner, because of the prerequisite tasks. Life is unfair like that, and this disproportionately affects sufferers from chronic conditions.

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that chronic pain and depression are linked. They have very similar effects on life activities, albeit by somewhat different mechanisms, and having dealt with them both at one time or another, I honestly don't know which sucks less. Both take (potentially) mind-altering drugs to treat, and that makes people wary of treating them. I worry about addiction and tolerance every single time I need to take a painkiller, and frequently argue myself out of taking painkillers even if the pain is too intense to stand.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Please, tell me what I'm missing.

I posted about this on Google+ yesterday, but my blog reaches a slightly different audience, and this is something I really do want engagement on.

The long and short of it is, I don't understand why Bioware is held in such high esteem. I'd like people to tell me about Bioware games; tell me what's good about them, what was not so good about them, and why I may or may not be missing out. I have played some Bioware games (and I'll discuss that in more detail once comments start coming in; I don't want to be swamped by arguments of "you're wrong about this", when what I asked for is "this is why it's good") and I'm willing to listen to reason.

I have been impressed, largely, with the technical aspects. Bioware has been good at squishing bugs; better than the average by a long way. But debugging doesn't make a game great; some of the best games I've played have been excellent despite bugs aplenty.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The well was poisoned

One of the ways in which I fill my time is by watching Spoiler Warning. Spoiler Warning is an internet-based video series wherein one of the participants is playing through a computer game, and the remainder are heckling him, backseat driving, and talking about something else entirely while he does so. This mess is then cut into episodes and put on YouTube for the enjoyment of the masses.

So far, this setup has worked well. I watched playthroughs of all three Mass Effect games, and noted that they changed massively in play, tone, and writing quality; and felt no desire to bother playing through myself. I watched a playthrough of Fallout 3, in which the game was roundly eviscerated for its flaws of writing and plot, but the bugs I saw told me that I would enjoy the game - and when I bought it, I did indeed enjoy it. When they reached Deus Ex Human Revolution, I had been refusing to buy the game; their showcasing of the game showed me that the objectionable parts were FAR outweighed by the parts I found excellent, and I bought the game. Their single episode on Team Fortress 2 made me realise that it was something I could find fun; and when they covered Half-Life 2, that got me to re-activate my dormant Steam account so that I could re-play it.

I've enjoyed games vicariously through them; and I've been reminded of what I loved about games by them.

And then The Walking Dead came along. People had been saying very complimentary things about this game; the team at Spoiler Warning thought it was good enough to roll straight into a season without the traditional couple of weeks' break. I saw gameplay I would enjoy; I saw writing I would savour; and what I didn't see was the hideous mess that is the broken save system. I bought it; I played it, briefly; and I threw it at the wall in utter disgust at the betrayal of its potential. I was so disgusted, in fact, that I opened a ticket with Steam support stating that as designed, it was a defective product; and I did receive a refund of the money I'd spent on it. Steam doesn't give refunds except in very unusual circumstances, so I shall definitely be asking more probing questions regarding future purchases.

However, I have until now enjoyed all the Spoiler Warning seasons. This includes the ones featuring games I would not expect to find fun to play. I'm no longer enjoying the current season, though; the sour taste from my disgust with the game itself has seeped through, and even as the trademark heated discussions, sidetracking, and (so far as is possible) chaotic stupidity on the part of the player character continue, I'm finding almost no desire to watch the new episodes. Meanwhile, the old episodes of Fallout 3, being released onto YouTube after the original video host for said season decided they didn't like having content, are dragging me back; but The Walking Dead provokes at best a listless response, and at worst active dislike.

This is their tenth full game, though, and they've covered numerous other games in specials, one-off streams (multiple times, said streams have induced me to buy games by showing me what can be done in them), so they're running a better than 90% success rate in entertaining me, and I don't blame them for what The Walking Dead did to me. Whatever Season 11 turns out to be, I'll watch it.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Tale of Two Videos

CD Projekt RED recently released their teaser trailer for the upcoming computer game Cyberpunk 2077, and unfortunately ignited a firestorm with it. The video, and my thoughts regarding it (along with the reason for the cryptic post title) are below the jump.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to make it worse

One of the local cities is in a bit of a deadlock with its employees. The employees are underpaid, and the city claims it's broke. An independent arbitrator recommended the city shut up and give its employees a 12.5% raise. Twelve and a half percent annual increase. That's, frankly, unheard-of; but it might actually increase the wages' purchasing power to what it used to be.

See, the official measure of inflation leaves out a lot of things that have gone up a lot faster. Stuff like medical care (a lion I don't care to poke with a stick right now) and the price of housing. So while there may have been so-called "cost of living" increases (although that's by no means certain), they won't have kept pace with the actual cost of living, based as they are on a bogus measure. So the purchasing power of the city employees' wages has declined.

And what do people do when they have less purchasing power? Even in the days of doing everything on credit and hang the future, they buy less stuff. This means less sales tax for the city, which puts a hole in the budget, leading to no pay increases, and so reduced purchasing power and oh look, we have a vicious cycle because people are scared of shared deficits (personal deficits, they're fine with, but try sharing them and people will scream bloody murder) and so the public sector employees are acting as a drag on the economy.

Now, if you increase a typical working stiff's take-home, what's he going to do? Dollars to donuts he'll buy a huge television, and boy howdy does that carry some sales tax. Then he'll buy a blu-ray player, some games consoles, a whole bunch of movies in HD, and he'll re-up his cable which also feeds revenue to the city. And suddenly, by increasing your workers' wages, you've made a massive increase in your revenue, and you can afford the increased wages. It is impossible to cut your way to prosperity. It's been tried, over and over, and it has completely failed on every occasion.

So while 12.5% may be taking the piss, a pay freeze is one of the worst ideas around for recessions. It makes the recession last longer, because the economy is driven by consumer demand. And when there's no slack in the consumers' budgets, they don't provide that demand, and we have a stagnant economy. All of this is simple logic...