Thursday
Nov042010

The Calloric Perks of an IT Career

I found my calling later in life than I thought I would.  I suppose technically, I figured I didn't have a calling or I would have found it sooner.  I'm nearing 30 now and didn't realize I had a knack for computers until I was about 25.  It's been an interesting journey, the process of transitioning out of soul-numbing boredom and into an exciting world of printer errors ands cable binding. In all seriousness, I genuinely enjoy my work, even when it is on the tedious side.  I've also started to enjoy some of the perks of my chosen trade.  People are usually happy to see me.  Whether it's because I'm there to fix something or if they need some help at home, I usually get a good response from people, which is nice.  I more or less expected this response, for two reasons.  One, I go out of my way to be nice and helpful.  Computers, generally, are not intuitive, and the problems they can have are cryptic and frustrating.  The last thing anyone needs is the person who is supposed to help them to be an antisocial creep.  The second thing is I'm good at what I do.  I can usually fix the problem or at least find a work-around.  So the fact that my co-workers don't shudder at the thought of dealing with me isn't a huge surprise.  What IS surprising is the bounty foodstuffs that have been heaped before me in the execution of my duties.

In the past two years or so, I've been given gift cards for coffee, one for a burrito place nearby I'm still working through, all manner of candies, including more of those little round peppermints candies than I can count (in fairness I like those and seek them out). More recently, I got a very nice cupcake for doing some work on a webpage, and got another cupcake just today for fixing a credit card machine.  About a week before that, our HR gal gave me an interesting candy bar for helping with some presentations for an after hours all-staff meeting.

Lemon Drop CupcakeI called it an interesting candy bar because it has drawings of fish on it. This strikes me as being uniquely, almost aggressively Pacific Northwestern.  I'm originally from Long Island, NY, and spent enough time there that regional differences are still pretty noticeable.  Even if they weren't, though, this type of thing would strike any non-native as bizarre.  Where else in this country could you find a gourmet chocolate bar with a salmon on it?

Salmon Bar. Yum!I think that's it.  It's certainly the more interesting entries.  Who knows what the future will hold?  Personally, I don't think I'll be satisfied until I get a good dinner and/or a six pack.

Monday
Nov012010

Balance

I had hoped, at the inception of this blog, that I could balanace the content of posts between personal stuff, school stuff, work stuff, and projects. Three out of hour of those things are note difficult.  There's always something odd going on at work, or something interesting about school, and then there's me.  I wouldn't have a website if I couldn't talk about myself endlessly. Projects are a little tougher, though.  You see, I have to DO stuff for the projects to be interesting.  I guess I could outline a project I would like to do, but that would be boring if there's no follow-through.  I've been taking the approach of writing about projects as I do them, but I don't want to post any of it until its done.

The problem is, none of these projects are really pressing.  I'm not going to save the company millions (well, probably not), or save a significant amount of time doing any of these.  They will make life easier, but it's not hard to find more pressing things to do.  We've had a streak of dead PCs at work lately, so much of my time lately has been wiping out/replacing the bad ones with something that works.  Not an excuse, just saying I don't have much time at work, and I'm usually tired or need to do other stuff at home.  It might be a question of motivation.  Usually once I get into the project at hand I can focus on it and make some progress, but it can be hard to get started sometimes.

The whole point of this post is to say that I would like to write with more frequency, but I'm afraid if I don't balance the personal stuff with projects then it just becomes another vanity blog (which I suppose it is already, if I'm to be honest).  I think the issue is I want this to be an outlet of myself, and currently my self is not doing enough in the way of projects.  I'll blame school, and the fiendishly entertaining video game industry, and everything else that is not expressly me.  I have the intentions of a saint.  Surely it can't be MY fault.

Saturday
Oct022010

Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus: A Review

 

As mentioned previously, I found this little gem in a Fred Meyer bargain bin (of all places!).  I don't think my wife was too keen on me getting this, but how could I resist?  It was too juicy to pass up.  I didn't even know at that point that it had one of the greatest scenes in film history.

Starring Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson, this was made by The Asylum, which seems to specialize in this type of Creature Feature, as well as apocalypse movies, weird religious movies that usually also deal with the apocalypse, and possibly softcore porn comedy.  I'm not sure about that last one, but #1 Cheerleader Camp doesn't strike me as particularly religious or a creature feature.

So for starters, Debbie Gibson surprised me in this one.  She's got some acting chops.  I don't know what I was expecting, but she came across as very natural to me.  I thought everyone did a respectable job, but she impressed me the most. Lorenzo Lamas was good, but I forgot he was in this for about half the movie.  I guess I just don't have a good enough image of him in my head. Also, and this was weird, the teacher/mentor of Debbie Gibson kept reminding me of the dad from Family Ties.  It couldn't be, of course, since he looked like the dad did back in the show, but he gave me that vibe.

We join the heroine at the genesis of the plot, cruising the arctic in a stolen mini-sub.  She witnesses some military shenanigans which releases the sea beasts.  Apparently the titular shark and octopus were frozen in the midst of mortal combat.  I guess it was a fast freeze, or they're slow fighters.  Debbie's (sorry, I can't remember her character's name and don't want to find it) not sure what she saw, and goes on with her life.

Most of the movie is about the carnage the two beasts cause, ranging from the aforementioned best scene in a movie ever (accoding to that guy), to the octopus destroying a Japanese oil refinery in a scene that reminded me of one of my new favorite band's album covers.  How can they stop these monsters before they eat everything in the ocean?  I won't give away any spoilers, but it shares a certain sensibility with Clash of the Titans.

One thing I definitely have to comment on is the production values.  I think the typically low budget for these movies is both a blessing and a curse.  The downside is that CG is really the only way to go for movies like this.  CG is expensive, though, which means there's a lot of recycled shots of attacking and moving.  There's also not enough crazy over the top moments, like with the plane, or the shark eating the Golden Gate bridge.  The upside is the creative ways they overcome some of these problems.  What do you do if you need a scene in a prison, but you dont' have access to a prison?  Set it in an interview room, which is basically any office building, add red lights, smoke, and a guy in a military-esque uniform, and voila!  Instant jail!  My favorite, though, was when the scientists had to find a way to lure the creatures using pheromones.  I thought it was odd that all they were doing was mixing beakers and vials of different colored liquids.  Shouldn't they use a computer?  Just when I started to wonder how they would know it worked, I got my answer:  Apparently the two critters not only shared pheremones (since they never made another or different batch), but those pheremones are neon, glowing green.  Seems obvious in hindsight, doesn't it?

Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  These movies are made for me.  It would have been better with a bigger budget, but I guess that can be said for a lot of things.  I think in the end, I prefer they make that movie with the issues I raised than not make it at all.

Saturday
Sep252010

Thoughts on Movies

So I was thinking I would start posting movie reviews.  I don't go out to the movies much, but I figured as I saw things I would write my thoughts on them.  The first installment will be for a little treat I found languishing in a Fred Meyer clearance bin.  It will be a review for none other than Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Okay, I probably need to preface this.  I would consider myself a fan of movies.  I wouldn't say I'm a movie snob, but watching a movie is one of those rare occasions when I will focus all my attention on a single task.  It's a treat.  My biggest problem with a lot of movies is that they're predictable.  Trends emerge, formulas become known.  It bugs me when I see it.  There are two examples I always go to when I need to illustrate this point.  The first is Signs.  I thoroughly enjoyed Signs up until the end, where it became apparent that the ONLY reason ANY of those characters had a deviation from normal behavior was to facilitate that ridiculous end sequence.  The son has asthma, so he can't breathe the poison gas, the little girl is neurotic about glasses of water, so she takes a sip and leaves them all over the house.  This is set up perfectly for Merril, who has a pathological inability to NOT swing a baseball bat.  Thanks to an improbably inept alien invasion, Mel's character regains his faith.  Credits.  Now while I didn't necessarily see it coming while watching the movie, hindsight kicked me like a mule.  Now I can't watch anything without trying to predict how a personality quirk will be relevant later.  I find I'm usually right.  It really took some of the magic away.

The second example is Pixar movies in general.  I generally tend to avoid them because they feel hyper-formulaic to me.  They're always fantastic movies, but I feel like I can get everything from the trailer.  The last one I saw was Up.  Old man Grumpus gets a change of heart, the little shy fat kid finds his courage, the outcast dog rejoins the pack as the leader, at the expense of the former leader that was mean to him.  It's all done amazingly well, but there's not really anything surprising there.  I can't fault Pixar either.  I feel like they have to make movies like that to recoup the cost of making them.  You can't make a niche moody noir Pixar film for 200 mil and expect to make money on it.  I applaud them for going as far as they do.  The problem for me is that I know those movies are expensive and difficult to make, so I know that even the tiniest detail in those movies is planned out to make you feel a certain way.  I know that all movies manipulate the viewer into siding with a certain character, or experiencing a certain emotion, but it feels like these movies do that times ten.  That sense of overt manipulation and strict adherence to fomula are turn offs for me.

Now that we have THAT out of the way...I've noticed in my years as a TV watcher that the former Sci-fi channel, now (shudder) Syfy, had a penchant for playing B movies.  At first I would chuckle at how bad they looked and move on.  One day, though, I lingered, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Now to be sure, I think all or at least most of these movies have a few generally predictable elements to them.  Good always triumphs over evil in the end, and protagonists are always uniquely suited to battle the antagonist in these movies.  I'm alright with that because so much else comes straight out of left field.  Take the Sharktopus trailer, for example.  Never would I have guessed that the titular sharktopus is a bio-weapon for some shadowy government organization, apparently led by Eric Roberts.

I also appreciate the humor.  I believe most of the laughably ridiculous moments in these movies are intentional.  I feel like they're going after camp and spectacle in an effort to entertain, and it works for me.  I also enjoy the ride they take you on.  These movies frequently posit unusual questions and let you follow these questions to their conclusion.  I think the small budgets impose interesting constraints on the film makers, and I genuinely feel it makes the ride more fun to go on.  I think they're way more likely to be adventurous since they're not spending as much to make these movies.  Whether intentional or not, these movies entertain and intrigue, and for that they get major points in my book.

 There's something about these movies that really captures my imagination, and I'm glad I'm not the only one.  I don't know how to capture it in words, but something about them just make me happy.

Monday
Sep132010

Subjects

Through some cruel twist of fate, I will be having not even a brief respite from school.  It has something to do with normal colleges having short summer semesters and my fully online school having 10 week courses no matter what.  The result is that while normal college ended three weeks ago, online college is wrapping up this week.  Normal college is beginning their fall semester next week, which means my break between school consists of this weekend.  Ok, so I guess I have a brief respite. What this means for this website, though, is that once again my plans must change. My plans going unfulfilled seems to be a running theme.  I think I'll add a tag, to make it easier to find these instances for future self-loathing, and potential third-party loathing as well.  The plans I referenced pre-tangent were to bang out a bunch of posts on various topics that have intrigued me in the 10 or so weeks since I stopped updating this puppy.  Thinking, erroneously, that I would have a nice calm break between classes, this seemed like a reasonable proposition.  Since that will not be happening, it seems like I'll need to put my big boy pants on and just do school and website at the same time.

 

Here's the thing, when it comes to subscriptions, I feel like I have to use them in the billing period, or it hurts me.  I get 1 credit a month from Audible.  I pay them monthly.  If I don't use that credit that month, it's like they won.  Same thing with Squarespace.  When I don't post here, I feel like Johnny Squarespace (the founder and CEO of Squarespace, of course) is sitting in his office laughing at me.  Like he has little puppets, and he acts out little scenes.  His puppet is big and manly, mine is short and dumpy.  He says "Listen up little man, I'm not going to give you anything this month, and you're going to pay me!" To which puppet-me says "Yeah, ok", and hands over the money, which makes him start laughing all over again.  It's like that, in my head.  All the time.  God forbid I don't use two subscription services in the same month.  It's like they have a meeting, and I'm serving the tea, and then I pay them and leave.


That's all a long way of saying I have some stuff to talk about, and it will hopefully be coming with some predictable frequency in the coming weeks.  My topics include, in no particular order:

 

  • XHTML
  • Batch script to detect software versions
  • A review of the cinematic tour-de-force that is Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus
  • My thoughts on why time travel is a flawed premise for fiction of all kinds
  • Batch back up script
  • Software architecture
  • My projects page
  • Selling my Mac for a pc (well, sorta)
  • Twitter
  • Hacked car software
  • A possible new look for the site
  • Extravagant displays of soda can artistry at supermarkets
  • Rats (the cute kind, not the big nasty ones)
  • The occasional caloric perks of working in IT