Friday, July 29, 2005

Nice Bike

Most people learn at a very early age that the best way to avoid being teased is to not let the teaser know that what they're doing bothers you. Pretty soon, the average bully will lose interest and move on.

Chornbe, my friend and office mate at work (whose blog is linked in my list of "Interesting People"), is a pretty avid motorcycle enthusiast. A few other people in my group are as well, and they've been spending a lot of time lately discussing/debating/looking at a variety of bikes. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person arriving to interrupt: "Hey, did you see the picture of that nice bike I sent you?"
Chornbe: "Yeah! That's a really nice lookin' bike."
Person: "Yeah, I thought it was a nice bike myself."
Second Person, overhearing bike conversation and wishing to participate: "Found a nice bike huh? Let me get a look at it."
Chornbe: "I got the picture open right here. It's a sweet lookin' bike."
Second Person: "Ooooh, yeah, that's a REAL nice bike."
Original Culprit: "Yeah, I was just saying I thought it was a nice lookin' bike."

You get the picture. After about 3 weeks of this (and a few days of too little sleep), I finally snapped and expressed my annoyance by claiming I was going to keep a tally of how many times the phrase "nice bike", or some variation thereof, was used on a daily basis in our office. I predicted it would be in the hundreds.

Well, I should've kept my trap shut. The gents at work have since cooked up a variety of diabolical schemes to torment me. Some of the highlights so far:

1) Taping a printout of the words "NICE BIKE" to my monitor. Upon removal, a running copy of Microsoft Word is revealed with the words "NICE BIKE" typed in it.

2) A spoon with the words "NICE BIKE" written several times all over it and placed on my keyboard (this is even more amusing if you are familiar with "Real Ultimate Power", i.e. "I once saw a ninja flip out on this guy for dropping a spoon in a diner").

3) A picture of a guy on a bike taken with a camera phone sent to my email address with the text "Nice bike!".

4) Chornbe posting my email address on his motorcycle forum asking everyone there to send me an email message containing only the phrase "Nice bike".

Let this be a cautionary tale to the rest of you. Never, ever let anyone know that something is annoying to you. Better to let it eat at your insides until you cry without anyone understanding why.

Despite the misery, I have to admit that it is a... dare I say it?... nice joke.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Challenges Ahead

For a little over half a year, I've been working on a webapp for work that will be used by external clients. It's very exciting stuff, and I'm using a host of different technologies and platforms to bring the whole thing together.

In a few weeks, I'll be traveling to company headquarters for what I hope is the last leg of this long process. I'll need the help of other departments with expertise/ownership over areas I know next to nothing about, particularly in terms of security issues. I've been spending the last few days putting together the tech specs for the app explaining how it works, and I'm hoping it is well received by the folks whose help I'll need.

At the same time, Julie is currently in New Jersey for the first day of the dreaded bar exam. She has done well on the practice tests and I think she's going to do just fine, but it's gotta be scary looking down the barrel of three days of testing that you've basically been preparing for the last three years to take.

So there's a lot in the air right now that's going to have an impact on our lives. It's exciting, fun, and more than a little terrifying.


This past weekend marked the third year of what is now dubbed CraigCon, a gathering of gaming groups from a couple of circles of old friends. The event is named for the organizer, a buddy of mine named Craig who is about as avid a gamer as I know. It started out as a chance for old college friends who had moved apart to get together and game, and has expanded to include other gamers from Craig's regular games up in Rutherford, New Jersey.

It's always a good time, and this year was no exception.

It's fun to kick back, relax, and just roll some dice with some good people. Although it has been getting tougher each year for some of the original core group of folks to make it, I find the whole thing so fun and relaxing that I make sure to put it on my calendar every year. I got a chance to play a game I'd never heard of before too: Bulldogs!, a d20 based game with a sci-fi motif. I'll definitely have to pick it up in the near future.

As life goes on, it gets harder to coordinate spending time with old friends, but CraigCon provides a great way to stay in touch and meet some new people at the same time.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Coolness Behind the Click

I just finished up the beginnings of a new webapp today.

The webapp uses Embperl running on Apache. The Embperl template also references a Javascript library for using XMLHTTP, which calls another page which references a Perl package that contacts a .NET web service. The .NET web service then uses remoting libraries to dynamically load or unload a DLL from a currently running Windows service!

Sadly, all the user sees is a link that reads either "Load" or "Unload", masking all of the coolness.

If only I could put some nifty animated effects in there to demonstrate visually how neat what's happening behind the scenes is...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Most Fickle Mistress

I like to play poker once in awhile. That's not particularly surprising, since EVERYBODY likes to play poker nowadays: the popularity of the World Series of Poker should be proof of that.

I'm not bad either. I consider myself an above average player. I'm not about to go spend $10k to take a crack at the World Series, but I play online for small stakes and I've always done pretty well.

I'm also smart enough to know when I need to take a break. This is one of those times.

It's rare to see four of a kind. It's even more rare to see it twice in 5 minutes. I've certainly never been beaten by it twice in five minutes.

In the game in question, I had pocket queens and, naturally, raised the blinds. A guy who had been playing loose the whole game promptly went all in, and I called without hesitation, laughing hysterically when he turned over king-five, unsuited. The odds of victory were very much in my favor.

Until the flop got turned over, showing king-king-king. Three freakin' kings on the flop, giving him four of a kind.

Unlucky, I think to myself. My stack has now been crippled. A few hands later, I get pocket aces, and I call a large bet. Flop comes out ace-six-four with no flush draws. I go all in.

The same guy calls me with seven-four unsuited. He has a lousy pair of fours. Again I laugh, saying to myself: the poker goddess is just. Now I'll get back a good chunk of that money I shouldn't have lost.

Well, by now you've probably guessed what happened. To my annoyance, the turn came up a four. That would have been okay, but the river was a four also, giving that same jackass four of a kind again.

Apparently the poker goddess is a fickle mistress.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Maria Pepe

With the clouds of terrorism and hurricanes hanging over our heads, I thought I'd point out just a little bit of good going on in the world.

On Thursday, a 12 year old girl named Katie Brownell donated her Little League jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame. She did this after pitching a perfect game on May 14th, becoming the first girl on record to accomplish the feat in Little League baseball.

Present at the ceremony was a 45 year old woman named Maria Pepe. In 1971, Pepe was an 11 year old pitcher and outfielder playing Little League ball for the Hoboken Young Democrats. She played only three games before parents complained. Little League headquarters responded at the time by threatening to revoke the Hoboken league's charter if they continued to allow the young girl to participate.

It took two years for the legal system to find in Pepe's favor... but by that time, she was too old to play.

Perhaps now, a full 34 years later, Maria Pepe finally got a few things that the legal system couldn't give her: justice, vindication, and closure.

Read the full story here.

Ten Percent

"No man is an island," and all that jazz.

Things are going pretty well for me, and the London attacks served as another reminder of just how lucky I've been for a long time running now.

When the biggest complaint I have is "I spent Monday and Tuesday refactoring code that should've been done last week"... well, it doesn't amount to much, really.

Someone once said 90% of life is what happens to you and 10% is how you react to it. I've been a lot happier ever since I started concerning myself solely with that 10% (heck, just that little bit is quite enough). But that doesn't mean that you can ever completely isolate yourself from that other 90%.

Nor should you. And so, I'm allowed to be depressed by the London attacks. I'm not a kid: I've learned by now that humanity is capable of soaring to incredible heights AND sinking to unimaginable lows.

But if I stop being surprised by those lows, I'll feel that I've lost something.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Joys of Refactoring

The last 24 hours have been the most frustrating I've experienced in awhile.

For the last three months, with any spare time I've had free of critical priorities, I've been working on a new application. Yesterday, around 3 PM, I finally finished it.

I danced around the office with joy and satisfaction. Of course, testing still needed to happen, but the lion's share of the design and coding was done.

Fifteen minutes later, I got an email from the designer of one of the critical libraries the application relies on. He had made some changes and wanted me to do a checkout to make sure nothing broke.

As you've probably guessed, it broke the whole thing.

Most distressing, however, was I had just released a smaller application based on this same library last week. This was broken in the test environment as well.

Fortunately, he hadn't released the changes to production yet, but for the last 7 hours we've been back and forth, fixing one thing only to break another, etc. At last, here at the end of the day, the problems with this production app are fixed, so no users should be affected... but I haven't touched the new app I've sunk all my spare time the last several months into.

In the long run, the changes will be very beneficial... I like what he's done. Except that it is not in the least backward compatible with any previous versions.

Oh well. I guess this is how programmers ensure job security: by refactoring.

Zoo for Rent

First of all, Julie added a lot of legal knowhow to my last post regarding the latest P2P court ruling... make sure to check the comments of that post for details. There is still a subjective gap in terms of the "almost exclusively" clause of the ruling, but it appears that things are not as absurd as I first thought (only slightly absurd).

Second, my place of employment had its Delaware office party on Wednesday night at the Philadelphia Zoo. I'm thinking to myself, "Gee, I haven't been to the zoo in a few years. I imagine we'll have a little tent set up there with food... should be fun."

No no no... the company rented the freakin' zoo.

That's right. Rented the zoo. I wasn't aware that was even possible. The zoo was closed to the general public that evening so we could have it to ourselves.

I still haven't decided if that's exceedingly decadent or just plain awesome. Probably both.