Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fantasy Flight Games

This was Saturday, Day 2, of my nine days away from work.  It's not succeeding entirely because, well, work.  But for the most part.  Eryn and I did low key today.  Cup of coffee while I cleaned up a back log of things I wanted to blog about so I don't forget them, admired the new book shelf which I added to the kitchen because two bookshelves weren't enough for all our games.  Three aren't either - I have all the big box games on the bedroom upper shelves - Axis and Allies, Sid Meier's Civilization, Shogun, Tide of Iron - the sort of things you'd need a shelf apiece for.  But the others are now set up book shelf style so they're readable for gamers, and the tops of the shelves free of piles of games and available for bicycling knickknacks and the like.  I also made it halfway through cleaning up Eryn's pile of stuff that sort of mounded over one of the shelves and her little table.  We were long overdue for a decluttering.  Which is less a decluttering and more of a new pile destined for Goodwill this week (and the foodshelf, and Best Buy recycling, ad naseum).

Yesterday, I thought Eryn could help me go find a copy of a card game Troy at work wants me to play.  I was pretty sure I'd get soundly trounced without knowing how to play and, while the online rules are good, they don't really give you a feel for play.  So I looked up stores where I could buy a copy of Call of Cthulhu and what pops up?  The Fantasy Flight Gaming Center in Roseville.  Plans changed. If I was going to buy the game, why not get it directly from the source of the game.  And the web noted there was a cafe as well.  Eryn and I rolled up there just prior to opening at 10:00 a.m. to check it out.

Why had we not been up there before.  The place is amazing.  The production facilities are across the lot and this is the gaming/retail/cafeteria space.  Way over there is the front door, Followed by lots of retail and a huge Warhammer display for the miniature folks.  Eryn thought all the layouts and miniatures were interesting.  And if you hate painting, there are painters on sight who seem to paint for a fee.  The games are FFG only.  There were hundreds of them for sale, including some I've only seen on Kickstarter.  Now I know who pays the "get 10 copies" level.

And there were large play areas to the left of us in that picture and a whole separate hall devoted to card tournaments.  There was a mini-Magic the Gathering tournament underway.  In the room we were in other players were having a board game tournament with a game I didn't know.  And those two are playing Dead of Winter, which you can watch on Tabletop, and which I've seen played at work twice by Jon and Dan and folks.  It's pretty neat looking, although it looks more fun with four as opposed to the two in this photo.

Those are the guys having the board game tournament on the far side of the room.  And those can take a game and play it.  Take. A. Game. And. Play. It.  It's a damn game library.  We walked over there and drooled for 30 minutes before I pulled Call of Cthulhu off the shelf so we could give it a spin. It's not every game I've ever wanted to play, but it's more than enough.

It took us a while to figure out Call of Cthulhu until I realized it was like a cross of the iPad game and Magic the Gathering.  You use the cards to make "pools" of energy and then you can use them to play spells, events, artifacts, monsters, and investigators.  At least one color in the pool has to match.  And you have to spend the whole pool, so if your character costs one and you have five cards in your pool, you still spend all five.  You can add pools via means, but that's the gist of it.  The tentacle-y monsters are to mark which pools you've used and attract little girls to the table (not Eryn, an employee's daughter) who want to play with them like Fisher Price people.  Her dad said, "That's Cthulhu honey.  Remember him?"  At which she very excitedly nodded her head.  I like how Eryn's Tardis' (Tardi?) mirror the Cthulhus (Cthuli?) in this picture.

Anyway, take two factions, shuffle a deck with some neutrals, and use your pools to play your cards.  The factions differ in strengths and you try to win story cards from the center by investigating.  A point for strongest on the story.  A point for most investigation symbols on the story.  And extra point if you're uncontested because your opponent doesn't commit, you drive him/her insane, or you kill him/her.  The order of how you do those things and which stories are committed to is determined by the current player.  Two player game.  Lots and lots and lots of expansion cards (which we didn't play with).  FFG calls it a living card game and there are a variety of them, like Netrunner and Star Wars and Game of Thrones, in case you prefer scifi or fantasy to horror.

Check out the dork in the Reavers Steak House hoodie.  That was a present to myself recently.  I love it.  It's difficult to get it off of  me.  Eryn was amused that the barrista/cashier told me it was simultaneously cool and scary.  And note the trash bin behind me.  If you order food, or coffee, you can eat it at the table while you play.  Eryn actually had wings.  They were boneless and they included a fork without being asked (good planning), but no one blinked an eye about saucy wings and fries and grilled cheese heading out to the table.

We played a game and 2/3.  The first game was to figure out how it worked.  The second game was to take advantage off what we knew.  Eryn rocked the invulnerability of some big terror-inspiring monsters.  I had a mix of immunity from terror and damage dealing.  So the second round decks played against each other nicely.

She realized I was taking photos.  The place got more and more full as the day went on although there were usually some tables available and it appears you can reserve a table or two if you're a group.

We finished off our gaming (note more people) with a game of Cthulhu Fluxx.  Eryn destroyed me the first game.  And we both lost the second game until I dug through the 24 cards I'd just swapped and realized that one of them said "if you both lose, you win."

There were a lot of people playing Star Wars miniatures, a favorite of my nephew Ollie since we got him two sets for Christmas, so I include this photo for him.  The above-urinal advertising has a slightly different flavor at FFG than it does at a bar.

Catch Up - Part V - Cedar Riverside

One last catch up.  Goes all the way back to August of last year.  Kyle and I visited our old apartment complex at Cedar Riverside on a historical tour.  I've mentioned I lived there a number of times, and I'm often in the neighborhood, in part because Theatre in the Round is right up the street, but I haven't been back inside the building since I lived there in the late 80s slash early 90s over a quarter century ago. When we were there it seemed to be primarily low-income white and Hmong with Ethiopian immigrants just starting to move in.  My understanding is it's mostly Ethiopian immigrants now and the building manager (who was the building manager when we were there) noted that they tend to stay longer because of religious no-interest-bearing loans restrictions which can keep them out of houses.  But the flip side is they're very nice to their apartments because they're there for a long time.

The sign sort of freaked me out because it didn't really occur to me when I moved in that it had only been there about 13 or 14 years.  Kyle and I lived there in the first 1/3 of its existence.

I craned my neck to look at this view more times than I can remember.

When they repainted, they kept the colored panels because there's a lot of nostalgia about them.  Brighter than what I remember some of the older pastel-ish pinks being, however.

At one point they took us to the roof of McKnight where they used to allow residents to go.  Kyle and I must have missed that opportunity by a few years, so it was exciting to get up there.  McKnight is 39 floors high.  Kyle and I lived on the top floor of D, facing Cedar Avenue, which was 21 floors.  That was so high fire truck ladders couldn't reach you, so this was WAY up there.  If you click through to Flickr, some of these are nice in a larger resolution.  I particularly like this one.

Looking at the nearby highways.

The University of Minnesota.

I think we're looking at the new I-35 bridge here.  That tall apartment building to the right of the bridge is where my Arthurian studies professor lived with her older (also a professor) husband.  The windows on the decks were removable, but her husband was too old to handle them, so one class assignment was to swap out the windows while we talked about our Arthurian projects.  That bluish building is Theatre in the Round.  The white building in the foreground is where my wife once got the red bean paste Good Wife cookie she had to spit up in her hand.  To the right of it, with the green awning is the Acadia where Kyle and I went for lunch  Beneath my feet are the Wienery from the post referenced above and the Cedar Riverside Cultural Center.

The new stadium going in.  Much further along now.  As of this week they were working on siding and glass/windows and moving the Star Tribune folks to new digs so they could use their building as a park.  Kyle sent me an article about Jon Bream's 25000 record collection being sold off as part of the move.

You'll have to go zoom in on this one.  Not much point to a tiny panorama.
Larger panorama

They also took us on a tour of a room. These look EXACTLY like the single bedroom Kyle and I shared for two years in college.  More than a bit of deja-vu.  This is the room we slept in.  Kyle had the left side of the room

I slept right next to this window, except 21 stories up.  I loved waking up to the full wall drop off every morning.  Definitely gets your brain going.

This is why we didn't have parties at our place.  Obviously we could have let some of them hang out in the bedroom, but still a bit crowded.  This picture does highlight that we had a pretty nice one bedroom apartment in college.  It's plain, but the fact that these tourists all fit with room to spare shows just how much room we had if you include a separate kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.  Not to mention it came with cable tv, close circuit cameras for the front doors, sprinklers (after year one), a/c and heat and water shared communist style across everyone, and more (like one of the few apartments at that price with a dishwasher).

Speaking of shared a/c and heat, they took us for a tour of the bowels of Riverside Plaza.

Hard to see it in this picture...

...but the equipment is enormous.  This was just one of the rooms.  At the time, I was just happy for heat and a/c.  I never gave much thought to exactly how big the apparatuses were that kept me happy.

Catch Up - Part IV - Code Freeze 2015

Code Freeze had a security focus this year.  And although much of it had to do with things, the lessons were still good.  I know I've been talking about Stephen Checkoway's presentation on how to hack a car to my team for months.  He and Bruce Shneier both had great presentations.  The break outs about bitcoin and secure email were a little less inspiring, but gave me time to go have lunch with Ming at the local Asian restaurant.  Checkoway's takeaway is that cars were built with the expectation that as long as you were within the firewall/existing system you were safe.  That led to buses being connected to the extent that if you could hack the radio or force a buffer overflow via a CD or get a car outside the 4G network so that it had to communicate via traditional phone, you could hack everything right up to the point of driving it remotely (horn, shut it down, listen if there's a phone, unlock the doors, start it, etc).  It's a good lesson if you trust your database to serve up clean data all the time just because it's your database.

The panel at the end was good and elucidated on some of what Shneier was discussing earlier in the conference.  Shneier doesn’t like the worst case approach in security.  There’s too much of that in his opinion (operating in the moment), although he recognizes it’s somewhat at odds with his message around considering your adversary in advance, and it leads to “muddling through.”  That’s an old rules approach and “the old rules don’t apply.”  Checkaway agrees and sees it as positive that there’s been a shift from something might happen, to “something will happen and we have to deal with it.”

Bruce Shneier noted that getting companies to share their security data is valuable, but not easy (companies worry about their reputation).  Sharing virus information and other information helps many other industries and initiatives.  I include a few of my notes below.  Mostly for me:

  • Systems that support people instead of replacing people involve reduced switching costs (example, the military).
  • Speed is the advantage in an iterative loop of the hacker versus the hacked.
    • Observe, orient, decide, act (OODA)
    • Detection = IT.  Response = People.
    • So improve them, training them, use the OODA loop, consider the switching cost.
  1. We are losing control of our IT infrastructure.”  This means we’re also losing visibility.  We are also using devices we have less visibility/control over.
  2. Attacks are more sophisticated in their skill and focus.  There is relative security and absolute security.  “A sufficiently motivated attack will get in.  Full stop.”  The attacker has the advantage.
  3. There is an increase in government involvement in cyberspace, pro and con.  Some countries are selling cyberweapons (as arms dealers; turnkey solutions).
  • The economy affects security:
    •  Switching costs (WP vs. Word)
    •  Managerial costs
    •  Fixed costs (stamping out more copies)
    •  Lemons Market (cheap and easy wins and that’s not always good)
    •  Risk seeking when it comes to losses, risk adverse when it comes to gains.
    • “People will drive to work and fear terrorism.  What are you thinking?”
    •  Security is hard to sell.  Management is willing to “take the chance.”  Think burglar alarms  Car alarms
  •  Look up Asian Disease Experiment on Wikipedia:
  •  Look up his Crypto-gram newsletter.
  • There’s an MSST degree in security at the U of MN.

Catch Up - Part III - Trylon

We've been to the Trylon a lot in the last several months.  Usually I'd just say I've been to the Trylon a lot, but for the purposes of this post, we include me, my wife, Eryn, Kyle, Ming...all in some sort of configuration.  Kyle and I saw The Legend of Boggy Creek (seriously low-rent sci fi channel) and recently he, Ming, and I went to Why Don't You Play in Hell.  Kyle fell asleep.  Ming and I enjoyed it, although I could have done without the weird throwing up on the prayer-wish box parts.  Seemed extraneous.  If you approached it as just a movie about a mob fight that ends up with a amateur film buff getting involved and the whole thing going low-fund Kill Bill after a bunch of David Lynch-style background moments.  Well, it hit its intended mark.

I FAR preferred the Zatoichi series.  There are 26 of them!  But we watched four including the 1962 original, the 1963 sequel, the 1970 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, and the 1989 remake.  Eryn went to the last three with me on Tuesdays after school and had a great time.  Like me - and unprompted - she preferred the original black and white versions with stylized sword fighting and a focus on the story and buddy-warrior aspect rather than the blood and violence.  The 1970 episode was very Spaghetti Western in the Clint Eastwood style and when they piled all the gold from inside the statues to lure in the bad guys - there's a scene where they have gold dust in their mouths - it really evoked the scene where Eastwood paints the town red and calls it hell in High Plains Drifter.  The 1989 version got rid of the stylized violence in favor of real violence and the main characters, who are at odds but very respectful of each other in the original (Zatoichi visits his grave in the second film), are more traditionally adversaries.  Probably my favorite series since the Halloween Japanese ghost series Kyle and I went to there.

Eryn loved the movies, but I think the two buckets of popcorn, soda, and coffee at Peace Coffee before the show each time also played a part.  It was a good place for me to work and her to get her homework out of the way.

For my wife's birthday in January we all went to Buster's on 28th for the first time since their fire, and then to Strait-Jacket.  Ming, Kyle, me, Eryn, and my wife.  A full contingent.  Buster's was great, although we sat so close to the door that every time it opened you had to debate whether to put your coat on.  Strait-Jacket is a funny thriller (now; perhaps it was scary or more suspenseful in its day) and very enjoyable.

The twist at the end wasn't unexpected, but it didn't make it any less amusing.

Catch Up - Part II - Mrs. Kelly's Teas

In December (December 6 to be precise), I talked Eryn into going to Mrs. Kelly's Tea's annual tea tasting.  M.A. Rosko from Channel 9's morning news had talked about it during the week - Eryn and I watch the news together in the morning and although Fox isn't necessarily in line with my political sentiments, they have a good local morning show here in the Twin Cities - and Eryn is a pretty serious tea drinker.

I think we tried almost 30 teas each.  We got there early enough to lock in a little table and two chairs, so one off us would go off and create three tea bags and bring them back with water, we'd spend a few minutes talking about our first sips, and then the other one of us would go find three different teas.  It was a tea assembly line.

There were several areas to fill your tea bags with a theme to the areas - fruity vs. black vs. oolong vs green.  This was one of several areas.  You just grabbed a few open-topped bags and scooped a plastic spoon of tea into each one to put in a small styrofoam cup.

Water stations were in the hallway so you could refill your cups.  While it might seem very un-eco-friendly to have all those styrofoam cups, it did make for less of a mess and Eryn and I were able to reuse the six we had (our 3/3 rotation cups) for everything we drank and there were collection and recycling spots all over the place (although I'm not sure if you can recycle styrofoam cups yet).

So here's our official set up with our tea list and cups.  We tried:

  1. Africa Fruit Bowl
  2. Cozy Chamomile
  3. Fairy Tisane (smells like grass, the fresh cut outside kind, not the Colorado kind)
  4. Tisane (Hibiscus)
  5. Peach Mango
  6. Spearmint
  7. Honeybush
  8. Strawberry Fields
  9. Sunrise Surprise
  10. Vanilla Orange
  11. Strawberry Surprise
  12. Cherry Green
  13. Citrusnap
  14. Chamomile (not cozy)
  15. Gunpowder (weird)
  16. Jasmine Pearls ($40 a bag and looks like little rolled flowers)
  17. Jasmine Ginger (ewww...tasted like vasoline)
  18. Emon Green (? or something like that)
  19. Minneapple Green
  20. Pear
  21. Butterscotch
  22. Creme of Raspberry (tastes like a scratch and sniff from my childhood)
  23. Chocolate Mint (ick)
  24. Spiced Orange
  25. Banana Foster
  26. Assam
  27. English Breakfast
  28. Russian Smoky (tasted like Bacon)
  29. Peach Oolong
  30. Holiday Decaf
  31. Holiday not Decaf
  32. Malted Chocolate or something like that

There might have been a few others.  Both Eryn and I were reeling from caffeine overload by the time we left.  Holiday, Vanilla Orange, and Minneapple were the three we took home, in addition to some gourmet chocolate and a bracelet for my wife from a custom jewelry boutique, Azra Jewelry.  We also doubled down on everything but the jewelry for my mother for her Secret Santa gift.

Here's Eryn before the caffeine hangover kicks in.

A few of the teas including Banana Foster which we snapped a picture of for my sister who refuses to talk about how she once made us Bananas Foster as a dessert.

After Mrs. Kelly's we did a neighborhood tour - this is right next to the warehouse Mrs. Kelly's abides in - and found some lunch at Maeve's Cafe and some books at the local used book store.  Eryn picked up a novel based on Halo, the video game, and I just this week found her three others at the library (although she's currently in the middle of Mort(e)), so our tea and book experiences are still front and center 4 months later.

Maeve's was a nice place to slowly unwind over iPad Fluxx and get some food on top of all that liquid.

I particularly liked this painting, although for most of our visit I thought it was a chalkboard you could write on without damaging the picture.  Fortunately, there was no chalk so I was saved from inadvertent vandalism.

Maeve's also had a wall of poetry, some of it an homage to squirrels.  I wonder if there are tulip bulbs in the sun (XKCD)?

And finally, this has NOTHING to do with the trip to Mrs. Kelly's directly, but it's part of Eryn's tea mini-obsession.  When my wife and I went to The Lagoon to see the animation Academy Award nominations recently, we wandered around Kitchen Windows ogling all the shiny coffee makers and toys.  We left with little for ourselves, but picked up this manatee tea steeper for Eryn (she has a thing for manatees after our first trip to Florida, and a stuffed manatee named Sally).

Catch Up - Part I, Missing Theatre in the Round

This is purely a bit of catch up to get some documentation around a few photos I don't really have descriptions around.  I'll get back to my week of vacation momentarily, but you can consider this a hard core effort to avoid taxes, bills, and presentation work for work while hanging at the coffee shop.

Where to start...where to start...we're going to start with Theatre in the Round because there's only one photo, and then we'll do a separate post for Part II and/or III so this post isn't 20 pages long.

I've missed talking about two plays at Theatre in the Round.  Back at the end of 2014 (December 5) we went to Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution.  I can remember it well because I can sum it up as paying to go see a mock trial with a twist at the end.  Almost the entire, long, play was about the trial and at the very end you learn there's a twist.  Almost a deus ex machina, without the machine and without the god/s, to tidy the whole thing up. There's probably a term for that, but it escapes me at the moment.  Don't get me wrong.  I like mock trials.  I volunteer at mock trials. Dixon v. Providential Life Insurance is one of the most popular posts on But I like them when I'm involved.  Not as a spectator.

We also went to the Drawer Boy this year.  What really stood out in the Drawer Boy was that one of the three main characters, the farmer, was Hermann Goering in 2.  A play my wife and I both remember well because he did such a great job.  Amusingly, it's not on my blog not because I was slacking, but because it predates Eryn and ran January 5-28, 2001. I thought it might have been the play where Pooteewheet was 9 months pregnant and ready to explode, but the timing isn't right.  That had to have been a different one.  She was very confused about The Drawer Boy before we went.  She was certain it had to be about a boy who lived in a drawer, as in part of a cabinet.  I said it was about a boy who drew.  She was pretty sure that was nonsense.  I didn't tell her I knew better and that despite not having seen the play before, I knew a little about it.  I have to say it was one of my favorite plays at TiTR so far.  A lot of progressive revelation between the characters about their involvement in the war and how they survived after the war and the nature of survivor's guilt both on and off the battlefield.  All helped along by a young somewhat-naive hippie playwright who serves as the foil for the best humor and driving the revelations.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It Follows

My week of vacation has started.  And I'm going nowhere.  My plan is to get a ton of chores done, a lot of writing, and just generally relax.  Any going somewhere will have to wait for July and October.  But I really do intend to have an interesting week in the context of sticking around, even if it's taxes, making chili, reading, and doing some college phone screens for intern and new grad candidates.  Might not sound exciting, but you'll see.

So I started the whole week off last night by walking over to the 10:25 It Follows.  One of the nice things about my suburban life is that my house is near Target, Cub, and the movie theater.  It used to be near an ice cream shop (I miss Ring Mountain) and there are coffee shops, although they're not my coffee shops of preference.  So walking, even at 10:25 p.m. (and 1:00 a.m. with a stop at Cub for juice) is an option.  Chilly here still, but not so bad it wasn't a nice way to finish the evening.

I liked It Follows.  The teenage boys in the audience didn't seem to given their discussion on the way out.  But the fact that they were having a spirited discussion about what it meant and that it was driven by STD...if it got them talking about the merits of the movie, it couldn't have been that bad.  It felt a little old school.  No seriously creepy monsters (not in the traditional sense).  No slashing.  Just a nice, slow, reveal of more and more about what was following Jay, punctuated with proof that it wasn't in her head - some actual physical interaction with her friends - and some music/sound that was really superb.  At one point the noise from the television blended into the background sound in a way that was impressive.  When I explained it to my wife, I said the music/sound reminded of someone else, the guy who did Ghosts of Mars and Prince of Darkness.  Carpenter.  The sound was reminiscent of Carpenter, but better.

So well done.  Obvious avoidance of product placement.  No big name actors to distract.  Some realistic dialogue and behavior on the part of the teens.  A slow reveal without startling, so actually rather creepy.  Great, creepy sounds without an annoying music soundtrack (refer back to product placement).  Just a touch of moralizing.  An ode to cinema I remember from my youth in both style and sound.  It didn't scare me, but I definitely was happy I went.

It's Not My Job

I enjoyed this post over at Gizmodo about tech issues, "It's Not My Job".  I have some sympathy.  Fortunately, I managed to avoid the tech support job as a college student - partially because computers weren't as widely used (cough, dial up, cough, slow dial up) at the time - but I did serve as a jack of all trades where I did work. And I have a few stories since then, so here's my own minor list of tech encounters:

1.) when I was a jack of all trades, I did mail, tiling (yes, as in floor), janitorial work (bathrooms, polishing the board table), food service, interviewing, publications creation, and recording of minutes and surveys, just to name a few things.  The minutes and surveys were the tr/icky part because we had a rudimentary file share and sometimes a professional at the office would ask me to come find the document on the share for them.  They always got a print out with the file location on the bottom of the document, but after 25 years I've learned not everyone's brain sorts and organizes the same way and it creates blind spots, even when you're looking at a printed file path.  When they were sick, it was bad enough.  I had to eventually put my foot down and go home when other people came in sick because it impacted my health so frequently (if you collected enough sick time, you could trade it for vacation/payout, so it was in your best interest to never be sick).  But what I dreaded most was a coworker who liked to eat while she typed.  And she was not a tidy eater.  And she did not wipe down the keyboard when there was a spill.  So after a few years, when she'd ask me to come find a file or help with a software issue...sticky.  And not just a bit of old coffee or sugar on your fingers, but coffee or sugar that picked up a dusting of new and old food.  Eventually I told her - and I think this speaks well of the boss-subordinate interaction where I worked that I didn't get in trouble - that she had to wash her keyboard.  Our office manager was involved as well and had a can of compressed air, but it wasn't powerful enough to dislodge sticky.  Go figure.  So we conferred, and then told her to put it in the dishwasher.  She was initially very concerned.  What if it ruins the keyboard?  It will ruin the keyboard! How will I type? I'll just be sitting here all day.  My office manager affirmed we could afford a new one (which was certainly an option), but seeing as the professional liked her current keyboard, there was nothing to lose.  So we ran it through the dishwasher on hot/scrubber and crossed our fingers.  It didn't melt, didn't lose its keys and, after it dried, it worked like a charm.  It was sticky again only a month later, but at least there was a respite.

2.) The converted document experience.  This one isn't h/w.  When I started with my company in the long ago eons, our website used a document converted to take Office docs and text files and pdfs and turn them into a combination of HTML and images so that they could be read by anyone without the need to purchase software.  A big win for our demographic who were spending all their money on school.  Very shortly after joining my team, I get a call.  It's customer support and they have a call they can't answer and want a developer.  I'm a developer.  Excellent.  Hold on.  A woman comes on the phone who's very reasonable but a bit frazzled and she tells me the document is completely wrong.  I ask if it's not converting and start to check some of the logs.  She says it's not converting at all.  I've got nothing in the logs for her in terms of an error (pre security concerns days and we could map user to documents easily).  So I dig a bit and find the actual document which has successfully uploaded and the converted file which we kept for performance, although it could be regenerated.  I open both up to take a look, letting her know what I'm doing, and she continues to talk telling me how critical the issue is and how it invalidates everything she's doing.  I look at it for a while and respond, it looks as though it's converted properly.  The content is there and the formatting looks good.  She loses it.  The lines are completely off because the margins are off by a character or two and so the pagination is completely different and the document is not the same.  AND WE SHOULD SHUT DOWN THE SITE COMPLETELY BEFORE IT HAPPENS TO ANYONE ELSE!  We serviced thousands of users and tens of millions of calls a day.  That seemed excessive.  So I walk her through my fairly new knowledge of the system and try to explain that converters aren't perfect and that our converter was selected with the intent to capture the widest variety of documents, so the fidelity for any single document type was less than 100% (and this was in the late 90s, coming up on a human generation ago, which is like 1000 computer generations as I understand it) and combined with late-90s HTML, it was just that much less likely to be perfect.  And she just keeps getting louder, and louder, and louder.  At the time, my programmer knowledge of customer interaction was a.) it should never happen and b.) if it does, you're not the one to hang up.  So for an hour, she harangued me while I explained I could modify the HTML directly in the system if she didn't reupload it, but we couldn't manually change it ever time, or she could use the original binary if the individuals needing access to her document had the appropriate software. No, shut it down.  No, shut it down.  No, shut it down.  No, shut it down.  Louder.  Louder.  Louder.  She finally got frustrated that I didn't have a button to shut the site down next to me and wouldn't call the person with that power, and huffed that she was done with me and hung up.  Almost 20 years later and I've been through half a dozen rounds of document conversion, some of them enormous systems using the exact same software I used in 1998 to convert at an enterprise level.  I worry she's still unhappy with the fidelity of her documents.

3.) My own embarrassing story.  I was riding my bike trainer in the computer room, watching a program on my computer with wireless headphones on.  I'm spinning away when I swear I see movement out of the corner of my eye.  I shrug it off, but it bothers me.  So I stop, sweating everywhere, and look around the desk.  Nothing.  But a few weeks earlier I had popped the side off the desktop to do a repair and hadn't felt the need to reattach it.  I touched it to move it for a better look near the desk and out comes a mouse.  Not a computer mouse.  A flesh and blood, furry mouse.  I grabbed a container and he (or she) scurried back into the computer to hide in the far corner in the beginnings of a mouse house.  I don't understand how the noise couldn't have driven the thing insane, although I bet it was nice and toasty given I seldom shut it down.  I'd say that trying to dislodge a mouse from a corner inside a computer next to circuitboards and chips without breaking anything is a serious challenge.  But eventually I slowly tilted him (or her) out (don't grab the chips with your claws, don't grab the board with your claws...) and bucketed the critter.  We set it lose in the woodpile far from the house to terrorize someone else's machine.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Terra Mystica

Wednesday night this week was gaming night. A couple of co-workers I hadn't met before (brother and sister) talked me and Kevin M into a game of Terra Mytica.  Mike's sales job wasn't good up front.  He said it's like Cataan, and Carcassonne, and Small World, and Puerto Rico, and x, and y, and z.  That was a bit intimidating.  But it wasn't as difficult to play (strategy, yes) as that description.

The idea is that you're terraforming the land and each person is a particular race (Small World) with certain bonuses.  They prefer a particular type of land and try to terraform (shovel) it to their preferred land.  Once it's their preferred land they can build on it (Cataan) and upgrade the huts/towns to buildings that produce more workers and priests. There's a separate track for using the priests to generate points by having worshipers.  Biggest town (7+ points of buildings in proximity) gets points and towns generate other points/bonuses.  Many things let you cycle magical energy so you can bet yet more works/priests/shovels.  And there are cards that you can pick from each turn that have a special skill/money/etc (Puerto Rico).  So it comes down to a balance - do you focus on the worshipers, the town, blocking others, straight up scoring...

I focused on worshipers, but only because I had all sorts of priests my race really couldn't use.  And then, while everyone was pondering that priest board, I was squirreling away workers so that on the last turn I could increase my shoveling ability, which decreased the cost per shovel, and allowed me to maximize shoveling per worker.  The benefit there is that the last turn had a 2 pts/shovel bonus and I terraformed everything I could reach just to get the points.

The joke while playing with a couple of software developers is that those buildings look a lot like something you'd see in a Visio diagram.  We were pretty sure we were looking at network diagrams of servers (taller rectangles), databases (cylinder), and server farms or data centers (that big block).  It's not nearly as fun if you think you're building a redundant network.

Old dog, new trick

That's sort of how I feel when I learned that frozen olive oil looks like a bottle full of lard.  Makes sense when you think about it.  It's not much different than margarine.  I forgot it out by the grill overnight after making pork chops, and it's not so warm in Minnesota yet that you can get away leaving things out.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Is this what you should be working on?

There's a nice small list of apps at the bottom of this article which sort of sums up a lot of practices to iterate on if you'd like to see what might work for you. I like the following recommendation - although if you're hiring the virtual assistant, perhaps this is their job...

"Download a reminder app such as, Dueapp, or you could use Google Calendar and download the app on your phone. Set up an event that occurs every 3 hours with the title of the event being: Is this what you should be working on?"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why We Killed Off Code Reviews

An interesting article at

 I wasn't familiar with the 200 lines of code per hour study they cite from the IEEE.:

That sounds excruciatingly slow, although not out of reason. There have been days in my history where I wrote thousands of lines of code. Sitting down for 8-10 hours of line-by-line would have been excruciating (and some of that code was still running as of this year, so I know it survived my developer demise). It's interesting to see the issue of context switching infesting everything, even what's considered a best practice.

 "You push a pull request. Someone else has to stop what they’re doing to review it. Meanwhile, you’ve started the next feature. If the reviewer has questions, you’re pulled back into that conversation with possible changes to make after the fact."

Friday, February 20, 2015

They tried the beer without actually giving a crap about the people

"The thought that I could treat you poorly and then buy your loyalty with a few donuts or free beer is ludicrous. But I see business leaders do this sort of thing all the time. And I understand why…it’s easier to buy donuts than to do the real work of leading well."

A better article on culture than many I've read: Lead Change Group | How to Motivate Your Team & Why Your Employee Perk Won’t Work

Friday, February 13, 2015

Technical Debt Metaphors Get it so Wrong

This is just a scratch on the surface, but I like the following statement from Technical Debt Metaphors Get It so Wrong and, anecdotally (only because I've never bothered to formally track it), I concur that developers will feel the pain (and try to hide it) before it impacts the business.

 "This isn’t a simple language problem. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of roles that is naive to the way software development works. Programmers will be the primary sufferers of technical debt. Eventually the business will suffer with a slower pace of innovation and development and higher turnover. But well before that, programmers will be fixing (and refixing) obscure bugs, will bristle under management that tells them to go faster, will be working extra hours to try to improve things, and will eventually burn out. The business will only suffer once real damage has been done to a programming team, and many have given up."

Erik once crafted a Snrky related to Technical Debt:

So did I, although a lot less technical:

Monday, February 09, 2015

What I Look for in a Junior Developer

Bill Gathen's article is spot on as far as I'm concerned. Those soft skills and the ability to ask questions and pay attention to detail are incredibly important. In several interviews I've been in (being interviewed, not giving the interview, and I include talking to new managers when I move between teams) I've told them I'm someone who doesn't drop a thread - that my consistency and ability to pick something up and still be motivated and feel a sense of ownership sets me apart from others. It doesn't just apply to development. Thinking creatively about your job and how to do it better and more efficiently and why it's being done at all - that should never go away, no matter how miserable the job is (and I've been a bulk mailer and cleaning services employee in my life, including the part that involves scrubbing other people's toilets). From a dev perspective, the one thing I'd disagree with is that I expect you to be able to talk about the tech. That enthusiasm you have should extend right down to the research you did for the opening I have. Yes, I don't care if it's PHP and you're looking for a .NET job, but I really hope that if you want a career in development you can talk the talk about what personally excites you and then...then...make the connections between your comp sci education/experience and my project (I'm picturing my daughter from her elementary years when the teacher made her link her hands together with two OK signs and say "connections").

"The ones I consider most important are: enthusiasm, attention to detail, a hunger for learning, and thirst to contribute."

Double Entendre Mug

One of the developers who used to be in my org chain (I hate saying that - let's say one of the developers I used to work with) and really liked left me this mug when he took off to Amazon.  It's a good size and, with an office and satellite cube closer to my team, I left it in the cube so I have a coffee cup in each location.  It wasn't until last week, probably while zoning from being less caffeinated since December 1, that I realized the decoration along the bottom is a bit dubious.  I'm not saying it's decorated with erect phalli and testes, the other side looks a little more noses with mustaches, but it would be hard not to see it once someone pointed it out to you.

This hasn't stopped me from using it.  I'm perfectly comfortable being the manager with the Tardis mug and that weird phallus mug.  It's not the most controversial manager characteristic I'm aware of over the last 17 years.

Good Neighbor

This was in my newsfeed recently.  I'm still trying to figure out how WCCO equates a coup in Gambia with being a good neighbor.  Maybe he wanted to make it a new place to build cabins?  Or he wanted to keep Wisconsin from laying their hands on Gambia first?

Words With Friends - Interesting Random Challenge

This guy/woman absolutely crushed me in Words With Friends.  I was trying to decide if s/he was a bot. How else do you get 9999 unique words played?  Then again, if they're that brilliant at WWF maybe their personal achievement is to use as many unique words as possible.  Which makes me wonder how you keep track of the specific 9999+ words you've played.  It's either that, or you're a savant.  I even went to the trouble of looking the player id up on Google to see if anyone else had been mauled, but they're un-Google-able.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Cultures of Code

"What’s the difference between computer science, computational science, and software development..."

 A good article in American Scientist about different cultures of coding. When i started (and I should confess, I'm a History/English/Writing major) in AeroE, I would say RPI was training me more as a computational scientist: modeling data and computational problems. Where I landed roughly ten years later was definitely the software development culture. Every now and then I run into a developer who tells me a variation of the following statement below - that we get lots of good software developers who know the languages, but that don't know their "basics". Admittedly, in my experience, we hire for the former, not the latter. Perhaps in part because they create copious amounts of business-requested code (features), even if it's not based entirely in the fundamentals. It's a bit of a conundrum and we seem to juggle it a bit by having a separate R&D group as well as some groups that balance on that line between software development and computational science and even computer science that can focus on the underlying efficiency and methodology rather than delivering external user features.

 "Programmers today are intensely partisan in their choices of programming languages, yet interest in the underlying principles seems to have waned. Two years ago I attended a lunch-table talk by a young graduate student who had turned away from humanities and business studies to take up a new life designing software. She had fallen in love with coding, and she spoke eloquently of its attractions and rewards. But she also took a swipe at the traditional computer science curriculum. “No one cares much about LR(1) parsers anymore,” she said, referring to one of the classic tools of language processing. The remark saddened me because the theory of parsing is a thing of beauty. At the very least it is a historical landmark that no one should pass by without stopping to read the plaque. But, as Edith Wharton wrote, “Life has a way of overgrowing its achievements as well as its ruins.”"

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A Year in Reading - 2014

22,282 pages.  61 pages a day (really? I had a goal of 50 which I thought would be utter nonsense).  The most pages I've ever read, and nearly double last year.  I did count a few audio books which is new this year, but I didn't get anything that was abridged.  My average rating went up almost 1/2 a point as well.  A pleasant surprise.  I hope it means I was pickier about what I was reading.

So, would I maintain my rankings in retrospect?  Brontosaurs, Drift, Nation, Lock In, the third Magicians book, Ocean at the End of the Lane, the Serpent of Venice, The Golem and the Jinni, The Martian, Hallucinations, It Can't Happen Here, We are All Completely Besides Ourselves...damn I read some good stuff in 2014.  Some of the best thanks to Mean Mr. Mustard either due to recommendations this year, or as continuations of past recommendations.

Rabid, Rats.  I could have done without those.  And Parasite.  I'm still bitching about it, so I know it made me mad. And the Incrementalists?  I'm amazed it was published.  I remember the pain of trying to finish it more than the plot itself (had to do with shared mental constructs).  And I learned I can mostly do without Stephen King.  1963 was passable, but overall, King's books bored me.

I've already got things queued up for 2015.  Finishing Last of the Doughboys.  A number of management and comp sci books.  Finally reading Chris Hadfield's books and finishing Doogie Howser's Choose Your Own Adventure autobiography (I could have counted that for 2014, but I think I need to do more iterations).

11/2/2014 Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf: The BBC Adaptation of the One Man Show Hadoke, Toby 6.50
11/1/2014 Silver (the final exam is survival) Wooding, Chris 6.00
10/28/2014 Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, The Gaiman, Neil (illustrated by Eddie Campbell) 9.00
10/21/2014 Wintersmith Pratchett, Terry 8.00
10/14/2014 Akata Witch Okorafor, Nnedi 7.00
9/28/2014 Magician's Land, The (The Magicians Book III) Grossman, Lev 9.50
9/22/2014 Nation Pratchett, Terry 9.25
9/20/2014 PragPub: The Second Iteration (Issue #61, July 2014) Various 7.50
9/15/2014 Cibola Burn (The Expanse Book IV) Corey, James S.A. 8.50
9/14/2014 PragPub: The Second Iteration (Issue #63, September 2014) Various 7.50
9/7/2014 Banzai Battalion (Judge Dredd GN) Wagner, John and Brian Bolland 7.00
9/6/2014 Griff, The Moore, Christopher and Ian Corson 4.00
9/3/2014 Get Jiro! Bourdain, Anthony and Joel Rose 9.00
9/3/2014 Lock In Scalzi, John 9.50
8/26/2014 PragPub: The Second Iteration (Issue #62, August 2014) Various 8.00
8/26/2014 Black Numbers: The Aleph Null Chronicles Book One Lappi, Dean Frank 7.00
8/10/2014 Dodger Pratchett, Terry 7.75
8/8/2014 My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs Switek, Brian 10.00
8/3/2014 America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't Colbert, Stephen 8.75
7/31/2014 On Such a Full Sea Lee, Chang-Rae 7.00
7/24/2014 Mr. Mercedes King, Stephen 7.50
7/23/2014 Serenity, Vol 3: The Shepherd's Tale Whedon, Joss and Zack Whedon and Chris Samnee 6.50
7/23/2014 Serenity, Vol 2: Better Days Whedon, Joss and Brett Matthews and Will Conrad 7.50
7/22/2014 Serenity, Vol 1: Those Left Behind Whedon, Joss and Brett Matthews and Will Conrad 7.50
7/22/2014 Black Orchid: The Deluxe Edition Gaiman, Neil and Dave McKean 6.00
7/17/2014 Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power Maddow, Rachel 10.00
7/16/2014 Planet of Viruses, A Zimmer, Carl 9.50
7/15/2014 Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace (A memoir) Morton, Michael 8.00
7/5/2014 Dirty Job, A Moore, Christopher 8.00
7/1/2014 Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Gaiman, Neil 9.50
6/24/2014 Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants Sullivan, Robert 2.00
6/22/2014 Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus Wask, Bill and Monica Murphy 5.00
6/18/2014 New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird Guran, Paula (Editor) 8.00
6/9/2014 PragPub: The Second Iteration (Issue #60, June 2014) Various 8.00
6/6/2014 Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Pratchett, Terry 9.00
6/5/2014 Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, The Moore, Christoper 7.50
5/27/2014 Shovel Ready Sternbergh, Adam 8.50
5/23/2014 Authority: Book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy Vandermeer, Jeff 9.00
5/22/2014 11/22/63 King, Stephen 7.50
5/8/2014 The Wee Free Men Pratchett, Terry 9.00
5/4/2014 Spaceman Deluxe Edition Azzarello, Brian & Eduardo Risso 4.00
5/3/2014 Final Crisis Jones, JG & Doug Mahnke 2.00
4/29/2014 Serpent of Venice, The Moore, Christoper 9.50
4/25/2014 Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal Moore, Christoper 9.00
4/22/2014 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Fowler, Karen Joy 9.00
4/5/2014 Strange Bodies Theroux, Marcel 5.00
3/27/2014 Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields Lower, Wendy 7.00
3/23/2014 Circle, The Eggers, Dave 7.50
3/16/2014 A Middle-Class Utopia: Lewis's It' Can't Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis at 100: Papers Presented at a Centennial Conference SCSU 1985) Jones, James T 7.00
3/16/2014 Doctor Sleep King, Stephen 7.00
3/16/2014 Reading It Can't Happen Here With College Freshman (Sinclair Lewis at 100: Papers Presented at a Centennial Conference SCSU 1985) Parham, Judy F 2.00
3/14/2014 Shakespeare: The World as Stage (the Eminent Lives Series) Bryson, Bill 9.00
3/13/2014 Gulp Roach, Mary 8.75
3/11/2014 Fool Moore, Christopher 9.25
3/7/2014 The Golem and Jinni Wecker, Helen 9.00
3/1/2014 Martian, The Weir, Andy 9.50
2/27/2014 Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity: Version 1.0 (2/12/14) National Institute of Standards and Technology 7.50
2/26/2014 Un Lun Dun Mieville, China 8.00
2/22/2014 It Can't Happen Here Lewis, Sinclair 9.00
2/17/2014 Annihilation Vandermeer, Jeff 9.00
2/17/2014 Incrementalists, The Brust, Steven and Skyler White 1.00
2/16/2014 Hallucinations Sacks, Oliver 9.00
2/13/2014 Dust (Silo Saga) Howey, Hugh 7.50
2/7/2014 Parasite (Parisitology I) Grant, Mira 2.00
2/1/2014 MaddAddam Atwood, Margaret 7.25
1/28/2014 Happy Atheist, The Myers, PZ 6.00
1/27/2014 Year of the Flood, The Atwood, Margaret 7.50
1/23/2014 Oryx and Crake Atwood, Margaret 7.75
1/20/2014 Alif the Unseen Wilson, G. Willow 7.50
1/17/2014 Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Adam, Neal & Denny O'Neil 7.00
1/16/2014 Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit Quinn, Daniel 6.00
1/15/2014 Necromancer's House, The Buehlman, Christopher 9.00
1/14/2014 In the Tall Grass King, Stephen and Joe Hill 2.00
1/11/2014 Monstrous Regiment (Discworld 31) Pratchett, Terry 8.00
1/4/2014 Wind Through the Keyhole, The (A Dark Tower Novel) King, Stephen 8.00
1/1/2014 Jack Glass Roberts, Adam 8.50