Thursday, March 20, 2014


There are many ups and downs associated with my thought process. On the one hand I can usually distill a problem down to the core issue. Years of troubleshooting technology has given me lots of practice. On the other hand if the problem is intermittent, random, or seemingly unrelated to the visible variables then my mind tends to spend too much time weighing probabilities. There are some components so integral to the process that to properly diagnose them they need to be removed from the equation. If you cannot prove a problem you indulge the possibility of one and act accordingly.
This meandering point was made mostly because I felt I needed to create a consistent pattern of posts here, despite having no idea of what I should write here. It feels like a trust exercise. I've shared some things that are so deep in my convoluted awareness that I'm somewhat concerned that it may have consequences someday down the line. Like my introspective musings regarding my mental state may become evidence or form the basis of some benefit rejection many years down the road. "If you were aware of your disassociation with 'normality' why did you neglect to seek treatment?" Well, your honor, since for the many years before the incident that brought me before you I was essentially performing the Internet equivalent of muttering to myself on a bus, I felt that if no one was listening I may as well allow my insecurities a voice. And knowing that I feel most fragile under the scrutiny of others, a page open to the public, no matter how obscure, would be an interesting mental exercise. Can I force myself to inscribe an 'honest' representation of my internal dialog in a space that almost anyone could review. How many filters would I create? How much editing do I feel compelled to do? Can I look at the words a year from now and recognize the mind that selected them? "'Normal' people use a diary for the self-indulgent monologs in their life." Ah. Well. Shut up. And then I go to jail for contempt or something like that.
I guess what I'm saying is that good troubleshooting techniques don't really translate to human mind problems. Internal or external. There are very few instances where you get consistent false positives when testing technology. An unplugged monitor won't turn on sometimes. But we humans are all operating at arm's length. Different visual cues. Different 'tells.' Wildly variable emotional responses that color our reaction to input. Without extremely close interaction, or rigidly enforced social protocols, people problems are hard to troubleshoot. And yet we try. We seek answers in mental states. Body language. Read meaning into glances and expressions. Significant pauses. Double-language. There are countless 'experts' that will definitively proclaim the state of mind of world leaders from press-conference photos. That amuses me. A recent episode of The Daily Show mentioned body-language experts analyzing Putin and I have to wonder what those experts 'know' about the people in their lives. Or what they must assume about the strangers around them. Amusing.
In a few hours I will be standing in front of a group of people and trying to teach them about using Cloud based tools to their benefit. I suppose it goes without saying that I will be useless to them if I fixate on my body-language instead of the content. I pay very little attention to my posture, which probably explains why I am not more concerned with my general health. A lazy slouch does not impair my ability to do my work, but it probably speaks volumes about other aspects in my life. But it's hard. I indulge. Let's watch Netflix for the next two hours. Let's make Sloppy Joes for dinner. Breakfast? Coffee and PB+J. But we're idling up to our faults. Being sneaky. Sugar Free Jelly. Pitas and Wraps instead of bread. 93% lean meat and sugar-snap peas and carrots as the side. Reduced fat. Low sodium. Sugar free. Whole grain. Low carb. We're indulging our bad habits but changing the parameters a little. That's frustrating in those self-aware moments when the belt sits a little too tight or the back aches a bit hunched over a keyboard, or the face breaks out in an angry pimple or three.
Time to put the game-face on.

Monday, March 17, 2014


My parents visited us this weekend and brought a bunch of early birthday presents. Dad has been digging deep into his wood-turning hobby and came with a stack of show-and-tell pieces. It's really fantastic what he can coax out of a piece of 'trash' from a tree that fell ages ago. He also had some turned pen, stylus, carpentry pencils, etc that he put together from some kits and allowed us to pick through them. I have new pen/tablet stylus in my pocket! It's a lovely deep brown with a wobbly etched grain that gets more intricate the closer you look. Really pretty! Mom brought a stack of ARCs and gardening books and a cooking magazine and some ebook vouchers and an AudioBook (Red Shirts as read by Wil Wheaton) so basically more fantastic media than I have free waking hours to deal with.
Also, a couple of bottles of wine and I used the excuse to pick up some beer.
The first evening had a moment of tension when Tina and Mom ganged up on me because of my (dismissive) opinion of a series they enjoy. I tried reading the first book. Got to the point where the story started setting up for the second book and realized that I just didn't care. The characters didn't engage me. Their peril felt contrived, their conflicts conveniently introspective while not one of the surrounding characters did anything that would prevent channeling the story along its intended path.

I'm more than willing to concede that I gave the book short shrift, but it felt so reminiscent of any one of a dozen similar configurations... a character, the most powerful character, is locked away from their powers. But machinations were set into motion that ensure that at the appropriate time the powers would manifest. Oh and forbidden love. Clans and tribes. Traditional boundaries to lock groups into eternal struggles. At every turn I saw a trope of the genre and while they may have come together to form an elaborate tapestry... for me, once I had reached the point where the first book tried to lead into the second story I was done. I just couldn't bring myself to finish the last few page and force the decision to either stop there or slog through the next book.
But apparently that makes me a bad person. :)

All in all a good time was had.

An update was released for Carmageddon. Only a few days into the Early Access and already things are improving. The game runs much more consistently good for me now, and the damage model for fixed so some of the wonkiness of the really hard hits that would sometimes result in more damage to you than your target. I'm really looking forward to see how this will evolve with the input of a broader community.

I've been catching up on some podcasts recently. There are a few shows that I enjoy and many many more that I would probably enjoy, but I only have so much time that I can sit and listen without feeling that itch that I should be doing something... so I play a game. A surprisingly fun and relaxing 'game' that Tina bought for me. Euro Truck Simulator 2. That's right. A trucking simulator. It uses a compressed model of Europe, so it isn't real-time, and cities are really just a small cluster of intersections, but there's something enchanting about driving through the mountains at night during a thunderstorm. Catching glimpses of the landscape between thunderclaps and the rhythmic thwap-thwap of the wipers as your 750 hp motor drags a bulldozer to its destination in France, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Britain, wherever they pay you to go. As you build up money you can buy garages, hire drivers and equip them with their own trucks... all fully customizable. I don't think there's a 'win' state, but you and your drivers earn experience that can be applied to unlocking specific cargo missions and boosting the pay for those missions. It's surprisingly fun.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Establishing a Pattern

Contextual shifts. They are tricky things to wrap your head around, especially when dealing with computers. Copy something from here, paste it into something over there. As I was passing an open office door earlier today I caught a glimpse of utter frustration bordering on anger. It looked like a Computer Problem in action. So I paused and waited for eye-contact. A few minutes later we had managed to resolve an issue that had been plaguing this person ever since we started using a different product to generate our publications. Apparently the tried and true method no longer worked because it involved a context shift. When you highlight and copy a piece of content from one program and paste it into another the results may not necessarily be what you expect. In this case links that worked fine pasted into every other context available resolved correctly, but when pasted into this new program they suddenly stopped working once the document was exported for publication.
The fix was a variation on the technique which I have just decided to call the "Old-School Bounce."

Many of us are familiar with methods for stripping out unwanted, often invisible, clutter around content.
Like keeping a link to Notepad handy to quickly strip out formatting marks, font flourishes, and other clutter from content copied from websites.
But in this instance the 'fix' was actually implemented in the context menu for the item. Right-Click, Copy Destination URL vs highlighting the interactive element and expecting the destination program to figure out which property of that element you actually wanted to paste.

And I just helped another person with a very similar issue. Linking a streaming web video into a PowerPoint presentation. Context, people! It's very important and Computers/Applications are currently really bad at communication their limitations to users. How would anyone suss out that a Web embed link won't work in a regular offline document if our regular offline documents now also live in the cloud? We live in interesting times.

As a Kickstarter backer of the new Carmageddon I was given access to the Pre-Alpha Early Access release of the game yesterday. It is good. Broken, rough edged, crashy (pun intended), but gloriously irreverent and ultimately a blast to play. I have spent countless hours with the games in that series and while it is most assuredly over the top violent, gory, obscene... it is also ridiculous and so obviously cartoony that it is also deliciously silly. In this newest iteration it is (currently) entirely possible to hit something hard enough to forcibly eject the driver (yourself) from the vehicle through the windshield. The game then completely ignores that you are no longer at the wheel and just lets you keep playing. Only one wheel left? Crumpled into a tiny ball? Flattened beyond recognition? Mere trifles. Mash the accelerator and have at them!
(I'm the 'car' underneath the officer. It's a fair cop.) Even in this early pre-alpha stage with only a single partially finished level (notice the checkerboard reference textures?) there is so much fun that I am giddy about what the future updates will add.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why are you still here?


I took a few moments to orient myself. Many things have happened. It has been over three years since an actual update and that's a terrible amount of time to recap in this format.

My girlfriend is now my wife.
My apartment is now my house.
My job is still my job.
Her job is still her job (but she is slowly moving up the corporate ladder! For better or worse.)
I'm still a gamer, but the strains of Too Much Content and Not Enough Free Time have started showing. The Gaming space has exploded with each platform being a veritable treasure trove of experiences, and then Sony and Microsoft decided to launch their next versions of their consoles while their previous versions are still viable entertainment sources.
And that's not even looking at the Android and iOS gaming options. Too much. There's too much.

To retain a shred of sanity I have pruned a bit and limited my exposure to the latest and greatest. I no longer own dedicated portable gaming machines. No PSP. No Vita. No DS. My iPad and Nexus 7 have swallowed those roles. At this point I have not invested in a PS4 or XBox One and my 360 and PS3 are connected in different rooms of the house.  90% of my PS3 use in the last few years has been for Netflix and Amazon Prime videos. This forced austerity is partly an attempt at 'financial responsibility' and partly a realization that I have at my fingertips a hoard of gems to appreciate, and all I've done is throw them onto a pile. This was exacerbated by Sony and Microsoft deciding to add 'perks' to their paid memberships. For under $50 a year each Xbox Gold and PS+ give you access to 'free' content every month. PS+ picks newer titles but limits access to current memberships while Xbox Gold picks older titles but you actually own them even if your membership lapses. Between the two of them I have access to more quality gaming than time.
My only major 'gaming' spending concession was a recent upgrade of my graphics card. I have used dual cards in my last two machines but have grown tired of the issues that causes for certain older games and the noise of two sets of fans trying to keep the things from melting. I lucked into a comparable single-card purchase at a near impulse-buy price right before the Crypto-Currency explosion that has managed to drive up the prices of linkable GPUs.

Oh yeah, and I'm married now.

I'm usually not a big fan of jewelry... I have a tendency to fidget with it. Knowing this (and knowing that my mind was eventually going to let me propose to the woman that has been putting up with me for the past few years) I purchased a watch. For many years I didn't wear a watch. They tend to annoy me. I fidget with them. If it has modes I play with them. I time things. I watch the readout. I figure out how many clicks to cycle through the different modes and click through them... So I bought an analog watch. And I wear it. I've grown to like wearing it. It winds itself through motion so now there is a little wrist-flick I do from time to time so I can hear the mechanism ticking as it ratchets up the little spring that keeps it alive. I generally don't wear it around the house but if I'm heading out I feel kind of naked without it on. And then I added the ring. I have a few fidgets for this ring. I turn it. Sometimes I flick it. I've learned that I tap things with my palms a lot and now that I'm wearing a tungsten band that tapping produces new tones! But I like wearing the ring. I'm not sure that I necessarily needed to soften the tactile experience with a watchband first, but I also didn't want to be annoyed by the thing I'm wearing because I love my wife. I forgot to put my ring on one day and didn't 'notice.' When I went to lunch I was extra careful with the burrito I had because I didn't want it to drip sauce on my hand and get under the ring because the napkins at the place suck (but the burritos are pretty darned tasty). I remember thinking that. I actively adjusted my grip on the burrito to protect a ring that I wasn't wearing. When Tina pointed out that I wasn't wearing it later that day I was... I'm not sure what to call it. Dumbfounded. Shocked. Surprised. Confused. A mix of those. As I get older I seriously suspect that I have brain worms.

Among other things I'm slowly dealing with the realization that I have psychological issues. These are probably pretty common and other people deal with similar things all the time, but since I don't have a lot of extra-workular social contacts to even out the statistical averages of my social anxiety blips, they stand like pillars in the fog of my recollection. I missed a dental appointment. I meant to go, planned to leave work a little early, told my supervisor, had it on my calendar, and then shit blew up and it was past closing time before the dust settled enough for me to realize that even the time to call and explain had come and gone. I felt bad. I felt horrible. I felt that my 'work needed me to the point where I lost track of time' reason was inadequate. I felt that I couldn't explain myself adequately. A few days passed. They sent me a letter. The letter said that missing an appointment was unusual for me and asked if I was okay. Now it was a thing. I bring it up because we are now right around the time when my NEXT appointment would have been scheduled and I still haven't called them. I KNOW it isn't a major thing. I KNOW it needs doing. I actively dread the small talk. The questions. Sitting in a chair with those faces staring down at me while the assistant that doesn't stop talking and asks questions and has opinions all while elbows deep in my face actively suppresses the need to be short with me for missing an appointment. I don't deal well with that.

A restaurant I like has a new host. A really nice guy. He makes small talk. He has decided to like me. Asks me about my holidays, weekends, how I am, and one time when paying he offered me a VIP discount card. He is extremely pleasant and good at his job. I KNOW that it's his job. Identify the regular customers and make them feel welcome. But if you single me out that it's a thing. I dread it. I don't know small talk. I don't relate. And when I do I'm utterly unable to identify the protocol for where we cross idle chit-chat and into actually having dialog. I don't know the steps to that dance. Throw me a social curveball and I stumble. I give the wrong replies. I stare too long as I'm parsing the question. I stare way too long as I evaluate the sincerity of my reply with regard to the time allowed and attempt to gauge the sincerity of the initial comment all while wishing you would hand me back my change so I can say Thank you and head to my car that is parked as close as possible to my usual parking spot. After he gave me that discount card I stopped going to that restaurant for a few weeks. I couldn't bring myself to go. I knew it was stupid. I knew it was all in my head. I wasn't even quite sure what it was in my head, but the closest I could come was a sense of dread that I would screw up the protocol. That I would somehow fail to satisfy my end of that social exchange.

I have dozens of draft e-mails to my parents. To my grandmother. Just like my last post they are steeped in the guilt and shame of allowing too much time to pass. Of screwing up that social exchange and having no idea of how to properly pick up those threads. Of the protocol involved.

If I step far enough outside I realize that it's stupid to let those threads wither just because I might be afraid or too awkward to do it properly... but to feel sincere I have to step back into my head and fall right back into the trap.
I deactivated my Facebook account a few days ago. There has to be a better way.