The Price is Right

I was on the elliptical today and someone had The Price is Right running on the TV. Which reminds me, when did Drew Carey decide to turn into a John Candy cosplayer?

Anyway, as I started they were doing one of the product bidding things, where the four possible contestants submit bids for an item and the person who is closest without going over gets to play a pricing game onstage. Product is ping-pong table. One contestant bids. Then contestant two bids $600. Then Contestant Three bids $599.

“Now that’s about the dumbest fucking bid you can make,” I think to myself, and I begin to weep for America.

The next product–an electric fireplace (snazzy!) comes up. Contestant Three bids $1999 this time, and the next bidder bids $2000. “Not her fault this time, but she’s an idiot so she deserved that,” I says to myself.

But wait, John Candy says, we have an exact match! The electric fireplace runs $1999. Contestant Three gets the fireplace, and $500 cash for hitting the price exactly. Then she goes on to win a car.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that Contestant Three intentionally avoided winning the ping-pong table because it wasn’t luxe enough for her, and she’s a hell of a lot better at The Price is Right than I am.

California Budget Crisis

All those fancy propositions (except the funny one that kept lawmakers from getting raises if the state’s in a budget deficit) failed to pass yesterday, even though I didn’t get my no votes to my polling place until right after it closed. My bad.

From the article:

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa predicted that the city’s budget could take a hit — but he vowed a fight: “I’m going to do everything I can to protect the city coffers.”

This is why we have these problems–because people say “hey, cut their services, not my services.” Antonio, you cunt, look at Los Angeles’ budget and cut what you can. Everyone else in California, do the same thing. Budgetary governance doesn’t need to be this hard.

Home Improvement

There’s a room directly above the garage that would be perfect for my office*–I’m safely away from the rest of the family unit back in a corner and I can rant on the phone or turn the music up loud without disturbing anyone–except that the only way to get to this room is to go through another bedroom. That’s not a problem now, but we can’t put anyone in the connecting bedroom without my potentially clomping through their room to get to the office while they’re asleep or otherwise engaged, and that just won’t work.

I want to do something to the house to enable me to directly access the prospective office. I talked to pop about this and we came up with what may or may not be a good idea: incorporate a dinky spiral staircase into the landing of the current staircase to allow me to cut past the bedroom and get straight to the office.

staircase_project

Here’s the layout (click the picture for a larger version). I want to get from the landing to the other side of the 87″ wall. At the top of the picture, you can just barely see the door that leads to the room above the garage I’d like to use for an office. The 34″ is the amount of wall above the floor on the other side of the wall, so that could just be cut out. According to my math, that leaves 53″ that I’ve got to climb in pretty compact fashion.

The 14″ at the bottom of the image refers to a modification pop suggested, which is raising the landing by a couple of steps in order to get some more depth to it so there’s more room for the spiral staircase–or whatever other solution we come up with–in the corner of the landing, and less vertical space to climb. These are standard interior steps with a 7″ rise so two of them would raise the landing 14″, leaving 39″ of vertical distance to the door. (If the 14″ is to scale in the image, that’s totally by accident.)

Here’s an example of a short spiral staircase I found on the internets:

Obviously I could ghetto this thing out and just hang a rope ladder over the wall, but I think putting an actual spiral staircase in here would have a pretty compact footprint, only require about four steps, and might look cool to boot.

Any ideas?

*well, the room also needs a window or two and some other stuff. But the location is perfect if I can get access worked out.

Tidbits from the Tech Corner

  • Let’s say you have a mysql install whose data you want to relocate somewhere else. I’ve done all that garbage with mysqldump-ing everything, but I seem to always have problems with column names being illegal or some such. Today I just copied the data directory with

    cd [old data dir]
    tar -zcf mysqldatabases.tar.gz data
    mkdir -p [new data dir]
    cd [new data dir]
    tar -zxvf [old data dir]/mysqldatabases.tar.gz

    (be careful with those permissions, but tar will preserve them on the data directory so you probably won’t have to do anything.) This worked, and only took a couple of minutes, and I didn’t have to dick with giant .sql files. (source)

  • I had to take a bunch of Postscript files and concatenate them yesterday. Of course, Unix makes this easy and profitable.

    cat *.ps > all.ps

    Took all Postscript files in the working directory and built a single file out of them. This might be useful with some video formats as well–this source recommends usage with .mpg files.

  • I’ve talked about the GIMP before, but I was about ready to bin it after using it at work over the last couple of months. The damn thing kept crashing. Luckily, I didn’t have a modern image editing tool on my computer at home and when I needed to do some graphics work there, I decided to give the GIMP one last try. The current version is very slick and feature-ful. I’ve done some fun things with it, and once I had such a good experience at home I upgraded to the latest version at work and have been happy there too.

    There are a ton of tips and tricks for the GIMP within easy reach of a Google search. A couple I’ve used recently are putting a nice coloured border around text and creating a neon sign effect with text. Here’s how the latter turned out:

    And as always, GIMP is free.

AIG and bonuses

So you may have heard that pitchfork-wielding mobs are heading AIG’s way over “retention bonuses”. It’s gotten a little time on the news and in Congress lately.

Here’s the problem: when I (or most people) hear the word “bonus”, we think back to the definition of the term:

something in addition to what is expected or strictly due: as a: money or an equivalent given in addition to an employee’s usual compensation

Now I understand that people not in the credit-default-swap department of douchebaggery at AIG might have been doing amazing jobs. I know that some of them were working for a buck plus this “bonus” that’s about to be taxed by 90%. But really, if this had been called “salary” or “compensation”, this wouldn’t have resonated like it has.

The idea that a bonus can be contractually obligated to be paid is horseflop. If there’s a contractual obligation to pay it, it’s guaranteed compensation, and if it’s guaranteed compensation, don’t call it a bonus or people who understand the term as it’s actually defined might get pissed off.

Chargers Lose to Steelers

I was thinking about posting something about how the Chargers would beat the Steelers like I did about the Colts, but I really wasn’t feeling it. Turns out they got thrashed by the Steelers, and the dream of an 8-8 team winning the Super Bowl is over.

I didn’t see the first third of the game, which was from all reports very competitive. I tuned in just in time to see the Chargers take their last lead of the game on the Kaeding field goal, and watch the Steelers march down the field for a touchdown in response. Then there was that horrible, terrible, very bad third quarter that doomed this effort. I have never seen a quarter of football like it–*one* offensive play for the Chargers in the entire 15 minutes, which was a tipped ball for an INT. Phillip Rivers was quoted as saying

“There was a little bit of disbelief. … You can’t call it a fluke, those guys made plays, but that was crazy.”

which is exactly what I was thinking.

* The Chargers defense missed a lot of tackles at the initial point of contact in this game, apparently starting from when I started watching. The defense was very successful at getting the Steelers into third-and-long situations throughout the second half, but they kept blowing it.

* Let’s not get our knickers in a bunch about Darren Sproles if he leaves San Diego. He’s a very good kick returner and a pretty good change of pace back, not a dominant player. I hope the Chargers keep him, but I hope they don’t break the bank to do so. Remember, he was a fourth-round pick. AJ Smith can find difference-makers on special teams in the lower rounds.

* Shawne Merriman, on the other hand… they need him, or someone like him, badly. A top-flight pass-rusher crashing the pocket does a few things. He turns second banana Shaun Phillips from an overmatched primary threat to a dangerous bookend. He keeps the secondary from having to cover all day. I’m looking forward to seeing what a reloaded defense does with a defensive coordinator who isn’t afraid to bring the heat next year.

* I think LaDainian Tomlinson will be back, and I think he’ll have a better year in 2009.

* I was very encouraged with what I saw from Jacob Hester late in the season. This guy is a fullback who can run and catch, and he seems to be learning to block. Mike Tolbert had some nifty moves but wasn’t much for blocking, and former Charger Lorenzo Neal couldn’t run for shit. Having a guy who can do all three things is going to be helpful.

Florida wins BCS

I saw the end of the Florida’s college football win over Oklahoma last night. I hadn’t seen a minute of college football since Woody and I watched the end of a very entertaining USC-Oregon State game a couple of years back at Vivandres’ place, and I was amazed at how dinky and slow these teams–surely, other than USC, the best in the country–were.

I seriously don’t understand how anyone watches college football. The whole time I found myself thinking “the Detroit Lions would murder these guys.” If it wants me as a regular viewer of its football product, the NCAA needs to put its student athletes on a rigorous steroid regimen.

Wireless Home Audio

How about them Chargers? OK, OK, so it wasn’t two touchdowns…

I have a technical question for the JesusH community.

We’ve got two TVs on the ground floor of the house, and connected to each TV I’ve got a stereo system, complete with amplifiers and speakers and whatnot. What I want to do is give them the ability to use each other as an audio source, and play the same thing simultaneously. In other words, when I play a CD in the DVD player connected to Stereo A, I’d like to be able to get that line output sent to Stereo B so I can hear the music in the other room from the other set of speakers (and vice versa).

It’d be simple to connect some RCA cables from each stereo’s line out jack to an input on the other stereo; I’d then just have to set input on Stereo B appropriately to hear whatever Stereo A is playing. But unlike my old house, I don’t have a crawlspace or an attic to run wires, and I don’t have a carpet to stick speaker wire under either. Running a pair of stereo audio wire between the stereos is certainly possible, but it’s going to be a pain in the ass.

So I need to either use the existing house wiring or go wireless. I see there’s an outfit called Devolo that has a product that appears to send an audio signal through powerline. That’s a clever solution that would meet my needs, as I obviously have power near both stereos. But the product line isn’t exactly established, and they’re 220V in any case, so they’re not going to work in the good old USA.

Wireless is the only other idea I have. I know some wireless house audio systems like Sonos have been getting written up in major newspapers and periodicals, and I could probably get them to do what I want and then some, but that’d be like swatting a fly with an axe–and considering these jagoffs are charging four figures just to get into the game, it’d have to be a totally blinged-out axe at that. I don’t want a wireless controller for my music. I don’t want to control my music at all.

There’s a lot of consternation about wireless rear speakers in home theatre setups, which seems kind of like the problem I want to solve. Here’s a recent blog post from the always-interesting Bob Cringely about the absence of wireless audo in today’s whiz-bang HDTVs, for example. But I think most of the problem there is that you’ve still got to get power to the rear speakers to get any output, and until someone solves that problem you’ll still have a power wire going to those speakers even if you have them get their audio signal wirelessly, so it’s generally kind of dumb to not just wire audio as well. The true solution for wireless satellite speakers probably involves some nifty engineering on the part of the radiant power geeks, but I don’t need to wait on that. I’ve got power at both locations, and don’t need it from whatever the solution to my problem is.

I guess I could use something like the idiotically-branded RocketFish™ rear speaker wireless kit, but that’s over $100, it’s unidirectional, and it looks like I’d have to do some goofy bare-wire-to-RCA hacking on both ends to get it sorted.

All I want is to take a stereo signal at Stereo A and transmit it to Stereo B, across about twenty feet and through one wall. It seems like in 2009, when I can see about a dozen access points from my computer’s wireless network dialog box and buy a wireless router for twenty bucks, this should be dirt-cheap and easy, but I’ve been looking around and so far I’m not seeing much. Any ideas?

Chargers Season Wrapup

The regular season is over for the San Diego Chargers. In last night’s contest, they pancaked the Denver Broncos 52-21 to claim the AFC West crown and move on to the playoffs. What an interesting season it was!

* the better team surely won last night. The Broncos are pathetic. They should have lost the first time around, and they’re just a much worse team than the Chargers. That’s not to say the better teams always make the playoffs, but even worse, the Broncos’ magic number was one with three games left, and they lost all three while the Chargers won all three of theirs. Really, this was an absurdly large choke job–maybe not on the level of last year’s Patriots, but close.

* I more-or-less ignored the Chargers through the ugly middle of the season, but the defense sure looks better under Ron Rivera than it did under Ted Cottrell. I’ve really enjoyed watching cornerback Quentin Jammer, in particular. The guy used to be a walking, talking pass interference call and busted high draft pick. He still doesn’t have good hands, but his coverage has gotten a lot better and he might be the best run support cornerback I’ve ever seen in a Chargers uniform. He knows how to wrap up and isn’t afraid to hit a ball carrier. I’ve met him a couple of times and he seems like a nice guy, too, so good for him.

* The offense, of course… well, it’s totally ridiculous that professional pain-in-the-ass and interception thrower Brett Favre was voted Pro Bowl starter, and it’s fitting that both he and Jay Cutler are going to be watching the playoffs at home. Phil Rivers has played really well, and hasn’t even said anything dumb lately as far as I know.

* the Chargers have won four straight–though one was a squeaker against a lousy team–and they’re looking dangerous. Their first playoff game is at home on Saturday against the Colts, who have won nine straight (including one against the Chargers), but they’ll have the business given to them this weekend. The early betting line says this is a close game, but I don’t think so.

Chargers win by at least two touchdowns… you heard it here first.

2008 Voting Guide

For this election’s voting guide we’re going to skip past the presidential election: not only is the outcome a foregone conclusion, but not enough of you listened to us last time we tried that. So let’s hit the proposition circuit.

If you are in California, please vote against Proposition 8 on Tuesday.

alex 131
Like all good things, the 2008 JesusH Voting Guide fits on the face of a pumpkin.

The asinine “protect marriage” crowd is busy telling you all sorts of horrible things about gay marriage’s legality in California, but here’s the straight scoop: homosexuals ought to have exactly the same rights as heterosexuals, no more and no less, and their ability to enter into a life partnership that exactly matches the one that man and woman can enter into should not be subject to the whims of people who shake their head and say “no, I’m just not comfortable with that.”

Until 1943, Chinese immigrants did not have the right to become US citizens and vote. My wife could never have acquired the same rights and responsibilities of United States citizenship that Paris Hilton has, no matter how hard she worked or how much better she made America, because she was born in China and Hilton was born here. That is Extremely Fucking Nuts, and we know it now, but I’m sure back then there was a bunch of people shaking their heads and saying “no, I’m just not comfortable with Chinese having a path to citizenship and enfranchisement.”

Read the rest of the Voting Rights Timeline if you have time. It’s an eye-opener.

That’s a jarringly recent example of constipation of justice in the United States, but this country has a long history of that kind of nonsense. If someone *doesn’t* have the same rights as you, they ought to have done something felonious to get themselves in that position. Being born homosexual shouldn’t count. In fifty years, this will look as silly to everyone as barring Chinese people from access to citizenship looks to us now. This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the gay marriage issue around here, and we haven’t changed our tune one note.

Let’s all do our part to ensure equal treatment for Californians regardless of sexual orientation on Tuesday.

Non-Soapbox-y postscript: I left my jack o’ lantern in front of the house Halloween night and the next morning the “Yes on 8” organization had kindly left me a voting reminder right in front of it.

Don't Forget!
Really stupid, really funny, or both: you be the judge.

Thanks, Yes on 8 team! I’m still ashamed of you, but I got a chuckle out of it.

The William Hung of Politics

I’d like to break the JesusH posting hiatus just long enough to say that I, for one, do not give a shit what Joe the Plumber thinks.

Also, congrats to Brent, Official Cop of JesusH, on his graduation from the academy, and Jeff has some nifty video of Matt, Other Official Cop of JesusH, distributing justice in the mean streets of Oxnard which he’d surely share with you if he wasn’t such a dog in the manger about posting.

Thank you.

No Bailout

The first bailout has epic failed in the House. From the article:

The overriding question for congressional leaders was what to do next. Congress has been trying to adjourn so that its members can go out and campaign. And with only five weeks left until Election Day, there was no clear indication of whether the leadership would keep them in Washington. Leaders were huddling after the vote to figure out their next steps.

You already have the advantage of incumbency. How about you stop looking ahead of the current crisis and stay in session until you get this thing worked out, Congresspeople?

The Debate is On!

It was a close-run thing, but John McCain and Barack Obama will debate tonight, just a few scant days after McCain “suspended his campaign” to go fix all the high finance crap going down in the nation’s capital.

I’m sure this is because McCain cat-herded the bailout meetings to a successful conclusion after heading back to DC in such an all-fired hurry, and not because the average voter’s response to McCain’s campaign suspension seems to have been “the fuck’s he going on about? does he want to be President or not?”

Aw, Snap?

Google Chrome, which I’ve been testing out for a couple of weeks as my primary browser, does something very strange when it crashes:


Sad Tab: the Sad Mac of the Internet Generation

“Aw, Snap!”? I thought it was “Oh Snap!” Hell, let’s check Google’s own search engine: nearly two million results for “oh snap” versus about 25,000 results for “aw snap”.


A usage model for the term “Oh Snap!”. “Aw Snap!” is conspicuously absent.

Last time JesusH covered a corporation dicking up a pop culture reference, they started taking it in the shorts just scant months later. Watch yourselves, Google.

Going for Two

Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has already been widely praised in the postgame writeups for his “gutsy decision” to go for the two-point conversion after the Broncos scored a touchdown to pull to 37-38 with only 24 seconds left in Sunday’s game against the Chargers.

This was not a gutsy decision. This was an obvious decision, especially for a coach of Shanahan’s tenure who has plenty of job security and doesn’t need to worry about everyone in the world second-guessing him to the team’s owner the Monday after the move doesn’t work.

You might argue that, especially on their home turf, the Broncos ought to play for overtime, but that argument falls flat when looking at the current state of the game. Just like last week, the Chargers started off with a very limp effort, but this time they turned it on at halftime instead of waiting until midway through the second half–they had scored 21 straight points, capped with a nifty two-point conversion of their own, and the defense had pitched a shutout until the Denver TD. If this game had gone to OT, it wouldn’t have been the 50-50 or close to it affair that most overtime action tends to be.

Sure, you lose the game if you miss the conversion, but according to the stats I can find on the subject with a couple minutes of googling, the two-point try is trending towards a 50% success rate in the NFL. I’ll totally take that over playing for a tie and having to run my team out against a superior team in overtime, and Shanahan made the right call.

Not that it should have gotten to this point… I’ll also take awful work from the broadcast booth over awful work from the referees anyday. Denver was gifted a turnover when an “equipment failure” kept NFL Ref Strongest Man Ed Hochuli from seeing that Chris Chambers was down before being stripped, which everyone with a TV tuned to CBS saw multiple times while he was trying to work that out. In the fourth quarter, the Broncos got another present when Jay Cutler’s fumble was improperly whistled dead by Hochuli before the Chargers recovered. Not a good day at the office for the zebras, unless you’re a Bronco fan.

Rosario Dawson, Actress/Tight End

I generally don’t care about accuracy in football play-by-play, but it was really weird how many people couldn’t keep Panthers tight end Dante Rosario and actress Rosario Dawson straight during the Chargers loss yesterday.


Often mistaken for one another on Sunday.

* broadcast team Dick Stockton and Brian Baldinger, who did horrible jobs in general, made the mistake more than once.
* the postgame UPS Leaderboard graphic gave props to Rosario Dawson’s 7 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
* hours later, after the Sunday night game, NBC’s local “Football Night in San Diego” commentator Akbar Gbaja-Biamila referred to Rosario as Dawson at least once on camera.

I know Dante Rosario’s not a big name football-wise, but who knew Rosario Dawson had such a high Q score in NFL circles?

Google Chrome

You might have heard Google has a browser out. I’ve been a Firefox user for years now but as I’ve followed the recommended upgrade path the browser has gotten slower and less stable in exchange for a bunch of features I don’t really care about. After Firefox 3 crashing twice yesterday, I downloaded Chrome and have been using it for the last 24 hours. So far, here’s what I’m seeing:

* it seems faster and more responsive than both Firefox and IE. Fast page loads, fast scrolling.

* I’ve read about incompatibilities with some webpages but haven’t been bitten by any myself yet. The only feature I miss is right-clicking to get to dictionary when I misspell something in an edit window like the one I’m typing this in. I’m sure that’s coming soon.

* The tabs got moved up top of the browser window. I’m not at all sure that’s a win–further to go with the mouse to get to them now. Otherwise they’re easily re-orderable and popping them out to make their own windows is a neat touch.

* The address bar is smart: if it can’t resolve what you type as a URL it’ll function as a search engine, so no need to have a separate search engine text entry box. Duh. This seems like such obvious behaviour I don’t know why every browser doesn’t do this, so kudos to Google for implementing it.

* Things I’m having trouble getting used to:

+ no stop button–weird! It’s actually there, but it’s all the way to the right of the address bar and that’s not intuitive for me when compared to the standard browser. I use ‘stop’ a lot more than ‘bookmark’ (at the left of the address bar) so I would switch the location of the two if I could.
+ no ‘home’ button–I use this all the time in my other browsers. I could turn it on, but my homepage is also the first link in the bookmarks link bar so I’m going to try to get used to clicking that.
+ no menu bar across the top of the app. I’m not sure I like this.

* Some of Chrome’s most vaunted features are useless to me. The New Tab behaviour is that when you create a new tab, Chrome loads a ‘you usually do these things with a new tab–click to do one of them now’ page. If you have a personal web page you use as your homepage I’d hope that you’d already have set it up to fill that need.

* The Safe Browsing features, which raise alarms when you visit sites that Google thinks might be phishing or pushing malware, are probably useful if you like to visit dodgy sites and click every link that asks you to install weird software. Those of us who aren’t browsing like ten-year-olds have probably never had a problem with this stuff. I don’t need the additional security, and when it identified as suspect a site I visit every day with no problems, I turned it off.

* Running each tab as its own process actually does work the way Google claimed–one tab would slow down while doing something and I’d flip to another and it’d be running full-speed. Nice!

* That said, Chrome’s already gotten balled-up enough I had to restart the entire thing once. Sad face.

* I miss the “did you mean to close all 20 tabs you had open” dialog box Firefox gives me when I click the close app button. I usually didn’t mean to do that.

I’ll keep playing with it. It’s definitely promising.

Abstinence-based Sex Ed: Epic Fail

There are a lot of amusing angles to discuss about John McCain’s recent choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as his ticket mate, but here’s the one that just kills me: she’s apparently a good choice for McCain to appease social conservatives due to her stances on, among other things, sex education. Palin supports ‘abstinence-based sex ed’ in schools, which as near as I can tell is someone getting up in front of a classroom and saying “premarital sex is wrong, you might get pregnant, no birth control is 100% effective, sexually-transmitted diseases can be bad news, any questions?”

Here’s the problem: not only is there no evidence that this actually accomplishes anything as far as keeping teens from having sex, it didn’t even work in Palin’s own family, as her oldest daughter, Bristol Palin, is pregnant at 17. If you can’t keep your own nuclear family in line with the unmarried-young-sex-is-bad party line, how is this message possibly going to resonate anywhere else?

And if you acknowledge that people generally like to have sex and won’t all listen when you wag your finger (or other appendage) at them and tell them not to, wouldn’t you want them to be educated about how to protect themselves and their partners from STDs and unintended pregnancy? No, I guess you’d want them to get married young and that makes everything all right.

I tell you what, some people are so stupid it’s lucky for them breathing is an unconscious reflex.

Bioshock

Many irritating operating system gymnastics sessions later, I finished Bioshock late last week. I was pretty close to throwing up my hands when the game started crashing regularly when I reached Fort Frolic, about midway through. I ended up having to clear out my save games, turn off a Vista OS feature or two, and start all over.

I’ve been blaming Vista for a lot of my issues with computing ever since I got this computer, but I’ll throw some blame 2K Games’ way for this situation as Bioshock’s issues with Vista have been so widely reported, and the Orange Box games I finished a while back were rock-solid on the same computer. Get it together, 2K Games!

* There are a lot of weapons. I barely even used the last few I got. The research camera was a wonderful addition to the standard FPS arsenal.

* There is a lot more character development possible than in Half-Life 2, what with the plasmids and buffout upgrades in addition to all the weapons. However, most of that ended up evening out by the last third of the game–unless you were a complete tool, you were going to have all the cool stuff one way or another by then.

The downside of allowing this kind of development is that the game becomes unbalanced, which Bioshock did for me. After a ton of buildup during the level load, I killed the last boss in the game by running up to him and hitting him with the wrench (the default melee weapon in the game–think the crowbar in Half-Life) repeatedly… the biggest click-fest since Diablo.

* You’ve got a hard limit of $500 in your wallet (at least on the Medium level of difficulty, which is what I played). I kept running into this, which tells me two things: that I’m a cheap bastard, and that yet again I probably should have played the game at its hardest setting.

* I think the possibility of a security camera seeing you and sounding the alarm was supposed to be more of a consideration than it turned out to be. Once I got Natural Camouflage, which I did pretty early on, security alerts were a total non-issue. Also, the previously-mentioned Pipe Dream-style hacking minigame remained ridiculous throughout.

* After starting off fairly underwhelmed by the game experience I got progressively more into it. The back-story of Rapture was interesting, the characters seemed to have some stories to tell, and the designers did a good job of building suspense and interest in the game universe.

Then came the Sixth Sense-style reveal down the home stretch, followed by increasingly less interesting levels and story in the second half. I really started to lose buy-in, and that continued through the finale. Like the New England Patriots, Bioshock peaked way too soon.

Two Pochaccos. Parts were quite fun, but the game was oversold and crash-tastic.

This game review is for Patrick.

Veto Power

Q: When is it proper for me to veto a trade in my fantasy league?

A: I’m glad you asked! There are two circumstances in which it is proper to vote to veto a trade.

  1. collusion. Let’s say Owner A and Owner B get together for lunch one day, and Owner A says to Owner B “how about I trade you two of my best players for two of your worst players if you pick up the check?” That sucks for everyone when that happens and it is totally reasonable to veto a trade that is made under these parameters.

    In this case, your veto is also a vote of no-confidence on the personal integrity of both owners.

  2. imbalance. Really, the only difference between this and collusion is intent. Maybe Owner A is much smarter or paying more attention than Owner B and browbeats or cajoles Owner B into trading some talented under-the-radar players for formerly productive big names. That might well damage the rationality of the league’s talent distribution, and as a fellow owner you have the right to vote against this if it’s going to impact your enjoyment of the game.

    Be sure Owner B doesn’t have an angle before you do this, though! It’s possible to trade from strength to address weakness and come out ahead even if you give up more talent in the abstract. If you can come up with a reason for Owner B to be doing what they’re doing in the trade as it is reported to the league, even if you don’t agree with the reasoning, you shouldn’t veto.

    In this case, your veto is also a declaration that Owner B is being a moron. If someone cites an imbalanced trade in your trading partner’s favour as a reason to veto a trade you are involved in, they are insulting your judgment.

There is a lot of confusion about this in the fantasy gaming world because people like to make things more complicated than they need to be, but there are no other circumstances in which it is proper to veto a trade in your league. In addition to this being the only policy that makes any sense, it’s also very easy to apply.

Q: what if, after the trade was agreed to but during the period of league review of the trade, something causes value on either side of the trade to change? For example, the best player in a trade is discovered to have a sports hernia after terms are agreed to.

A: you should consider all players to have changed hands as soon as the terms were agreed to. The only reason Owner A’s players are still on Owner A’s roster is because there’s a league review period to evaluate the trade for unfairness–otherwise, they’d be transferred immediately. Owner A’s players should be considered Owner B’s property the instant the trade is reported to the league and vice versa. Nothing that happens after the terms of the deal are agreed to has anything to do with the fairness of the trade as it was conceived, hence you have no cause to veto.

Q: but why is there an open period of n days when other owners can veto?

A: because not all owners log on every day. That’s a simple, reasonable answer. Here’s a more complicated answer: other veto-enabled owners are supposed to be shields of justice and lemon law administrators, watching for changes of status in the players that are slated to change hands and acting accordingly if the value proposition of the trade is skewed by an injury, trade, or demotion.

Do you really believe that?

In fantasy leagues, trading is creating. It is engaging. It is proper to encourage this behavior, and improper to believe you know better than the people actively managing their own individual teams without extraordinary evidence to the contrary. When you veto outside of this ruleset you are meddling. This is the same kind of behavior that made the founding fathers distrustful of strong centralized government. This is the same thing the feds are doing with the mortgage bailouts. This is really bad policy.

If you disagree I’m going to do my best to never play fantasy baseball with you.

Cheap Dum Dums

Want to get your Halloween candy shopping done early? Need some cheap long-lasting candy for the office? Or maybe you just like Dum Dums pops like I do…

The Vons across the street from my house is selling a 2-lb bag of Dum Dums for $1.14 after Vonsclub and the coupon on the bag. I’ve already bought two bags and I’m going to keep getting at least one a day until they run out.

While doing exhaustive research for this post, I found this ode to Dum Dums, which contains both the term “Dum-Dums. Are. Completely. Totally. Rad.” and the origin story of the Dum Dums “Mystery Flavour” pop. This story is 100x more awesome than I was expecting, and I was expecting greatness.

Old AIM emoticons in Pidgin

I’ve been using Pidgin (which was mentioned in the JesusH wipe and re-install Windows guide last year) for instant messaging. I had some problems recently connecting to my various IM accounts with it, so I upgraded to 2.4.3, which seems to have fixed those connection issues. I’ve never liked the Pidgin default emoticons so I found and installed Andrei Neculau’s Original Smileys, which allow Pidgin to use the original emoticon set for each client–in other words, I see Y!M emoticons when I’m talking to someone with a Yahoo! Messenger account. I see MSN emoticons when I’m talking to someone with an MSN account.

Yes, over the last few years I’ve really started to lean on emoticons in instant messaging. This is not something I’m proud of.

Anyway, I discovered upon invocation that the AIM emoticons had gotten animated, weird-looking, and ugly since I last saw them (for example, vs ). Apparently, a new version of AIM has been released since the last time I looked, and AOL has taken this opportunity to update their emoticons. That might look like progress to the kids, but it looks like crap to me.

I couldn’t find a convenient way to get the old AIM emoticons back. I ended up having to find the old ones at elouai.com. I downloaded them, cropped them up–the originals are way too padded–and made the backgrounds transparent. In case you like the old-school AIM icons better than the new ones and want to go to a little bit of trouble:

  1. install and activate Andrei Neculau’s Original Smileys.
  2. download this archive of the old AIM emoticons and unzip them inside the folder created by step 1. On my system the folder path is

    C:\Documents and Settings\dpease\Application Data\.purple\smileys\pidgin-original

    so I created

    C:\Documents and Settings\dpease\Application Data\.purple\smileys\pidgin-original\aim_old .

  3. open the theme file created by step 1. On my system this file is

    C:\Documents and Settings\dpease\Application Data\.purple\smileys\pidgin-original\theme .

  4. find the following text block in the themes file and select it:
    # AIM 6.5
    [AIM]
    ../pidgin-original/aim/smiling.gif				:)	:-)
    ../pidgin-original/aim/winking.gif				;)	;-)
    ../pidgin-original/aim/frowning.gif				:(	:-(
    ../pidgin-original/aim/stickingouttongue.gif	:-p	:-P
    ../pidgin-original/aim/surprised.gif			=-O
    ../pidgin-original/aim/kissing.gif				:-*
    ../pidgin-original/aim/yelling.gif				>:o
    ../pidgin-original/aim/ecstatic.gif				:D	:-D
    ../pidgin-original/aim/moneymouth.gif			:-$
    
    ../pidgin-original/aim/footinmouth.gif			:-!
    ../pidgin-original/aim/embarrassed.gif			:-[
    ../pidgin-original/aim/innocent.gif				O:-)
    ../pidgin-original/aim/undecided.gif			:-\\
    ../pidgin-original/aim/crying.gif				:'(
    ../pidgin-original/aim/lipsaresealed.gif		:-X
    ../pidgin-original/aim/cool.gif					8-)
    
  5. replace the text selected in the last step with the following text block:
    # AIM 6.5
    #[AIM]
    #../pidgin-original/aim/smiling.gif				:)	:-)
    #../pidgin-original/aim/winking.gif				;)	;-)
    #../pidgin-original/aim/frowning.gif				:(	:-(
    #../pidgin-original/aim/stickingouttongue.gif	:-p	:-P
    #../pidgin-original/aim/surprised.gif			=-O
    #../pidgin-original/aim/kissing.gif				:-*
    #../pidgin-original/aim/yelling.gif				>:o
    #../pidgin-original/aim/ecstatic.gif				:D	:-D
    #../pidgin-original/aim/moneymouth.gif			:-$
    #
    #../pidgin-original/aim/footinmouth.gif			:-!
    #../pidgin-original/aim/embarrassed.gif			:-[
    #../pidgin-original/aim/innocent.gif				O:-)
    #../pidgin-original/aim/undecided.gif			:-\\
    #../pidgin-original/aim/crying.gif				:'(
    #../pidgin-original/aim/lipsaresealed.gif		:-X
    #../pidgin-original/aim/cool.gif					8-)
    
    # Old-school AIM, cause newer AIM sucks
    # 2008-07-28, DMP
    [AIM]
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/happy10.gif				:)	:-)
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/wink10.gif				;)	;-)
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/sad10.gif				:(	:-(
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/tongueout10.gif	:-p	:-P
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/shocked10.gif			=-O
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/redlips10.gif				:-*
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/angry10.gif				>:o
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/biggrin10.gif				:D	:-D
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/indifferent10.gif			:-$
    
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/footinmouth10.gif			:-!
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/embarrassed10.gif			:-[
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/angel10.gif				O:-)
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/confused10.gif			:-\\
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/crying10.gif				:'(
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/nospeak10.gif		:-X
    ../pidgin-original/aim_old/cool10.gif					8-)
    
  6. Save the file. Your AIM emoticons should now be the old-school versions in Pidgin.
  7. Profit!

Social Security Again

Everyone knows Social Security is busted. Heck, we said it years ago, and nobody accuses us of being deep thinkers. Someday in the not-so-distant future the entire system will collapse on itself and run out of money. Presidential hopeful John McCain does a nice job testifying to the problem.

Last week, McCain told observers at a town-hall meeting in Portsmouth, Ohio, “Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers … and that’s a disgrace.”

You know what might help? If people of age who reported $$millions of income last year voluntarily eschewed Social Security benefits. I mean, even for a politician, that’s amazing to me–that this guy can’t do without the 0.3% of his marriage’s reported income that Social Security issues him, while he talks out the other side of his mouth about how disgraceful the system is.

You’re not helping by cashing those checks, Senator, and if you tell me you need the money I’m going to laugh at you. What a dick move.

Bioshock: Pre-review

Having finished all the Orange Box I cared to play–I tried Team Fortress 2, and it seemed cool, but I was just getting my ass beaten all over the place by my online opponents and I don’t really have the desire to play through that to get to the point where I can actually do something useful in the game–I installed Bioshock last Friday.

I couldn’t get the sound to work. Turns out Bioshock has a problem with sound in Windows Vista. The advice 2KGames gave me had to do with RealTek onboard sound, which I don’t have. After screwing with Vista’s “compatibility modes” for a while I found the solution was to run the game with DirectX 9. If you have to do the same thing, be sure to add the -nointro switch to your shortcut (e.g.

"C:\Program Files\2K Games\BioShock\Builds\Release\Bioshock.exe" -dx9 -nointro

so you don’t have to look at a half-minute of lame unskippable branding before the game starts.)

I’ve only played the game for an hour or so so far. My initial thoughts are that I’m not having as good a time as I did with Half-Life 2 and that the Pipe Dream-style “hacking” of vending machines and turrents is kind of fun but really ridiculous.

Jury Duty

I served on my first jury a couple of weeks ago. Apparently I’m a bit more respectable than I used to be–showing up at the courthouse in something other than cutoffs and sandals and having gotten a haircut in the last few months might have been a factor there.

While I was walking back to the court from the parking lot after lunch on the first day, I passed a young mother on a bench holding her infant daughter. I pay a lot more attention to babies than I used to so I noticed her bouncing the kid on her knee and thought the whole scene cute. As I walked by I heard mom start talking to the baby in that singsong cutesie voice that people always use when they say stuff like “are you a good booooy? do you want to go to the paaaaark?” to babies.

“Mommy’s going to get a restraining order against dadddddy
So he can’t hurt her anymore”

Paraphernalia rebate from Microsoft

In support of their Live Search search engine Microsoft has unveiled a program where one can get cash back for making purchases online after finding them with Live Search.

I don’t typically use Live Search, so I heard of this program through my favorite hot deals website. They recommend using Ebay in conjunction to Live Search to get up to 35% cash back on qualifying purchases, and quite reasonably note that it’s best to use this rebate for big ticket items like Playstation 3s and Wiis.

I’d like to offer an alternate strategy: were one so inclined, apparently one can also get the rebate for purchasing an industry standard, very expensive Storz & Bickel Volcano vaporizer. If only this deal had come along in my younger, more rambunctious days…


Don’t miss out on your $188.65 rebate from Microsoft for this qualifying purchase!

Portal

In my previous post about Half-Life 2, Andres asked about Portal. I played it this week.

The gimmick is instead of a weapon that does damage you’ve got a gun that shoots an orange and a blue portal. The orange portal connects to the blue portal, so you can do things like walk through walls to go across rooms or fall long distances through portals and conserve your momentum to fly out the other side like Superboy.

The game is short, but I think that’s the way it had to be, because none of the challenges was particularly hard and there’s only so many ways I can envision setting up puzzles with the Portal gun as the only way for the player to interact with them. I probably got six or seven hours out of this game and I don’t know how I could possibly get much more. There are ‘advanced’ levels that become unlocked upon beating the game; maybe I’ll take a look at those.

The gameplay is definitely innovative, but I found myself really wishing for a real gun like I’d have in Half-Life at many points–not because I needed it, but because I wanted to drop a cap in something all aggressive-like. The game looks just like Half-Life 2, so I’m sure that colored my perception there… I found it strange to be running around and not dodging zombines or antlions.

There has been a lot said about how clever and funny Portal is. I didn’t really find that to be true. There were funny parts but I wasn’t LOLing about much that computer voice GLaDOS was telling me while I was working my way through the game.

In this article about the Old Man Murray guys working on Portal there’s an interesting quote about Portal and Half-Life existing in the same universe and intertwining in the future–indeed (spoiler alert, I guess) Aperture Laboratories is mentioned in Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and Black Mesa is mentioned in Portal, so that’s got to be where things are headed. If I can use the Portal gun and real shoots-bullets guns in the same game, I can’t imagine where the difficulty is going to come from… just shoot a portal behind a bad guy, shoot one safely behind cover, change weapon to something that does damage, and shoot the dude in the back. I’ll be really interested to see how the Valve folks work this out.

Three Pochaccos due to my really high expectations not entirely being met.

Update: I had no idea Mike Patton of Faith No More was in this game. And here’s a download site for “Still Alive”, the song that plays over the credits, which is pretty cool.

Half-Life 2 Re-Review

Did I tell you that I got a badass new computer a couple of months ago? I’m now able to play video games of more recent vintage than Diablo II for the first time in years.

I got the Orange Box and re-played Half-Life 2 and both Episodes, which took me about a month because I don’t get a lot of free time to blow on video games lately for some reason. I wanted to update my moldy old Half-Life 2 review with some additional information.

* I previously owned Half-Life 2, obviously, and got the Orange Box because I’m a lazy sack and wanted to get all the episodes and Portal without tracking down my old game (which I gave to Woody anyway). I figured when I installed the games Valve’s Steam system would say “ha ha, thanks for buying multiple copies of the same game dummy” if it remembered that I had the games previously at all, but instead it gave me credit for two copies of HL2 and offered to allow me to send one to a friend. I was originally very skeptical of Steam but this is really cool!

* The graphics in this game are awesome. When I previously played it I was plumbing the limits of my hardware; now I can play it at highest res and still get good framerate and no glitching and I enjoyed it.

* I pumped up the difficulty this time around and died more often as a result. That’s a good tip for you l33t gamerz like myself.

* I still thought the end of HL2 was a little more like a cutscene than a playable video game. That’s really my only complaint. The episodes were very fun, and I enjoyed the gameplay a lot more than I remember the first time around.

Five Pochaccos, Valve. Excellent job. I can’t wait for Episode Three!

Post-publication edit: I can’t believe I forgot this one… I live and work near Miramar, and they’ve got those big two-prop cargo choppers that fly around on a regular basis. Lately I’ve left my building at work or the house and heard a couple of those things whomping around, and I’ve reached for my laser-guided RPG to take them down–not because I hate the Marines or America but because I’m so used to blowing up the gunships in Half-Life 2.