March is National “Write something every day on your blog” Month

In honor of National WSEDOYB Month, I will be writing something on my blog every day this month. Nothing shall be too trivial or inane to escape my observation!

Hair, big big hair

One of my 1982 high school grad photos. The photographer told me to look serious. As you can see, I took his request to heart. There is so much to admire here — the cold “when the hell do I get out of here?” look in my eyes, the mountain of hair that echoes the recently passed 70s, the coolio aviator-style glasses and the thin smudge of hair pretending to be a mustache.

[singlepic id=86 w=320 h=240 float=none]

More photos being added to the scary School Photos gallery.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Dear Logitech,

Your promotional Flash site for the new G-series line of products looks very snazzy. However…

logitech-promo

I do not think you mean what you say…

lightening

Admittedly, I’m old enough that I’m not up on all the cool kid lingo anymore, so it is perhaps possible that you really are comparing the speed of the G9x mouse to the descent of a uterus.

Meanwhile, I irrationally crave the G19 keyboard even though it will be ludicrously expensive. So pretty, so very very pretty.

For the record, being sick sucks

See title.

What’s even better is having a co-worker coughing and wheezing and complaining for days about being sick just before you get sick (by amazing coincidence).

Also, it got up to 12 degrees today. No snow! Yay!

The Apple Store: Scary, pleasant

As mentioned in the previous entry, I bought a pair of Shure SE110 earphones. The one local dealer that had them in stock was the Apple store downtown. I had never been in there before so I went in as an Apple store virgin. This was akin to entering a cult compound as a curious and lost waif, seeking knowledge and wisdom.

The store is an open air design, with various bits of Apple hardware lining counters on the left and right for a little hands-on lovin’ and islands in the middle sporting more hardware. It is very bright, white and clean-looking, almost antiseptic if not for the light-colored birch (my guess) that lines the counter tops. At the far end of the store is the sales counter where the POS system consists of Mac notebooks mounted on swivel stands. Behind this counter are two large LCD screens displaying things like a glossary of technical terms or a list of people with appointments for the day.

I head about halfway down and find the racks with iPod accessories. I pull down the box of Shure earphones and look it over. So far no one has approached me, but it’s the weekend and the store is pretty crowded, so the sales reps may all be occupied. Good.

I take the earphones to the sales counter. There is a vague kind of line-up here, further underscoring my belief that over the decades Canadians have lost the ability to form a line. A woman comes up to me and asks how will I be paying. She has a big smile and even bigger saucer-like eyes. Her hair is straight and long. She looks a bit like someone from a love cult circa 1973. I tell her I am paying by debit and she smiles some more and nods and tells me someone will be helping me soon. Okay. Thanks, I guess. I continue to wait. The line is a bit slow. Maybe the POS Mac notebooks need more ram. Finally I get to the young man who scans in my purchase. The process of doing this, getting the receipt, the bag and combining these things into something I can carry out is deliberate and studied, as if a sacred ritual is being performed. The Apple bag has a drawstring on it instead of handles cut into the plastic. I feel like I am being handed a bag filled with secret runes, that I am about to begin a journey of discovery to unlock the mysteries therein. Then I get the bag and get the hell out, skirting past the greeter as she nods and smiles at someone coming in.

I can’t say the experience was unpleasant but it was a little creepy. Apple doesn’t get buyers, they get converts.

Not a Shure thing

I recently decided to upgrade the earphones I use on my iPod. I’d been using an inexpensive pair of JVC earphones after the Apple-supplied ones went on the fritz and they have been serviceable, but I’ve never liked the fit that much and as a consequence I play music at a higher volume due to a lot of the audio bleeding out of the earphones. Fearing a Pete Townsend-like future where I had to crank everything to 11 just to get good volume and making myself deaf in the process, I reckoned that sound-isolating earphones might be the answer.

After some research, I opted for the Shure SE110 earphones. They are described thusly on the product website: “Featuring Balanced MicroSpeakers, these sound isolating earphones deliver optimized audio for a rich, lifelike listening experience.  Assorted sleeves and a modular cable provide unmatched comfort and customization.” Sounds good! (ho ho)

My first moment of doubt comes when I observe that the earphone “nozzle” is angled, suggesting that it is meant to be inserted in a specific manner. That strikes me as a bit fiddly for something I just want to slap on. Then I see an illustration of “recommended use” and gape at this composite man wearing the earphones in a way I never have, the cables draped behind the ears. This is the preferred way, Shure says, to keep the cable secure and provide better isolation.

Okay, I am amenable to changing my ways, so I give it a shot. I don’t know if I have defective ears or simply lack coordination but I cannot keep the cable draped over my ear. It keeps sliding off and around and instead of getting a better fit or isolation, I look like I’m having an epileptic fit trying to keep the damn thing hooked over my ear. And I don’t exactly have petite ears, you know?

Since the user guide grudgingly acknowledges that the earphones can be worn the way normal humans prefer, I try that and can at least get them into my ears. Next I discover the cable is way too short. It would work if I duct-taped the iPod to one of my cheeks (the ones on my face, perv) or maybe held it in front of my nose while listening. Shure has covered this, though, and includes an extension cord that extends the length of the cable. All right, I am almost ready to listen to music!

My final step is to find the best fit with the supplied sound-isolating sleeves. There are two varieties, pliable plastic and foam and each comes in three sizes. The phones have the medium foam sleeves on and I try them but the fit is non-optimal, so I switch to the larger plastic sleeves. Initially the fit seems good so I leave them on and come the weekend, I go to take the bus downtown and whilst waiting, don my new supersonic, form-fitting earphones. And I can’t keep the damn things in my ears. The right one in particular seems to pop out at the slightest movement. They might stay in if my jaw was wired shut. The iPod teases me briefly with excellent sound-isolated music and I note that I can indeed keep the volume much lower. But alas, this is not meant to be. I trudge back home and grab the JVCs, vowing to spend more time with the sleeves later.

Maybe it’s like getting a new pair of shoes. It takes a bit to wear them in, to get comfortable. Maybe I have goofy ears. I’ll try the smaller sleeves or the foam or scotch tape or something. I’m not taking them back, though. I bought them at the Apple store downtown and that place was downright creepy. I’m not stepping foot in there again if I can help it.

Patches, we don’t need no stinking patches

Patches are an inevitable part of any MMORPG as the developers push out nerfs, buffs, additional or revised content and of course, fixes. This week two games had patches released that worked in reverse, seemingly breaking more than they fixed.

WoW Insider succintly sums up the latest patch to Blizzard’s World of Warcraft with The disaster of patch 3.0.8. Among the highlights: server-crashing bugs that forced them to shut off the entire PvP zone of Wintergrasp and access to the arenas. Major patches are something veteran WoW players have learned to anticipate with dread. On the plus side, lag-induced deaths are less painful now thanks to the addition of over 60 new graveyards and a buff to ghost run speed.

Meanwhile, the dev team for City of Heroes made the curious decision to push an 80 MB patch live the day before the twice-a-year and incredibly popular Double XP Weekend begins. This thread outlines the many things that weren’t fixed, error-riddled patch notes (a CoH tradition) notwithstanding. Unfixed powers, new features that aren’t actually there and the Virtue server having fits are among the highlights. Also, don’t wear our clothes!

Maintaining a sprawling and gigantic mess of ever-expanding code for a live game is not a simple task and any reasonable player will expect a few bumps along the way but these two examples seem to reflect a growing inability to just get the basics right without screwing something (or many things) up. This is why it’s best to have a diverse gaming library. when your favorite online game goes haywire, you can turn to the ever-reliable alternatives like Solitaire and Minesweeper. Oh Minesweeper, I’ll beat you this time!

Me vs. Mavis Beacon, part 1

I have written before about my battles with Mavis Beacon on the Martian Cartel forum. Mavis is the composite identity used as the face of a typing program published by Broderbund. I regard her as an arch-nemesis.

A few months ago I picked up the current version of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing — the third time I’ve bought the insidious program. I was sure this time would be different. This time she wouldn’t crush my dreams like a sparrow in the hand of a hill giant. This time I would progress beyond my usual three-fingers-is-plenty typing style.

She looks so friendly and helpful on the cover. She wouldn’t be mean this time.

The first thing you do in the program is create a profile. Then you get presented with the screen below. Why is Mavis talking about herself in the third person? Does she think she is royalty? Has she gone mad? She won’t say, so I just start a-typin’.

mavis3rdperson

As expected, my speed puts me in the “special needs” category. I’m staying positive, though! Mostly I stay positive by closing the program at this point. I’ll have further results Soon®!

Spore: The Milking, Part 1

While Activision devotes 90% of its production toward Guitar Hero titles (“Play Guitar Hero on your car’s GPS!”) EA is busying itself between studio closures and layoffs with preparations for the Sims-like milking of its newest declared mega-franchise, Spore. This Shacknews story reports there are four Spore titles due out this year. They are at least targeting different platforms — the Wii, DS and PC but is there really anything about the Spore universe that warrants a bunch of titles with only a tenuous connection to the original game? The answer is: you aren’t in marketing and your question is dumb.

I’m not terribly bothered by the incoming wave of Spore titles but I do think it reflects lamentably on the growing reliance by game publishers to produce one carefully-cultivated franchise (not game series, “franchises” of “products”) and then squeeze it for all its worth until its eventual collapse forces them to move onto something else (see also: the glut of hunting games and Myst clones in the 1990s that have all but vanished now).

ROACH (a mystery story)

Looking through my (digital) collection of stories, story ideas and fragments, I found something called ROACH, probably a scrap I wrote when I had my Atari ST (circa 1987-90) that was later converted to a DOS text format. In any case, dragging it into the latest version of Word provided me with this:

The Boogum in the Closet

I was getting ready for class, much as I do on the other four days of the week.  It was a Tuesday, perfectly normal.  I had already brushed my teeth, washed my hair, inspected by body for small, potentially cancerous tumours and was now opening the closet to get my jacket.  As I said, all perfectly normal.

For the last two years I had gone through this same routine.  Not a single detail had changed.  I’m not much of a morning person, liable to sleep in till noon if you let me.  I had devised this nearly sacred morning ritual to keep me awake, to allow my mind the time it needed to realize that my body was staying up and it had better come around, too.

As nearly sacred rituals go, I had followed this one with appropriate religious zeal.  The only thing that had changed was the specific location.  Being the quintessential starving college student, I was forced to move from abode to abode, constantly seeking the cheapest rent and the lowest number of cockroaches.  The optimal balance was ever-elusive.  It seemed to exist in my current apartment, though.

Of course, I had only lived in it for a little over twenty-four hours.  Give the little nippers time.

I opened the closet and observed, with disgust,

And yes, it ends with the comma after “disgust”. It’s like I ended it there just to jerk around anyone coming across it years later — including myself because I have no freaking clue what was in that closet. Proof that writers are weird. All of them.