Friday, April 29, 2005

A Better Day

Attitude Adjustment

The evening after the horrible afternoon I spoke of in my last entry, I bought myself I bottle of wine and kicked back on the ol' meditation cushion for awhile to get some perspective back.

I mean seriously... getting this worked up over something so essentially silly is, well, silly. I think this tends to happen to anyone when they work somewhere for awhile: you start to get tunnel vision at work, and perspective starts to narrow quite a bit. You really have to make an effort to remember that it only helps to worry about things over which you have control. When you answer to a boss at work, you don't have 100% of the control.

My mood has also been helped by working on the project I really want to be working on today, tightening up the code and making the libraries I've been building more reusable. This was mostly just moving functionality around, but it is always fun to look back on a huge volume of code you've written and make it better. It's a lot like rereading an old poem you wrote and tightening a few lines here and there.

Breaking Up the Band

Speaking of writing, I had been working on an original D&D campaign setting for the last couple of years with some friends, but the group dissolved about a month ago for a variety of reasons. But the experience served to remind me of two difficult lessons that are applicable in a lot places:

1) It is hard to work with others, because compromising isn't fun
2) There is a critical point where new ideas start to become detrimental to any project because they keep it from moving forward

The aforementioned group has been essentially split in half and I find myself in both camps, now apparently working on both projects. But I'm not sure how this split will actually solve either one of these problems. People may make fun of management types, but if you put a bunch of creative people in a room to work together and one of them isn't in charge, you might never get out of there with anything concrete. Even if they don't have the title of "manager", there has to be at least an unspoken arrangement whereby final decisions end up getting made by one person... all the neat, abstract ideas in the world don't put a product in somebody's hands.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Tough Day

Anyone ever agreed to "help out" someone on a project, and then next thing they know it's THEIR project?

This has happened to me with this pretty poor application in the last couple of weeks, and yesterday was a particularly bad afternoon as the realization came that this piece of junk was starting to become MY piece of junk, if it hasn't already.

This app just doesn't have a solid design. It's using decode tables and config files for the SAME information, so when you have to make changes you have to make them in two places.. the first sign that you've screwed something up when you wrote the app. Not only that, this thing operates outside our company firewall and is exposed to the big bad internet, and we do not have an adequate test region to try out any changes we make to things on the external web. In other words, I'm coding without a safety net.

Hopefully today will be better, but this piece of junk needs to be replaced. There's just no way to salvage it. I can keep putting band aids on it, but if I do that it's never going to go away. The problem is that it is a typical response for a developer to say "Rewrite it!" when they look at code that isn't theirs... I'm guilty of it myself. But seriously.. this thing is going to make my head explode if I have to spend another afternoon looking at it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Weekend in Review

Rec League Football

Not only did One Hot Mess capture its first win of the season this weekend, it got its second as well! After the team we were scheduled to play forfeited due to lack of players, we played a make up game and won 27-20. I caught another touchdown pass and had an interception, but I was most pleased with my sliding catch on 4th down to keep our game winning drive alive. But those were small contributions... everybody on the team played really well, and our quarterback always does a nice job every week of distributing the ball and keeping everybody in the game. It was a ton of fun, but I was definitely sucking wind by the end worse than any point this season!


Julie and I watched House of Flying Daggers which was recently released on DVD, and it was terrific. This is a movie by the director of Hero, and was just as grand in scale and visuals. It also prominently features Zhang Ziyi who is, for my money, the most talented actress alive in the entire world today. At least that I've seen. Julie absolutely loved the movie as well, which was good because I think I might've still been in trouble for Sin City, which she didn't like so much.

Philly Sports

The Phillies have scored three runs in the last three games. The Soul lost again and Graziani threw two more interceptions. And the Sixers lost game one of their 2005 NBA playoff "run" on Saturday.. at one point they were up by 12, but managed to lose by more than 20.

In other words, it was business as usual.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bee Invasion

It's tough not to get caught up in the hype of spring. Flowers are blooming, the days are warm, the nights are longer, and baseball is being played at ballparks everywhere.. heck, this year I tried on my shorts from last spring, and they still fit, which is a small achievement in and of itself.

But it also means two other things:
1) Sunburn
2) Bugs

You'd think sunburn would be easy enough to avoid by remembering to wear sunblock, but I burned my scalp so badly a week ago that I'm still peeling. I look like I'm in a dandruff commercial and using "Brand X". "Wear a hat" they tell me, but there are some places where you just can't do that.. and besides, I got the sunburn on a day I WAS wearing a hat most of the time.

The bugs usually don't bother me much either, but this year there are what appear to me to be an excessive number of bees. There are so many of them flying around outside of my 4th floor apartment that they are bumping into each other. They also enjoy flying into the window, making a nice THUD as they do so. I woke up in horror this morning to the sound of "THUD... THUD... THUD"... it was like a Hitchcock movie.

But these are small complaints.. if the universe were a restaurant, I'd note them in the suggestion box, but I wouldn't stop coming to eat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


My rec league football team, "One Hot Mess", played primetime Monday night football yesterday. At 9 PM, we played under the lights at one of the local high school's fields. Our team was 0-3 going into the game, and we were playing an undefeated team that had shut out their opponent twice already.

However, it was also the first game where everybody who showed up had played before! For the first time, we had a full team where everybody knew everybody else, and so we were very comfortable and relaxed going into the game. Plus, our team captain (Julie) had drawn up a simple scheme during the week that she e-mailed to everyone so that there would be no strategy arguments during the game.

It worked like a charm. Although we lost 20-19, we were in the game to the very end, and everybody had a great time. I also caught my first TD pass of the season, but I'm disappointed I wasn't able to keep a foot inbounds on one of the extra points.. I was conscious of it, but just drifted too far towards the back of the end zone.

But the important thing was that it was extremely fun.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dumb Mistakes and Ninjas

Okay, it's probably time to go home. For the fourth time today, I've spent a half hour trying to figure out why the data I'm getting looks all wrong, only to discover I'm calling the wrong function. You'd think after at least the second time I did it, I'd get wise... I think I'm suffering from a serious World of Warcraft hangover. The upcoming weekend will hopefully allow me to recover.

On a completely unrelated note, here is a humorous website about ninjas!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Logo Turtle

Back in grade school, the first "computer programming" I ever did was on this learning software called "Logo". Logo was this sort of dopey thing where you typed simple commands like "forward 100" and the "turtle" on the screen (which more closely resembled a box wearing a triangle for a hat) would move forward 100 pixels. It was supposed to help teach you geometry and logic I think, but mostly all we wanted to do was turn the turtle to a slight angle and type "forward 1000000000" so that it would zip around the screen for minutes on end.

I'm not sure how effective of a teaching tool it really was (considering I later failed geometry in high school), but I remember the sickly green screen on the computer monitor quite well. And it at least had more educational value than "Oregon Trail".. a game where all anybody ever wanted to do was hunt deer (in fact, I'm not sure the modern "Deer Hunter" games have evolved very far beyond Oregon Trail...).

At any rate, apparently there is still a group that advocates Logo as a teaching tool, and there are even links on there to get Windows versions of the software. At the very least, I can imagine this would be a somewhat effective teaching tool for the very very young (or the very very old).

The point of all this is that there really, in my opinion, has never been an overly effective "introductory" computer programming language. Things like old school BASIC and Pascal were just horrid for actually learning any of the intermediate level algorithms and data structures necessary to be effective as a programmer.

Come to think of it, I'm not even sure the concept of an "introductory" language is a good idea. I believe you can learn everything you need to know about computer programming (short of what you learn from actual experience) in Donald Knuth's "Art of Computer Programming". When people ask me "What language do you program in?", I immediately get put off because I feel like they're missing the point... the language doesn't matter. You can do most of the same stuff in Java, Perl, C#, etc. (with some notable exceptions of course)... the language is just another tool.

The skill comes in knowing the best way to do a job, and that knowledge is laid on a foundation built out of things like knowing the difference between bubble sort and quick sort.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Al Lucas

Most of you have probably never heard the name "Al Lucas" before. He played for the Los Angeles Avengers in the AFL.

On a kickoff in the first quarter of Sunday's game, he suffered a spinal chord injury while trying to make a tackle. He was pronounced dead after several failed attempts to revive him in a California hospital.

These guys play this sport because they love the game of football. Most of the them don't make a lot of money: the AFL salary cap is under 2 million. The league's highest paid player doesn't even make NFL minimum wage. These guys are going to have to find another way to support their families after their AFL career is over, if they're not already working jobs in the off-season.

It's a league that doesn't have steroid or drug controversies because the policy is simple: if you get caught using drugs, you are banned for life. Period.

What you end up with is a league where it is very, very easy to root for most of the players in it, because the odds are very good they're going to be pretty stand up individuals... they don't make enough money to know any better.

So when a guy like Al Lucas, a 26 year old husband and father who worked during the offseason as an assistant coach at the high school from which he graduated, a guy who was looking forward to being a coach and teacher at that same high school after his AFL career was over... a guy who played 20 games for the Carolina Panthers and kept playing in the hopes he could make it back someday... when a guy like that dies, an entire league of players and fans mourns.

And you should too.

Friday, April 08, 2005


For those of you who don't know, my girlfriend is a third year law student getting ready to take the bar this summer. Law jobs (like all jobs anymore) are not exactly easy to come by these days, especially with so many students who can't find jobs after college making the rush to grad school for lack of anything better to do.

She's run a long and tough gauntlet of interviews for over a year now, all while under the pressure of her studies and her finances, and now it's finally paid off. She got a call today from a judge in Delaware Family Court who offered her a clerkship that was on the top of her list of jobs she wanted.

It couldn't have happened at a better time, because tonight is also the yearly "law ball", a nice formal event with drinks and dancing.

So yes, the weekend is looking damn good.

Time Flies...

...when you're playing World of Warcraft.

One of my friends with whom I used to play D&D has been playing WoW for a few months now and has a couple of different characters. When I told him I had bought the game, he made a character on the same server as me so that we could play together.

Trouble is, WHERE you start the game depends on your race. As a night elf, I started out in the top left hand corner of the map. As a human, he was on another continent (note: tonight was actually the first night I realized that the game is TWICE as big as I thought it was when I discovered I could press the "zoom out" button a third time on the map screen... there's a whole other continent I wasn't aware existed).

But tonight, he made the long trek to get to where I was, and we immediately started up some RP ("role playing" for the uninitiated/not nerdy). Next thing we knew, we were sitting with 3 other characters around a campfire, engaging in unbelievable RP... one of the characters told a story with visual aides, there was a debate about the monster races... it was awesome.

Of course, if this sounds ridiculously nerdy to you... it is. But I just think it's cool that this game isn't just good at things like combat and exploration, but it's also the best SOCIAL engine I've ever seen. You can spend as much time and have as much fun interacting with other players without fighting as you can exploring the huge land together and battling monsters.

Best alternative to smoking ever.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Curse of the Touchdown Tracker?

The Philadelphia Soul have had a good thing going the last three weeks. Three straight victories, NO turnovers for Graziani.. it looks like they might have their season back on track. At 5-5, they have an outside shot of making the playoffs if they can keep rolling.

But now the "Touchdown Tracker" has returned before the game with the very tough Colorado Crush.

Hello, 5-6.

The "Touchdown Tracker" was an ill-conceived idea on the Philadelphia Soul website that had a Graziani touchdown pass count, along with a projected season total. The idea was to show you how far off he was from breaking the AFL record of 104 TD passes.

Naturally, as any Philly fan could have told you would happen, the team's wheels promptly came off. Games were lost. Interceptions were thrown. Players were cut. Coaches were fired. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Finally, with great sadness, the Touchdown Tracker was removed.

Then the Soul started winning.

You see where I'm going with this? This is just like the Curse of William Penn, where as soon as some jackass puts a Phillies/Eagles/Flyers/Sixers jersey on Big Willy's statue, the team crashes and burns.

The lesson here is to stop screwing around with karma. Especially when you live in Philly, and most of it is bad.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A New Addiction

I quit smoking on January 1, 2005.

I bought World of Warcraft on April 3, 2005.

This is, hands down, the absolute coolest game I've ever seen. Granted, it's my first foray into the world of MMORPGs, but simply in terms of technological achievement, this game blows me away. I've spent probably 10 hours in the world by now, and if this universe were a person, I'd have covered about a fingernail's worth of ground in it.

I'm playing on an RP server (Shadow Council, for those of you who have the game) as a night elf.. playing an old favorite D&D character seemed a natural thing to do. Even though this game isn't D&D, it might as well be. It has all of the standard fantasy elements you'd expect: elves, dwarves, gnomes, orcs, undead, etc... all with a slick interface that doesn't just facilitate things like combat and travel, but social interaction as well (there are over 100 different animated emotes possible).

MMORPGs aren't for everybody. For one thing, the monthly fee ($15/month for World of Warcraft) turns a lot of people off. It put ME off for a long time until I saw a friend playing this game and had to give it a try. You get a lot for that $15, though: a huge, dynamic world (a ton of new content was added a week ago) that is a fantasy lover's computer game universe come true.

But as for me, I love it so far and it looks like I might be subscribed and playing for a LONG time.. plus, $15/month for a video game is a small price to pay for my addiction when I used to spend $4/day on smokes.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, I'm not talking about Christmas. I'm talking about something even better.


Tomorrow, I will observe the most important holiday on MY personal calendar: Opening Day. I will observe it the best way possible: by getting up bright and early, grabbing a cup of coffee, and heading to the ballpark for a day of grilling, beer, and April afternoon baseball.

Are the Phillies going to be any good this year? Probably not. But the great thing about Opening Day is the hope.. even in towns like Milwaukee with the perennially terrible Brewers, there is still the buzz of excitement... the buzz of possibility.

In this way, as in many others, baseball is a metaphor for life. There is a long grind to come which will separate winners from losers, the best from the rest... some have a better shot at success than others, some appear to be doomed before the first pitch is thrown.

But until the last out is recorded, the last game played... there is ALWAYS a chance to do what nobody thought you could. Go Phillies.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Geeking Out

This evening wasn't looking so hot.. it was too late for me to drive into Manayunk to meet up with the rec league football team as previously planned, and it looked like I'd be sitting at home doing a whole lot of nothing. But fortuitously, a couple of friends from the weekly D&D game called and said they'd be willing to come down from Philly to my neck of the woods to grab some grub and catch a late showing of "Sin City".

Now I'm suffering from nerd overload. The movie dripped with so much style and machismo, it was like reading the comic for the first time. I'm not sure that any film adapted from a comic book after "Sin City" can even come close to matching this... not after watching it unfold, in motion, page by page, complete with voice over narration ripped from thought bubbles.

For this reason, there is going to be no middle ground on this movie. People are either going to love it, or absolutely hate it.. and no parent should even think about bringing their kid to see this. "Sin City" is not "Spider Man" or "X-Men"... it's a comic for adults.

But if you're an adult and you like comics (and better yet Frank Miller comics)... you can't miss this one.

Friday, April 01, 2005

It Better Be Good

I've had a rough week, and the weekend is looking rainy which means football will probably be cancelled. My nose is still stuffed full of snot from being sick, I'm tired, and I'm cranky.

But it's okay. Because "Sin City", based on one of the coolest comics ever, opens today.

From all reviews I've read and previews I've seen, it's going to be awesome. But I fear one thing: Robert Rodriguez. This guy hasn't directed a decent movie since "Desperado"... in fact, he's responsible for one of the five worst movies I've ever seen, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico".

He could redeem himself. He better. Or else I'll... uh... not see the movie a second time.