Sunday, July 31, 2005

Want people to dance on your grave?

Want people to dance on your grave? Be a spammer. Apparently, a notorious Russian spammer was brutally murdered recently. Although there was apparently no particular evidence that it had anything to do with his spamming activities, people are not only celebrating his death, but declaring that he got a just comeuppance. You heard that right - people are so annoyed with spam that they think dying violently in pain and terror is proper punishment for cluttering their inbox. Spammers must make a lot of money to make becoming the scum of humanity, loathed by all, worthwhile.

Microsoft is crippling you

According to recent revelations about Microsoft's next operating system, it looks like Microsoft is conspiring with Hollywood to make your computer have less functionality for working with digital media in order to gain Hollywood sweetheart status for Windows Media format.

You still have the capability to create analog copies of media with your computer, bypassing DRM; current computers typically have this ability built-in. But Microsoft's next generation OS will cripple your computer's ability to do things like record analog signals off of a television, which will make doing things like remixing recorded content impossible. Your computer, under Longhorn, will be less capable of dealing with media than it does now. ("Your creativity, our passion," indeed.)

How NOT to deal with bloggers

Here's a good case study on how not to deal with bloggers. A moving company got a bad review by a blog commenter, and engaged in hollow threats of legal action. Instead of caving, the blogger blogged about the threats, and ended up doing more damage to the moving company than the original comment did, eclipsing their Google ranking in a matter of hours. They would have been far better off if they had just let the comment stand and not tried to silence their former customer.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mountains out of Molehills

So an 85 year old grandma is suing RockStar games because she bought Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for her 14-year-old grandson, and didn't know that there was practically inaccessible simulated poly-sex locked up in the game code.

Apparently, she's not concerned with the drug dealing, carjacking, cop shooting, pedestrian crushing, and generally hyperviolent behavior that goes on in the game. She's okay buying that for her grandson. She's okay buying him games that are clearly marked as being for mature audiences only.

But she is upset at Rockstar Games because she bought a game that has risqué scenes that can only be accessed by a tortuous set of actions that would never happen in normal play - actions which you would basically have to know the end result of (namely, the poly-sex scenes) and go looking for in order to enact them. No one sees this content without going to great, specific pains to see it.

(And consider this: the sex in GTA is practically the only consensual act in the game, the only nonviolent act, the only loving act, and hell, the only legal act in the game! If children have impressionable minds, wouldn't you rather them play the Hot Coffee mod, where they do legal things to make another person feel good, rather than the normal course of the game, where they do highly illegal, dangerous, and homicidal things? Which example of the two would you rather have your child follow? One could reasonably view the Hot Coffee mod as a patch that adds a little nonviolent gameplay to the game.)

But here's the interesting thing: in all the stories I've seen on the topic, I can't discern whether or not the kid actually saw the Hot Coffee mod content. Indeed, it sounds like the game got taken away from the kid before he could see it. If the kid never saw it, what is her claim to any damages in this case? Is this a frivolous lawsuit?

It seems to me that Americans need to buck up and take responsibility for being parents. Games with mature content are clearly marked as mature. Right on the front of the package. If you're too dumb or too busy to check the rating of a game before you buy it, it's your own fault if your 14-year-old kid gets exposed to mature content. It's no different than renting him Debbie Does Dallas without looking at the movie's rating first. Just because it's a game instead of a movie does not absolve you of your parental responsibility.

Case sensitivity of redirects

Today's beauty of a problem was the issue of case sensitivity in URL redirects under Apache. The problem is that the case insensitivity of the URL's on our Mac XServe has spoiled our users into expecting case insensitivity in all URL issues on our servers.

Unfortunately, redirects are case sensitive. Obviously, this is to keep server load down, since the server must chew through the list of redirects for every file request. When you have to do regular expression pattern matching on a list of patterns for every request before anything else happens, you don't want the added overhead of checking every letter against its upper case, lower case, accented, umlauted, etc. counterpart. That's many times the CPU cycles than a simple case-sensitive string comparison.

So an email goes out today with an uppercase character in the URL. Normally, not a problem, but it was done in a URL that is being redirected (they wanted a short URL that has one word instead of two words after the domain name), and they didn't check the URL before sending it out. Result: broken link.

One option would be to add another redirect with the offending case-sensitive spelling, but this would incur a server performance penalty on every single request from now on. Sending out a correction is apparently not an option, and I was getting threats of going over my head to the department head.

But I found a cool solution. In the 404 page, just drop in some Javascript to detect a URL with an uppercase character in it, and if one is detected, correct it, and either redirect immediately or offer a link. Simple, and only incurs a server hit when someone actually gets a broken link. Even better, it handles all case sensitivity problems that may occur in the future. Gotta love nice, simple solutions that defuse nasty problems.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Watch Me Change

The Gap's pushing around an attempt at viral marketing called Watch Me Change. In it, you can create yourself as a 3D avatar, and then watch yourself do a strip tease. Funny and creepy at the same time. Of interest to me primarily because it was done in Shockwave3D.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Your Government for Sale at Work

The Daily Kos has a great juxtaposition of two news items that came down today. Ask your government, "Should a company be liable for illegal uses of one of its products?" The answer you will get is: "Well, that depends - what would benefit the big corporations more? Let's just take it on a case by case basis."

Monday, July 25, 2005

Catch 22

When my buddies come into town to game, I usually have a balancing act to perform. If I spend too little time with them, they feel like I've dissed them, and it's less likely they'll go to the effort of coming into town next time. (With a baby, it's even more difficult than before for me to go to them, so it could mean the end of buddy gaming altogether.) On the other hand, the more time I spend with them, the more I risk my wife feeling like a gaming widow, which could damage marital harmony and preclude future gaming sessions as well.

Usually, I can manage the competing interests okay, but this past weekend, I had another party vying for my attention: myself. I didn't even really feel like gaming - all I really wanted to do was just lie down and do my corpse impression. Still reeling from the lingering sickness that's been coming and going for the past three weeks, I was being hit particularly hard those few days. Between the fever, chills, coughing, sore throat, sinus headache, and general malaise, I was pretty cranky and irritable. Because of all the drainage nausea, nothing ever sounded good to eat, so I ended up not eating a lot, which made me feel weak. All I could really stomach was Gatorade for some reason.

But the worst part was that I had a hard time sleeping more than a couple hours a night, which caused me to actually fall asleep gaming on my poor DM at one point because I was so exhausted I just couldn't keep my eyes open. I hope he didn't take it personally - I felt really bad about that. Sometimes, you just succumb to the relentless barrage of weariness when you're sick.

On the home front, I spent too much time in bed when I got home from gaming, exasperating my wife, who was beginning to feel like a single mother. And I pushed myself too hard and exhausted myself, trying to pretend that I was feeling better than I was. So, unfortunately, I don't think I did a good job balancing things this time. Everyone was annoyed at me at one point or another.

I did make one good call, though. I opted out of the movie that the guys wanted me to go see with them so I could stay home with the boy and let my wife go do some things she wanted to do. They went to see Fantastic Four, and apparently, it's a stinker - one of the guys "kinda" liked it, while the other two gave it a thumbs down. It would have been a bummer to burn good marriage capital on a bad movie.

It's going to happen again in a month or so. Maybe next time, I'll do a better job of it. It will help if I can not be sick this time.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My boy went under the knife today

My son went under the knife this morning to get tubes put into his ears. Even though this is the most common surgery on children in the country - our doctor told us he has performed this operation thousands of times - any time you put your kid on anaesthetics, it's scary.

My son was scheduled for his operation at 7:30am, and they asked us to be there at 6:30 to prepare. So, we were. We went through the various things we have to do, and finally got into the pre-op area when the anaesthiologist came in. He prescribed a syringe full of liquid for him, which we administered.

We were talking with him a bit afterwards, and he tells us that he gave our son more drugs than he typically does. Why? Because our doctor likes to sleep in, so the surgery would probably start closer to 8:00.

WTF?? First of all, if the surgery is going to start late, wait to give my kid the drugs, don't double up! And second of all, if the surgery isn't going to start at 7:30, don't make us come in early. Because my son was not able to drink or eat anything for a long time before the surgery, he was pretty miserable in the morning - all this did was extend that when he could have been sleeping.

The drugs hit my son pretty hard, when he came out of it, he was crying inconsolably. My wife nursed him, but it didn't really stop the crying. Immediately after nursing, he vomited it all up. I can't help but wonder if that was perhaps due to the extra drugs.

Is this just crazy-daddy parent myopia? Or does the patient have the right to expect minimal drugging and promptness on the part of the surgeon?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I must be domesticated

It's official, I'm a domesticated adult male consumer. The reason I know is that I just got the big jones for, of all things, a faucet. That's right, you heard me.

Hansa's Canyon Faucet

Hansa's Hansacanyon has been percolating around the blogosphere recently, and every time I see it, I fall in love all over again. I want this damn thing.

Sure, the industrial design on it is sexy, but the thing that really piques my interest is that someone has, after all these years, made one of those "well, duh!" usability innovations on an item that we have all been using dozens of times a day for, what, almost a century? The faucet has a red and a blue LED in it attached to a temperature sensor. When the water is hot, it glows red. When it is cold, it glows blue. You can tell at a glance the temperature. When you see it, you just wonder why this isn't a mainstream feature. Brilliant innovations like that, even on such humdrum items as a faucet, are simply cool, and I want to have them around me.

Unfortunately, the Hansa Web Site is so perplexing that I see no way to order it. Probably just as well, since the style doesn't go with anything in my house currently. I'll just have to admire her from afar.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Felt up at the anniversary party?

It's amazing sometimes where random web searches take you. I was doing a Google search on a haunted house attraction I liked as a kid, located at Lagoon amusement park in Utah. Popping lots of links back to tabs, I went back and started going through the links to see what was out there.

Apparently, one of the links was on a web forum for ex-Mormons (Utah being the connection there, natch). Being an ex-Mormon myself, I poked around out of curiosity, and stumbled upon a thread about Mormon garment groping.

Here's what's going on for you non-Mormons out there. Part of the Mormon faith involves the wearing of magic, church-issue underwear called "garments" under your normal clothes. Think Joseph Smith underoos for adults. Supposedly, these magic underwear act as a divine shield, protecting the devout wearer from harm.

Since I got out of the church as a kid (you receive them as adults), I never wore them, so I never really thought much about them. From the thread on the board, it sounds like it's a pretty common thing for Mormons to try to discern whether other Mormons are wearing their garments, I guess as some sort of faith barometer. This is done by taking a peek at your unmentionables when you bend over, or feeling through your clothes for their telltale bulkiness.

Normally, this would only have been of academic interest to me. However, some of my mother's Mormon friends attended the anniversary party we threw for my parents. One of them, when he shook my hand, reached up and kinda squeezed my shoulder in a weird way, rubbing with his fingers, almost groping. It was rather off-putting. I had dismissed it as an odd sort of congeniality, but now, after reading that forum thread, I wonder if he was "scanning for garments", trying to figure out if I was a good Mormon after not seeing me for two decades.

You know, it's one thing if it's a friendly gesture. It's another thing if you're looking for the inside scoop on my skivvies. It almost feels like I got felt up by a stranger on the bus or something. Shudder.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reality Bites

I spent the weekend sick as a dog, another surge of the general miasma I've been struggling with for the past two to three weeks. Spending a lot of time in bed, without much stamina for web surfing, I actually watched television, something I haven't really done much of since my son was born.

Those damn reality shows have taken over, apparently. It was getting bad before I quit the habit, but now its insanely worse, now that all the cable channels have jumped on the bandwagon. I'd flip from channel to channel, and I'd find strings of seven or eight channels with nothing but drivelous reality shows. The one that made me turn off the television had two women on an ominous-looking soundstage with ominous-sounding music, trying to make little paper doll clothes.

This is why the MPAA should be afraid, not movie downloading. If the television networks manage to dumb us down enough that we don't care about having a good plot, powerful characterization, and finely-scripted drama, and instead just want to see the fat guy gag on the rotting sheep guts, that will do more damage to Hollywood's bottom line than anything.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

I sense a movie plot here somewhere...

Yahoo News is running a story about a woman who wanted to be a man so desperately that she miraculously changed sex. I can see the movie now: Meg Ryan, beset by misogynists at the good-old-boy corporation she works for, goes to bed wishing she was a man, and wakes up as David Spade...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Virtual Tabletop Gaming

A buddy of mine is interested in running some long-distance tabletop RPG games over the internet. He's proposing using one of two solutions: WebRPG, which is a closed-source Java-based offering, and OpenRPG, which is an open-source Python-based offering. He's already identified a crashing bug on the Mac in one of them, but it's still too early to tell which is better. If you have experience with either, please post comments.

The Order of the Stick

At the risk of outing myself as a geek, I'd like to state that The Order of the Stick is my favorite online comic right now. Consistenty good, with the right mix of plot and nyuk nyuk.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Krakrox the Barbarian

Krakrox the Barbarian is a precursor to the Kingdom of Loathing that feels a lot like my old the5k competition entry Legend of Zeldman. (Can't seem to find it on the web any more - is now directed to some cybersquatter.)

The Kingdom of Loathing

The Kingdom of Loathing is quite cool, and pretty similar to some ideas that I've had for making games with PHP since I've been delving into the language. Well-executed and humorous.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Anniversary party a success

Well, the anniversary party was a success. My parents seemed to have a great time, and were deeply touched by some of the things that their family did for their party.

People seemed to like my "Growing Up Chamberlin" presentation (one person wants a copy to take to a doll convention, which struck me as odd since it doesn't paint dolls in a particularly good light). Unfortunately, the audio was so low that I suspect the people in the back, and anyone with a hearing problem, were unable to really hear it. And because it used the same system, my brother's MC'ing also suffered from low audio, to the point where I couldn't hear most of his jokes. (My parents were down front and center, so I'm sure they heard everything.)

I'm kind of annoyed at the church because of the sound levels. When we booked the church, they made no mention of having to separately book the sound people from the church if we wanted to use the room's sound system. When we double-checked with them about the sound system, they informed us that the three weeks of notice we had until the party was apparently not enough notice to get them in to let us use the sound system. (What, they don't see 'em every week at church?) Then, when we get there early to set up, they've got the sound system going, playing religious music while they're setting up their catering.

We had to make do with the sound system stuff we brought, which would have been okay for a smaller room, but this was a gymnasium, and the loud air conditioning made it difficult to hear anything that was being said through the speakers unless you were seated at one of the front tables.

Luckily, the sound system my two neices used was sufficient to carry across the gym (combined with the throw of their voices). They sang several songs during the chronological tour through my parents' marriage as arranged by my brother. Most were well received, but the best was the song they wrote themselves to the tune of American Pie. It had the fantastic lyric My, my, but it's been a long time. They've been together like forever, so we wrote them this rhyme. Very funny and heartwarming stuff that prompted my mom to go up and give them both a hug at the end of the song. They also did some very amusing dance steps to a Huey Lewis song for the 80's stint.

Other contributions to the show were background music by one of my nephews and some good saxophone music from my other nephew.

I'm glad my parents enjoyed themselves. I'm a bit irked at the church for dropping the ball on the sound system, because I think it made things less enjoyable for the mostly retired guest list (and for me), and I think they charged us more than the venue commands. I just wanted it to be more perfect than it was. But there were no big fiascos, we properly celebrated their 50th anniversary, and it all came off basically as planned, so really, it was a great success. All the work and planning was worth it.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Fender Bender

Didn't have time to blog about this earlier, but an interesting thing happened to me on Wednesday over the lunch hour.

I went to Sonic (a drive-in burger place) for lunch that day. As the waitress was handing me my green chile burger, there was a loud crunch noise, and my car shook. The guy in the adjacent parking space had backed out and scraped along my rear bumper! I think it scared the waitress more than it scared me.

I got out and asked the guy for his insurance information. He was a wiry, unfriendly-looking guy in a beat-up old white pickup. Curiously, he seemed pissed at me - certainly not apologetic.

By coincidence, there was a Geico rep at the Sonic at the time. Within moments, he was right by my side - boingggg - saying, "So, have a little accident, did we?" I let him know I already had insurance, so he left me alone.

When I got back to the office, I called my insurance company, and they said that they'd be happy to reimburse me, but that I'd have to pay the deductible. Instead, they recommended going through the other guy's insurance company, which should cover the entire cost. She gave me the phone number for the insurance company's claims department.

So I call the 1-800 number she gave me. There's a little silence, and then: "Bonk-chicka-wow-wow! Hey, baby, wanna talk to me?" That's right. Porno chat line. I hung up, thinking I had misdialed. I dialed again, and again: "Bonk-chicka-wow-wow!" Apparently, my insurance company had the wrong number for them.

Luckily, I was able to find the correct number on the net, so all is getting taken care of. I just hope that my University phone record doesn't come back next month showing two calls to "1-800-HOT-CHIX" or something...

Anniversary video finally done

Well, after a very late night (following several more very late nights), I finally got the anniversary video all edited together early this morning. I hope my parents and their guests like it. It runs about thirteen minutes, it's fully narrated, and has some spooky music in appropriate places for atmos-fear. I'm dogged!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

All Grown Up

(More anniversary photos.)

All joking aside, despite all these things that happened, I managed to make it through my childhood alive. I'm now all grown up. I'm a productive member of society with a son of my own to raise.
All Grown Up
My mom and dad must have done something right, because I think I turned out okay. Now that I'm seeing things from the perspective of a parent, I realize that thanks to mom and dad, I've learned a lot of things over the years that will help me raise my son.
Story Time
Well, maybe his son will turn out okay.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Little Miniature Shop of Horrors

(More anniversary party photos - sorry for the inconsistent sizes, but it's getting damn late.)

I'll always remember that first miniatures shop on that trip, because it was the first place I saw the infernal miniature display device that I would later come to call "the infernal miniature display device." Basically, it was a tall glass case with a series of little trays in it that you could cycle through by pushing two little buttons on the top of the case. One button would cycle the trays up, and the other down. This way, the proprietor could display a lot of tiny items in a very small space.
The machine held about 30 trays, and each tray held about 60 items. If you do the math and assume that my dad only spent two seconds looking at each item in a tray, that meant he would spend 3600 seconds, or an hour, looking at the items in each machine. Unfortunately, that would be a very optimistic estimate, because for most items, he spent far more than two seconds. He enjoyed discussing at length the interesting properties of each item with my mom, and how the item might be replicated at home for one of her doll houses. He'd take notes, make sketches, and talk about wood, fabric, and the tools he'd use to make each one. Then he'd move on to the next item in the tray.

This, of course, made the wait at that infernal miniature shop very, very long:

Finally, after I had developed a nice, firm rigor mortis, dad dragged my dessicated corpse back to the car and we left. My disembodied spirit breathed a sigh of releif at leaving, but the true, cruel irony was yet to hit. Not two miles down the road, my dad mentioned that there was another miniatures shop in the next town. Here's a map of all the miniatures shops we visited on that trip:

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Stain of Torture

There's a good editorial up at the Washington Post about The Stain of Torture.