Saturday, June 27, 2009

Barcamp Seattle Tomfoolery

A few weekends ago, I attended BarCamp Seattle. It's an unconference, which is basically a conference with a very ad-hoc plan. Last year I was mostly a lurker -- I didn't present anything and my only contribution was in a few of the group discussions. I had a blast and decided I really needed to do something this year. So I gave a talk.

Social Microgames
I like beer. And I like being social in unconventional ways. Originally, I wanted to talk about how this sparked the Friday Unwind social events, and a generally awesome peer atmosphere at my old team. The idea being I would tell people this kind of thing was a Good IdeaTM and they should do it too. But it felt like bragging. And was kinda boring. In the end, I cut a lot of stuff and decided just to focus on what made the Friday Unwind fun: the odd little games we played during it.

"Social Microgames" was the awkward phrase I coined for those games. Jinx and Rock/Paper/Scissors were my two common examples. Both have well understood rules, take about 5 seconds to play, and make interacting with other people a bit more fun. It went really well, and I was pleased to find out everyone else did something similar among their friends. I learned a handful of new games, and it was a good time all around. I also mentioned my success in playing the Dollar Game, where entertaining stuff happens for money. My slides are here and a video of it is here forthcoming as soon as Brian puts it up.

Jay's Webcock
@strutting did a great talk on things you should not do on Twitter, presented by facetiously recommending bad things to do. It was pretty funny. Unfortunately, the room we were in didn't have a projector, so all the work that Jay had put into his slides had been for his eyes only. Despite that, it was enjoyable talk that highlighted great ways to make a mess of twitter, including retweeting inane tweets.

We joked around for a bit afterward. Jay retweeted himself, making him a webcock. I retweeted his tweet about himself, making myself a webcock. It was good times.

Our ideas had a baby
I took it one step further by combining the webcockery of retweeting, the fun of my microgames, and the spirit of getting folks to talk with this tweet. Essentially, I challenged someone to re-talk the webcock talk.

Fortunately, there were some good folks in the crowd. @dyanw had missed the webcock session, but stepped up and decided to gave Jay's talk again. It was a train wreck from the start, with technical issues forcing Dylan to talk for a good 10 minutes about Webcocks without any guide whatsoever. To both their credits, Jay's slides were really nice and once they were up Dylan did a great job of presenting them as their own. I'm still not sure how many folks there got the whole in-joke, but Jay & I were laughing all the way through. Dylan clarified afterward to those who might've been confused..

The Epilogue
As a side note, it turns out that my Dollar Game has actually been made into a website. Well done, interwebs.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Multiple Identities

People with different responsibilities are said to put on different hats to illustrate which responsibility is currently governing their thought. I just put on a hat when I go run around outside and chase flying plastic.
But over time I do seem to have developed two distinct names, each associated with their own personality. In retrospect, it seems like a perfectly normal and sensible thing to do, but it also kind of makes me wonder which is the actual me.
Chris - Most of you know me as Chris. This is what I call myself in front of most people. A mild-mannered, polite individual. Chris wears collared shirts on occasion and has combed his hair the same way since the 4th grade. Chris is very risk-averse, and fairly antisocial. Chris would rather sit in silence to avoid saying something controversial than engage in conversation in an unfamiliar surrounding.
Downie - This is the Ultimate Player. Originally a simple disambiguation term between other Chris's on my team, I go by Downie even if there aren't other Chris's. Downie is aggressive, competitive, and horribly foul-mouthed. Off-color, racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive jokes are common from Downie. Downie's reaction to most things are to yell, swear, or both. This includes positive and negative reactions. Downie usually wears a hat.
There is certainly some cross-pollination between these personas. Mostly it's Chris drawing from Downie's better features. Karaoke is a prime example of this, especially when I get up in front of people I don't know and confidently belt out lyrics that may or may not be in my vocal range at the top of my lungs. Chris would not do that on his own.
Unfortunately, this cross-pollination is also occurring amongst the folks who interact with the different personas. Folks who know me as Chris at work see me playing ultimate and wonder why they call me Downie. Or folks I've met from the ultimate community see me in some business-like situation introducing myself to others as Chris while in conversation they still refer to me as "Downie" out of habit. It's confusing. For everyone but me, that is.
But to me, it's not a matter of confused identity or a rapid change of personal preference. I'm called by each of these names for a reason. Each represents a different person I bring to the surface to deal with the current situation, or put another way, each represents a different part of me that I share with the world when needed. While I've had way more names than just these 2, they're the ones that have stuck around long enough to develop distinct personality traits.
Also, for the record, Chris will respond if you call him "Downie", but Downie won't respond if you call him "Chris". Mostly because I still assume you must be talking to someone else, because I'm Downie right now, bitch.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Run Drills

A Short Aside
In the grand scheme of things, I plan to write a reference for all my Ultimate knowledge/opinions. The problem with "now" vs "the grand scheme" is just a matter of it's hard to know where to start. So I'm not actually starting it. I just had some clear ideas that I felt I needed to write down so here they are. Also: these may apply to other sports as well, but Ultimate is simply what I'm most familiar with.
Most people overlook the value of giving adequate time to organize and run a drill properly. Sometimes it's because time is limited, or your team has a short attention span, or it's cold and you really can't focus. But rambling through a description, and just letting the team try their best is no more effective at teaching skills then telling your players to run laps.
For a drill to be effective, the players must know what to do, when to do it, and most importantly, why they're doing it.
What They're Doing
Experienced teams skip this step, largely because they're familiar with the more common drills, and can simply call them out by name. However, even experienced teams would benefit from going over drill details from time to time because there are so many things that happen at once, it's easy to forget the smaller details.
Each drill has 2 phases, which for brevity I'll call an "active" phase and a "reset" phase. The active phase is when players are actively executing part of the drill; they're running or throwing or jumping or whathaveyou. The reset phase is what the player falls into after they've finished the active phase; It's whatever extra action needs to occur before the player can enter the active phase again. This may involve just running back to the same spot, rotating to a different position, or bringing a disc back to a thrower. This is the phase most commonly overlooked when trying to just describe a drill quickly.
While describing the motion during the active phase effectively is really a matter of style and personal preference, I've found a few types of descriptions tend to work well. A miniature representation of the drill -- either with a whiteboard or moving upturned discs on the ground -- gives the players an overview of what the whole drill should look like. Additionally, having a few veteran players who have done the drill before act it out at full speed is a nice transition from the slow, miniature model to the real world. However, jumping straight from verbal description to having players act it out is somewhat less effective, as players can't see everything that's happening at once.
When To Do It
Most drills rely on a kind of flow. A goes over there, catches a disc, turns, and expects to be able to throw to player B who is cutting towards A. If B is there early, A will have to make a different throw; too late and A is just stuck waiting. In this case, players A and B both have a clear understanding of what they should be doing, they just don't know when to do it in order to keep the flow of the drill constant.
This sort of detail is most commonly left out of the drill's description, and its value is usually overlooked. Giving players a good sense of *when* they should be where is just as crucial as where they should be going. That way, the motion of the drill is kept smooth, and players don't need to keep adjusting their throws to the timing of other cuts.
With enough well-timed cuts, the team should be able to develop spatial chemistry: knowing where someone is on the field without even having to look. This leads to more confident players, more reliable throws, and generally faster offensive play. All because nobody's stuck with the disc, waiting for their man to cut.
Why They're Doing It
The next big issue that coaches overlook when describing how to run a drill is to explain why this is a good drill to run. The reason needs to mean something to the players performing the drill, so not giving a reason means they're simply doing it because that's what the coach said. Such a reason gives the players little more value from the drill than if they had simply run in circles for that period of time.
Most drills have in-game analogues. They may represent ideal in-game situations that never actually happen, but just making that connection for the player will give them a better chance of doing the well-practiced option learned from the drill in game. This drill teaches you how to hit a timed in-cut on the open side. This teaches you how to break the mark. Even skills-focused drills should be justified; this drill will make you faster, help you throw while you're tired, improve your low-release throws, defend against someone taller than you, etc.
Giving the player a context in which they can see a drill in real game will not only improve the drill's effectiveness, it'll also make the player focus on the skill he's supposed to be learning from the drill at hand. Otherwise, a lot of the player's effort will be lost by simply running in circles.
Perfection's in the Details
The beauty of all this is that each drill has a wealth of details that tend to be overlooked. Taking the time to focus on the details like proper motion, timing, and motivation gives the players a very rigid, very high bar that they should try to meet. Additionally, this gives even seasoned players the ability to run these drills time and time again, always trying to improve to hit these key details every single time. Without the wealth of detail, a team could run the drill poorly or even adequately and not have it occur to them what (or even if) they're doing something wrong.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dell Inspiron Mini 9

I ordered myself a netbook last week, and it finally came on Saturday. A couple of folks have been asking me about my experiences with it, so I figured I'd provide a short review for those looking at buying themselves a netbook.

I got a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 because I found it on sale -- $300 for Ubuntu with an 8Gb solid state hard drive, 1Gb RAM, Bluetooth, and 1.3Mp camera. This makes it by far the cheapest computer I've ever bought, but also the most I've ever paid for hard disk space. But I digress.

Before I go on...
Generally, I am of the opinion that Dells are crap machines. My roommate had a Dell in college and the only advantage his had over my ThinkPad T41 (and then over my MacBook Pro) was that he would get a higher score than me on flash-based games because the game would have to slow down for him to play it. Which is why he refused for the longest time to upgrade his laptop, even when the thing roared like a jet engine because after 5 minutes of usage it had to hit the fans into high gear to stop itself from melting.

So, in my mind, Dell is a synonym for a crap computer with poor heat & noise management and crappy plastic construction.

But, for $300, I wasn't expecting a MacBook Air, so I was willing to give it a shot.

First Impressions

Despite my predisposition against the brand, I was actually quite pleased with the machine. It feels pretty well built and is amazingly silent. It's quieter than my MacBook Pro, and it's the sort of difference that can only be heard when I put my ear right up to the fan. Very impressive.

In a few of my marathon sessions of using the device, the bottom did become a bit warm. However, it never got so hot as to be really uncomfortable to have in your lap, like any of the other laptops I've played with. So all and all, I felt good using it.

Battery Life
The battery lasted a good while, too. I got about 4 hours of usage out of the device when starting from a full charge. During that time, I had roughly 3 programs open: Firefox, Pidgin, and Adobe Reader. I also toyed with some of the built-in programs, like the cheap linux games & camera stuff. Speaking of which...

Built-in Software
A lot of the software that came on the device was generally what you'd find with any Linux distro -- some Gnome-based games, a Minesweeper clone, a typing tutor, OpenOffice, etc. A lot of the prepopulated web links were to Dell or Yahoo, so I'm sure they've got some deal going on there.

There's also a program called the Dell launcher, which feels like a less polished version of Apple's Stacks. If you're OK with not seeing the desktop, this is a surprisingly easy and intuitive way to launch your programs. As you can see, one of the first things I did was add Emacs to mine.

You'll also notice that the topbar is partially offscreen. This is because I told it to auto-hide so I could use as much of the 9-inch screen as possible. I also added a firefox plugin to remove the "File".

Keyboard Quirks
For the most part, the keyboard is fine. Yes, it's a bit smaller than a full keyboard, but I was expecting that for a tiny netbook. After typing on it for a bit, you don't really notice how much smaller the keyboard is.

With one tiny exception.

Apparently, the engineers at Dell decided that us touch-type folks didn't ever really use concatenations or quotations when we were trying to type on the go, so they took the single- and double-quote key and moved it below the "." key. At first this was a bit annoying but it's gotten the part where it's actually pissing me off quite a bit. There's no sense in me trying to fight years of muscle-memory just for this one keyboard, and the result is that any IM conversation where I try to use "don't" or "I've" results in me accidentally sending the message mid-word. And I've done this a lot.

I've given up trying to correct this error, so if you're chatting with me and you see this happening, you'll know what computer I'm on.

(Also, the "-" or "_" key is now moved to just right of "p", which is a problem I've run into a few times in IM conversations, but it's nowhere as bad as the damn apostrophe thing)

In lieu of doing official, statistics-like testing, here are a few tidbits I've gotten from just using it or maybe timing it with a stop watch:

  • Startup takes just over 30s from a cold start.
  • Startup takes about 5s when resuming from a suspended state. 
  • Hulu videos play fine when windowed at standard resolution. Bumping them up to high resolution or expanding full screen results in dropped frames.
  • Camera (with "Cheese", a Photo Booth knock-off) takes higher-resolution pictures than the camera on my MacBook Pro, but the center of the picture is a bit blurry. (see below)
  • Built-in speakers are pretty loud-- as loud or louder than my MacBook Pro.
(Left: Photo Booth picture. Right: Cheese picture. Both images were taken at the same time.)

Minor Quirks
There were a few things that struck me as odd or annoying. 
  • If you don't interact with the computer for a few minutes, it forgets that you set the brightness on the display, and decides to crank it up. Which results in me cranking the brightness down time and time again.
  • "Cheese" can use the built-in camera to take video, but it records in .ogg format. This in itself isn't a problem, except that the Totem Media player doesn't play that file type. I imagine this will go away when I install VLC.
  • Scrolling can be a bit laggy when you use the sides of the trackpad for vertical or horizontal scrolling. It's been hit or miss for me with being very responsive, and "Oh crap its still scrolling nooooo"
Final Verdict
In sort, I'd recommend the Inspiron Mini 9, but definitely as a secondary machine. It's got pretty decent power & battery life for a portable computer, and I've enjoyed toying with it for a weekend. 
It also makes my 15" screen feel insanely large for a laptop after getting accustomed to 9". :)

PS: My website renders perfectly on Firefox/Ubuntu despite no prior testing. This is why standards are awesome.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blogger Block

I've tried 3 times to write a new blog post. There are a handful of ideas I feel like I've mulled over enough for there to be value in me sharing them. But then I begin writing them, and my rusty writing skill doesn't do what I want to convey justice. So I try writing for a bit, look at it, and decide that it's not going how I want to. I stop and start over.

Talking about it would be easier -- on my blogs my words must speak for themselves, for I don't have that convenient feedback loop of watching the reader and changing what is said based on how well they're getting what I'm saying. I also know who's listening. I only know a handful of folks who read this, but I'm sure there are more that I don't know. Which I realize is the thrill & risk of hosting a public personal blog.

I'm not even that satisfied with this entry, but I'm sick of trying so hard and having nothing to prove for it. So nuts to that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

7 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me

The rules:
  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.
I was tagged by Alix Han.
I've tried to choose things most folks won't know. So to those of you who knew some of this already and feel shortchanged: Bonus points for already being a good friend! 
  1. My first childhood dream was to become a singer. I was in a choir. I even wrote 3 songs. All this and I still managed to never learn how to read sheet music. (I just memorized the tune when others sang it)
  2. I had a secret first girlfriend in Junior High school. It was very benign -- we never did more than hold hands. I don't remember much of it because it ended badly and as such I told myself it didn't count and blocked it from my memory. Which was surprisingly effective, as I only remembered it a few years ago.
  3. I wrote a rap song to help my Ultimate team get into Potlatch last year. The song was about a quirky Ultimate player who had attained legendary status at Cal. It took like 2 days to write and ended up with about 45s of audio. My appreciation of rap music grew a thousandfold. 
  4. A (presumably unusual) high percentage of my ex-girlfriends give the thought of dating girls a whirl shortly after dating me. Some of them were just temporarily experimenting, while others truly were more into women after all, and I was simply their proof by contradiction. 
  5. Before there was a YouTube, I was one of the kids who got a webcam and put video of me talking on the internet. Most of it was crap, but when I got video editing software I had a fun time editing it and got some good episodes out of it. When I went to college, I made a trailer for the "College Edition" of the Chris Show, but then had too little free time in college to actually keep making it.
  6. I want to get a tattoo, but don't have a clue what it would be of or where I would put it. I also want to try giving myself a different hairstyle, but don't know what else would look good on me. I had long hair at one point in college, and put my hair up with a hair tie to keep it out of my eyes. The nickname "Samurai" lasted a few weeks. All the ladies said I looked better once I cut my hair short again, so short it's stayed.
  7. On completely separate occasions, I've had someone threaten to kill me, a gun pointed at my head, and got in a fight that was started by my friend's mother at my friend's birthday party. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nerd Wallets!

I decided to make myself a new wallet. There were some problems with the old one, and the ones I could buy didn't have what I wanted. 

The Old Wallet
My old wallet was the first one I actually made myself. Doing my best to be a faithful nerd, I decided to make it entirely out of Duct tape, because what nerd doesn't want a Duct Tape wallet. In fact, the wallet it replaced was a Ducti-brand Duct Tape wallet that I got as a gift. But I wanted to make one for myself, and so I did. 

It only took a few hours, and there wasn't much forethought. Really all I had thought out was how long I'd have to make the pieces of tape so that the fold could hold money. And that's literally all I had thought about. So a few hours later all I had was a foldable pocket for cash, only to realize that I also wanted to carry around my ID and credit cards and the like. Whoops. 

Some ad-hoc planning later and I eventually figured out how to make pockets. I wrapped some tape sticky-side-out around a credit card, and then just stuck the card in the wallet where I wanted a pocket. Voila! Instant pocket. Problem solved.

But, it's not lasting. The Duct tape is wearing away -- there are some holes around the corners and the stickiness is beginning to rub off on my credit cards and whatever else is also in my pocket. And I had kinda jammed too many cards into my afterthought pockets. So I wanted to make a new wallet with the following goals:
  • Not made of Duct Tape so that sticky thing doesn't happen.
  • RFID-blocking so I don't need a special sleeve for my ID
  • An external pocket so I don't have to open my wallet to show the bus driver my bus pass
  • Enough pockets to fit all the cards I actually use in my wallet.
  • A high degree of nerd factor where possible.
The New Wallet
I must say, this is a pretty freakin sweet wallet. I was poking around for tape in my closet and I stumbled upon one of my boxes of aging computer parts. Inside, there was a bag of connectors that had never been used and it hit me. 2 parallel ATA cables could be used to make the wallet. Hell yes.

The dimensions worked out almost perfectly. It turns out the length of a standard PATA cable from Asus is about twice the length of a wallet. So, I got crackin. I hacked away at the connectors so I just had the cable, cut the PATA cables in half, and ironed them flat. Yes, I ironed plastic & copper because THAT IS HOW I ROLL.

Once I was convinced the PATA wallet concept could work, I actually did a bit of designing. I played a bit with paper prototypes to see what kinda size I could make and where I could put pockets. I tried to mimic my old wallet as much as possible, because I do like it. But I also planned out where each of the cards in my current wallet would go before I made the pockets. Which I feel might be a bit obsessive. But I didn't want to end up with not enough pockets or some other glaringly obvious omission at the end. Not again, anyway.

Without going into the extreme detail of its construction (which may only be interesting to me) I managed to get everything I wanted. I did some fancy stitch work with needle & thread to hold everything together. The pockets are made of a different, lightweight material I cut out of a free blanket bag I stole from the Company Meeting. The horizontal pockets on the inside of the wallet are also lined with aluminum foil because early tests showed that the copper in the cables alone weren't enough to fully shield the RFID card. But, they're tastefully hidden inside the pocket, so it's functional and fashionable!
The result is one sturdy, fairly lightweight wallet. That is also UBER AWESOME.

I didn't think of everything, however. After the first day of use, a problem became apparent. The ends of the wallet still had exposed copper (which I thought was cool) but it was rough to the touch, and would bend and get caught in my pocket. I considered doing some fancy stitch work to put some material over the end, but instead, I decided to go with a bit of nostalgia. 

As a bit of a homage to my first wallet, I put some black Duct Tape over the ends. Problem solved.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Proper Vacation, For Once.

Just got back from a great weekend in San Diego. Mid to high 70's, a cloudless Saturday at the beach getting a tan and a beautiful sunset after strolling around Balboa park on Sunday. It was a lot to do in a weekend, and in my usual "get there first - plan things later" method of vacationing, I owe a great debt of thanks to Mignon & Chi, who always knew the cool thing to do next, even if they had trouble figuring out how to get there.

Leaving was tough. This was the weather I missed. These were the people I missed. How could I go back to Seattle? I was beginning to think I had failed.

I had failed because the point of this vacation was to reinvigorate me. Seattle has had an absolutely shitty winter. The holidays ruined my drive at work -- either I was at work struggling without the aid of my coworkers who were on vacation, or I was on vacation having all my energy sapped out of my by family interaction. I was burnt out from being at work, and from being away from work. For my productivity, and for my sanity, that needed to be fixed.

I needed another vacation. A break from work that, for once, also included a break from being stressed. So, I booked a weekend trip to San Diego, to clear my head, regain my sanity, and be more ready to get shit done at work.

Also, Mignon was bugging me to visit.

As I was sitting on the plane back to Seattle, awaiting it to take off, it had appeared that I simply hadn't gotten that hat trick. Yes, it was an amazing time, I had cleared my head, regained my sanity, and truly enjoyed myself. But the last thing I wanted to do was go back to work -- to go back to Seattle. To go back to the cold, the rain -- away from the beaches, the sunsets, the stars, the close friends.

The fact that my return had become an unwanted one only further eroded the work ethic I had attempted to rebuild.

But, the flight was 2 and a half hours. That's plenty of time for a man to think. This particular brand of thinking involved a $5 rum & coke and a bunch of Texas Hold 'em on my iPhone. Two things hit me. One: Meg did a pretty damn good job of teaching me how to play poker. Two: This was just a vacation high. It will fade, and hopefully overall I'll still have been a bit rejuvenated from the experience.

When I got off the plane, the familiar & cold Seattle air hit my skin once again. Except, to my surprise, it felt oddly... refreshing. Pretty damn good, actually. It was like waking up after a full night's sleep. The impact of it intensified once I got out to my car. Instead of the oppressive, omnipresent cold that I had left, the cold was now reduced to a belligerent bully who nobody likes but no one has stood up to yet. And now that I was back, I was ready to kick its ass.

I drove home full speed, with the windows down. A passing sign reported the temperature to be 37 degrees. I laughed and drove faster.

Turns out I hadn't failed after all. I'm back, and the troubles I left here only a few days ago are all pissant douchebags in need of a solid ass kicking. And, instead of just ditching and going to another party, I'm ready to put up my dukes and defend this one.

So: work, weather, whatever -- bring it on. I'm ready to do what needs to be done.

Sunday, January 04, 2009