Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hot Yoga

So, I tried hot yoga today. I'd tried yoga before, but found it infuriating trying to follow abstract instructions ("reach with the roof of your mouth", "extend your tailbone", "unfurl your heart", etc). I liked the stretching, and I could definitely stand to be a bit more flexible. I also really liked feeling that I got a full workout out of the deal. Hot yoga came up because I figured in a stressful, hot environment there wouldn't be any patience for that metaphorical instructions bullshit. Also, Sweatbox Yoga has a pretty sweet intro deal. First off, I'm happy to report that I was right. I really liked this instructor. She just told you what to bend, what to flex, what to press into what, it was great. So, in short, the "yoga" part of hot yoga was great. Turns out the hot part of it isn't so great. At first it didn't seem to bad. It wasn't as hot as a sauna, and I really liked just laying on the ground in a warm room, breathing in warm air. Truth be told, I was imagining I was in Hawaii, and the heat pretty much sold that illusion. But then we did yoga. There were 3 sections. I paused once in the first section because I was short on breath. I stopped halfway through the second section because I was dizzy. And I didn't do much of the third section, except the very last bit, because I was still super dizzy. (by "stopped" I mean I either knelt or lay down on the mat. They recommend you do either if you feel dizzy or nauseous. The class goes on without you though and you can back in whenever you want) But that wasn't the worst part. After leaving, I was starved and dehydrated. I had brunch and took a nap, but it took me pretty much the rest of the day to shake my dehydration headache and that odd feeling of dizziness. Even then, my muscles still felt entirely spent, like I'd just finished an Ultimate tournament. I had no energy to do anything until about 6pm. The class had ended at 11:30am So yeah, it kicked my ass. I might do it once again and super hydrate beforehand, just to make sure this experience wasn't a fluke. Even saying that, it sounds like a stupid idea, but I guess I am an engineer.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Bike commuting

I don't have the time for full, well thought out blog posts. I could make the time, but frankly I'm happy with the amount of time I spend doing other things. But for the time being, I hope to make more frequent (but shorter) updates here. I'm trying to keep up this bike commuting thing. I really like how quickly I can get to work, and I like that I'm doing it under my own power. Not so much because it saves gas, but because it helps works exercise into a daily routine that I have to do anyway. Its also awesome to use the roads and not be a car when there's a good amount of traffic. Especially riding on a freshly tuned-up bike. We'll see how long I can keep this up. I probably need to buy a few things as it gets colder and wetter, like a jacket that's actually waterproof and splash guards for my tires. For now, a change of clothes seems to be working just fine.

Monday, May 09, 2011


I wrote this song, and it turns out its too hard to play correctly and sing at the same time. So I couldn't do a video for it. So all i have is the mp3.

Get the mp3 here.

When you go to sleep at night
And you wonder whats inside
Of the closet in your room
And your head is filled with doom

Well you know that daddy's here
Just to wash away your fear
If you follow all these rules
Then you will not die by ghouls, so

Put away, put away, put away your toys
Don't kiss, don't kiss, don't kiss the boys
Say no, say no, say no to drugs
Don't deal, don't deal don't deal with thugs

while these rules are a short list
I hope there's none you have missed
For it'd be a tragedy
If you disobeyed me

Because daddy knows best
Now please try and get some rest
I just hope you listened well
Or you will see beasts from hell, so

Now you may be wondering as you drift slowly off into the night
If this song was just made up to give you such a terrible fright

That is simply not the case

But in fact this song was written by a wizard in a magic land
To protect all the children from the land's evil inhabitants

But only kids who follow these rules:

I can see you rest at ease
And this makes me very pleased
Because you are not afraid
So my rules you have obeyed

I hope you dream of something good
Just like all little girls should
I won't say another peep
And I'll let you get to sleep

My girl

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Hitler Potlatch Bid

We slapped together a potlatch bid this year. The deadline really snuck up on us. Craig came up with the idea and script, and I threw it together in iMovie. Enjoy.

Junk Food

Download the mp3 here.

I see we meet again.
As I stroll through the mall
With my group of friends
I try to look away
But my eyes stray


We may have ended badly
But you were always sweet
Ever since I left you
I just don't feel complete.
Whats there left to do
Except admit that i love you

Junk food.

I love your every Ruffle
I love your every Mound
Once I've popped I cannot stop
I just won't put you down.
High fructose corn syrup
And artificial cheese
When you're talking dirty
You bring me to my knees

I have even more fun
When you're sold two for one


Doctor says that you are really poor for my health
I should give you up and exercise as well
But what does he know, an expert in his field
All his scientific tests can't capture how i feel..

I've been thinking over
Our relationship
We've become codependent
And youre a bag of chips

The truth is simply
That we can never be
We may meet again
Perhaps in aisle 10
But until that day
I have to walk away.

Goodbye junk food.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Creative Time

My "update this blog daily" goal has fallen by the wayside. The last thing I told myself was that April was an odd month; so many changes with respect to work. That debt of entries could be annulled or at least be a debt ceiling I could maintain. But May, man. Once May comes around I'm going to hit the ground running.

But wouldn't you know it, it's already May 3rd. I'm still on break between jobs. I'm really excited about going to work next week, but I'm also really enjoying the time off. I've been putting my creative juices to other projects that I've been neglecting. I know I'm about 2 entries behind on posting songs that I've written. I've got some more on the way. I'm also finally making my wallet out of netflix strips. You'll see what I mean.

Also, it seems that every adventure that I take on now requires a YouTube video for admittance. I got in to the World Henchmen Organization puzzle hunt with this lovely video. And it looks like I've got less than a week to throw something together for Potlatch. Fun fun fun fun fun fun fun.

I'll try to not slack off so much on posting in here. But no promises.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thoroughbreds of Sin: Villainous Deeds

If you haven't seen this yet, enjoy:
It's probably the most ambitious creative project I've done in a while. In the span of about a week, I figured out the tune, wrote some lyrics, filmed my puzzle troupe acting goofy, and edited the whole thing. It was definitely 2 late nights of editing; making music is way easier than making a music video.

I might make a behind-the-scenes post if I have time. But for now, enjoy the video.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Goodbye, Hello

The big news:

Next Friday will be my last day of work at Amazon. I'm leaving to join Decide, an electronics shopping startup in Downtown Seattle.

I joined on to (what would become) the AWS Elastic Beanstalk project very early on, and I'm proud to have seen it through to completion. There are still tons of useful features that can be built into the system, and I do believe that Elastic Beanstalk will only get more powerful and easier to use as time goes on.

I'm excited to move on to Decide. It's a small, smart team with a great idea. I'll be working with a good number of folks that I met when I worked for (Live Search) Farecast. This will also be my first start-up job, so it doesn't feel like just another job at a giant company; it feels like I'm starting an adventure.

Not to mention the fact that I won't be able to talk about my work publicly again for a while. Finally. Explaining Elastic Beanstalk to your average Joe is tough. "It's a secret" is a much simpler response. :P

Saturday, April 09, 2011


I'm way behind on my writing schedule. This is the last you'll hear me mention it, because I don't want my blog to become countless personal account of how I haven't been writing enough.

Suffice to say, things have been happening. Those things will be written about, but later. And I'll probably abandon the "write blog posts as if they're fictional stories" trend I tried to set myself for this month. Random fiction without a cohesive narrative can't be interesting.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Master Plan

Seeing as there is nothing you can do to stop what I've set in motion, I figured I'd let you in on this little operation I've got going on.

As you no doubt have noticed, things have been quite different recently. A little more characterization here. A little more narration there. You have noticed these things, and you find yourself asking, "Why?"

The answer is as simple as it is diabolical.

Little do you know, that you've become part of my experiment.

For a while, everything was good. You had worked hard to achieve a lofty goal of writing constantly, improving your ability. You knew it would be a challenge, but I kept you from thinking it was impossible. If you had thought that you wouldn't have tried, and I wouldn't have been able to conduct my further research.

Everything was going well up until last week. Something changed, shifted. I had tried to pique your interest like I had done so many times before, but it wasn't working. You just weren't biting at my bait. I kept giving you things to write about, but you just didn't want to write. Not because you had nothing to say, but because you had become disenchanted with the skill, with the process. Ideas just weren't enough. You needed style.

And here we are. Let me peel back that fourth wall. This is an experiment. This is a challenge. A challenge made exclusively for you. What you write about doesn't after anymore. But you can't keep writing it the same way it's always been.

No more rants about shitty things. No more analysis over techy things. No more long winded and detailed autobiographical tales. Just fiction. Pure fiction. For one month.


James: Bargain Hunter

James was thrifty, but he wasn't cheap. He knew the value of spending the extra dollar on quality where it was useful. He also knew the value of patience, and how time managed to make even the most valuable things worthless.

Video games were his only vice. He couldn't control his fascination with them. There was always a new character to become, a new setting to visit, a new weapon to use on a new kind of enemy. And James had to have them all.

Despite this drive, he still maintained his quirks. He was still James, after all.

He'd watch new games come out, and plan accordingly. A month or two after the game's release, there'd be some sucker willing to part with the game for half of what they paid for it. Then James could swoop in, buy it for cheap, and play it. And if it wasn't a keeper, he could still sell it for about as much (or sometimes more) than what he paid for it.

But that was only if a game really got to him. He usually tried to play games a few years later than everyone else. Wait until there's a "Platinum Hits" edition, a marketing gimmick to sell popular games of yesteryear as if they were new again. Or a "Game of the Year" edition, which would include all the extra maps and expansion packs they made to upsell the original game for free. And then wait til that edition dropped to half price.

Still, with all this careful watching and planning, sometimes the excitement of something new got the best of him. A game would look so good that he'd just have to preorder it. He tried his best to reason with his impulse side. Or at least put a number value on his impulse purchases.

It boiled down to this. $30 was an acceptable impulse-buy point for games that had only been out for a few months. You could pick these up used or on featured deals sites. $20 was the limit for any other game, including the GOTY editions. And unless James already knew he liked the game, he never spent less than $10. Those alway s tended to be the crap games that only sold for so cheap because no one would buy them.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Late Post

He was late.

That was the only thought that ran through his head as he fled down the narrow corridor. Shit. There was no way he could make up for the lost time.

The worst part about it was that he couldn't remember where the time had gone. The last thing he remembered was sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, dressed in a sharp suit and waiting for his friend to come down from the 30th floor. An older man had sat next to him and tried to strike up a casual conversation. But he would have none of it. It was too late for him to care enough to feign interest in an old man's tales.

But it was all he could think about now, as he turned a sharp right corner into an even narrower alley. Those last moments, lingering images of a time when things made sense and he had the privilege to be annoyed by something so trite. The red, velvet couch he sat on. The old man's grisly voice pushing through an overgrown mustache that was peppered with all shades of grey. The radiant light glinting off of the crystal chandeliers that floated above their heads.

Somehow that had turned into a blind dash through the back alleys. A race against time to get to the only man who could explain all of this before it was too late.

Monday, April 04, 2011


I'm one of the staff members for the upcoming DASH3. For those who don't know, it's a puzzling event that takes place simultaneously across a number of cities.

This past weekend, we ran through a test of DASH3 with 4 teams. We essentially ran the full event with a skeleton crew, taking notes of solve times, routing information, and general puzzle feedback. I can't say much in the way of specifics -- I don't want to give anything away for those who will be participating in the main event on April 30th.

What I didn't know was that this was also a test of how I'd hold up in running a DASH. I've helped run other puzzle events before (like the Microsoft Intern Game) but this was a slightly different beast.

In short, here's what I've learned:

  • Bring a hat. It will probably be cold, and you will want a hat.
  • Be ready to get wet. It was dry for most of the day, but it was definitely pretty constantly raining outside.
  • Theo Chocolate is delicious. But I knew that already.
Thankfully, I think I survived the weekend without getting sick. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

April Project

I don't think I'll have a specific April Project. I've got my hands full with a lot of different odds and ends that need finishing and/or starting. Including

  • Recording 2 new songs. I have them written, I just need to take the time to record them
  • Kathryn's Health Website. I said I'd make a website for her. I should probably get to that.
  • Boomerang v2. Potlatch and July seem so far away. But I'd rather get all that squared away sooner rather than later.
  • Blog posts. I'm behind again, I think? It's so hard to keep track.
The first one will definitely be finished soon. Hopefully by the end of this weekend. But the rest? We'll see.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beer Jenga

At Laura's party a while back, we played quite a few games. Some of them were drinking games. One of which I hadn't ever heard of before, but I really liked it. It's called Beer Jenga.

It sort of feels like Jenga. There's suspense, and everyone tries to move very slowly and very carefully. There's also the moments of "oh, wait, don't move, I think it's about to collapse" and then riotous cheers when it all implodes. But it might not b what you think.

What I thought it would be is that we would play Jenga and then drink when we make it fall over. Turns out its a bit more involved than that.

To play, take a pitcher of beer. Then, put a small or medium-sized glass in the pitcher, so it floats. Everyone should have a cup of the same beer. When it's your turn, pour as much beer as you want into the floating cup. It should only be one continuous pour, but in that pour you can dump as little or as much beer as you want. If you're the one to pour enough beer in that it makes it sink, then you lose. Loser has to fish the sunken glass out & drink all the beer that's in it.

It was fun all around! It takes a bit of skill to get used to pouring just a drop of beer in. I never had to drink when we played it. Which was probably good for me, considering how much I had had to drink that night anyway.

Point of technique, though: a number of folks had squeezed their red plastic cups of beer so that they came to a nice point. They would then use this to help them more accurately pour a drop of beer.

That's bullshit. You don't get to re-shape your cup to make it easier to pour. Just pour it over the normal, rounded side. Yeah, it might be harder. That's what makes it fun. If everyone could pipette their beer in then the chemical engineering students with years of titration skills would kick our asses. And they'd think it was work.

But house rules let it slide. So it's cool. I just gave em shit for doing it. That'll teach em.

Enegy Crisis: Solved

Japan's recent problems with the safety of its nuclear energy program have gotten number of folks in the US wondering how safe nuclear power is. Are our current facilities equipped to handle a natural disaster without a complete meltdown? How will we meet the power demands of the future if not for nuclear energy?

Well, I've also heard that this nation is under a somewhat large obesity epidemic. I think we can kill 2 birds with one stone here.

Why not make a different kind of gym that effectively works as a power plant? With really cheap (possibly free) dues, get a whole bunch of folks who want to work out together, give them some equipment to use that converts their mechanical energy into electrical energy, and voila. People lose weight, the community gets power.

Essentially, all we're doing is repurposing the stored energy in folks excess fat cells and using it to do more useful work. Like power my Xbox.

And folks nowadays pay tons of money for the privilege to go to these gyms that actually use electricity to help these folks run around. What a waste of energy!

I really think this could work. Either it's a brilliant new idea, or someone else thought of it and the economics don't work out. Which I'd believe. I'm not sure how much the electric company pays folks for adding power to their grid, but be biking for 45 minutes probably isn't a whole lot of power...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Plug-ins Development

I've now tried my hand at writing plug-ins for Safari, Chrome and Firefox (using JetPack). I haven't tried this sort of thing before, but I really like where this kind of thing is going. The chorus of focus placed on HTML, CSS and JavaScript really make developing plug-ins for these web browser very simple.

My Plug-in
First off, a caveat. I'm not doing anything complex. All I wanted to do was automatically inject a bit of JavaScript on certain pages. It's a very short script that only took about 2 hours to write, test, and debug. A lot of the frameworks for developing plug-ins provide a wonderfully broad set of features to support a wide array of plug ins. Plug-ins that try and add UI-features, leverage browser-specific abilities, or do anything that can't be generalized to all web browsers would probably be a bit more difficult.

This was my first attempt. It's my current default browser (I rotate what my default browser is every few months) so it was the first one I wanted my plug in to work with.

The documentation was an amazing help. It pretty clearly explained how to get what I wanted done, done. Safari's extension builder provided a clean UI to configure and install my web app, even if it didn't do a great job explaining what all the options were (the documentation filled that gap).

While I would say Safari was the most user-friendly browser to develop for, there were a few highly technical glitches that might deter beginners. First, I had to deal with signing up for the Safari Developer Program, getting an Apple-signed cert that lets me install custom plug-ins, then installing that cert on my dev machine. I can see how this makes it "secure", but it was busy work I had to do before I could really get to work. It was annoying.

Additionally, when I was finished, hosting and auto-updating my plug-in was another highly technical pain point. Apple doesn't provide hosting for Safari plug-ins, so you've got to find your own way to distribute them. Additionally, you can specify a URL for Safari to check for updates, but oddly enough that URL doesn't go to the latest version of your plug-in. It goes to a very specific XML file that lists version numbers and locations for a bunch of plug ins. Again, it works, but making me manually edit and host an XML file isn't quite as streamlined as editing config options with the built in Extension Builder. It's just not very Apple-y.

A lot of the concepts used by Chrome extensions are the same. Just specify HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and you're good to go. A good number of the configuration options are the same as well.

Unfortunately, Chrome lacks the slick tools that Safari has. Rather than a nice UI for editing config, I had to manually edit a manifest file. To their credit, the manifest was just pure JSON, so it wasn't that bad to use, and immensely better than that XML pList stuff I had to do for Safari's auto-update feature.

I also didn't have to do any nasty cert management. I just told Chrome to use the folder with my plugin and it worked.

Everything else was pretty much a breeze. Chrome provides hosting for your plug in, and you can auto-update from there. The biggest drawback was that hosting anything in the Chrome Web Store costs $5, but that's a one-time fee. And, unlike Apple's registration process, I didn't have to do that if I just wanted to toy with an extension on my computer.

However, there was a sharp moment of confusion when I uploaded my extension to the Chrome Web Store. The form explicitly asked for a zip file of my extension. When you package up a chrome extension, it zips it up and adds a .crx file extension to the end of it. But that's not good enough for the Chrome Web Store: you need to unpack it, then zip it up, then submit it. Why they made me take these extra useless steps boggles my mind.

Last (and least) there's Firefox. I generally like Firefox as a browser, but trying to develop a plug-in for Firefox made me appreciate how much work has gone into all the other Firefox plug-ins that I use today.

At first I wanted to make a plug-in for Firefox 3.6. I started reading docs. There were XUL and NPAPI and ugh, who knows what other custom languages and technologies for me to learn. This was not going to be fun.

Then I found Jetpack. I thought it was a feature coming with Firefox 4 to make developing plug ins as easy as it was in Chrome and Safari. Turns out, it's a utility to generate all that XUL and Firefox-specific goblety-gook out of the standard HTML, CSS & JavaScript.

Well, actually, just HTML & Javascript. There's no CSS support. I had to translate my CSS to text and write some custom JavaScript code to inject it. And it turns out the JavaScript support is quite limited. You really don't have the same power that you have with developing plug-ins for other browsers.

But it's a beta. It's severely behind its competitors, but it's showing signs that it's on the right track. And once I figured out the pile of default folders and files needed to properly create a Firefox plugin, I was well on my way to being done. All the gripes I had about it had already been entered into some feature-tracking product on their site, and it's really just a matter of time until that gets it sorted out.

I didn't touch IE or Opera. Mainly because (a) I think it can't possibly be easy to develop for and (b) I don't use it enough on a regular basis, respectively.

But overall, plug in/extension development is on the right track. It's pretty easy to get simple cross-browser features running in different browsers. Large chunks of code were re-used for the majority of these plug-ins. And a lot of the pain was just the first-time setup cost of doing plugin development.

I'd definitely do this again, if I thought of something else I wanted to change the browser to do. :)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Off the Rails Again

Shit's gone off the rails again. I'mma need time to fix it.

I was on track after my short vacation to SF, but things quickly degenerated. It was a bad week.

Now I've got more to do, the least of which is catching up blog posts. Ugh. And instead of doing any of that, I'm just escaping back into my video games.

In related news, Bulletstorm isn't as fun as you'd think.

Introducing: Lendable for Amazon Kindle

Ever since I started using Lendle to borrow and lend kindle books, I've become more passionate about ebook lending. I've gone into it on other posts, but the core feature I'd like to see added to ebook lending is the ability to lend a book more than once, just like you could sigh a physical book. But we're not there yet.

Step one is getting as many ebooks to enable lending as possible. So I've decided not to buy Kindle books that don't have lending enabled.

Then I saw a problem. It's pretty hard to discern from Amazon's product page if a given Kindle book is lendable or not. They hide it all the way down in the product details section. And for non-lendable books, they just don't mention lending at all, which is vague and confusing. So, I figured out a way to make it much easier to tell if a Kindle book is lendable or not. I'm calling it Lendable for Amazon Kindle.

There are 2 ways to install & use Lendable for Amazon Kindle:

This is the most broad solution that should work in any browser. Just drag the following link into your bookmarks bar:

When you are at an page for a Kindle book, just click on the bookmarklet. The page will update, clearly indicating in green or red if the book in question is lendable of not.

Browser Plug-in
If you don't want to have to click every time you visit a Kindle book, you can install one of these browser plug-ins. They automatically update the display of these pages; all you have to do is visit them.

Enjoy! Feel free to leave feedback, questions, or comments here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ching Chong (It means "I love you")

Craig: you probably shouldn't read this.

As part of my trip to SF, I did have a late night youtube-viewing session with my buddy, Beamer. It's the same situation that social networks try to make happen over large distances. But it just doesn't have the same "I'm bored and awake at 2:30am and don't want to sleep, what can I watch" vibe to it.

He showed me this recent gem about a woman who was upset that some folks would take cell phone calls in the library, disrupting her concentration. That sounds like a pretty normal complaint, but she phrased it differently:

There is so much wrong with this video. Apparently this girl has had a ton of shit heaped on her & her family for these racially insensitive comments. I won't rail on her any more than other folks already have; she knows what she said was stupid to say, she just didn't realize that ranting to a webcam in her room meant that she could be ranting to a global audience. She knows that now.

What I really like is some folks' ability to make these gorgeously creative gems out of such horrible source material.
There are also various trance remixes & auto-tuned versions of the rant. I'll let you find those on your own.

I don't really have much more commentary to add. I genuinely wish more folks had the sense of creativity and the sense of humor that these independent song writers/remixers do. Hopefully we can genuinely reduce and eventually eliminate these kinds of simplistic opinions, rather than simply shaming them to harbor their ill-targeted malice in a more private setting. But for the time being, making entertainment from their unpopular opinions seems to be a nice enough step.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

San Francisco!

Last weekend-ish, Kathryn & I took a trip to the bay area. We went down to see & hang with a bunch of my college friends that I hadn't seen in a while. It was also Laura's birthday, so we went to a house party nearby to celebrate.

As you can see, it was a good party.
This is one of those times I wish I had taken more pictures. But there are plenty of pictures of me looking ridiculous, so maybe not having a few more isn't a bad thing.

We definitely got a few of the California-vacation-specific achievements out of the way:
  • Ate at In-n-Out.
  • Bought liquor in a grocery store.
  • Walked along Pier 39 & The Embarcadero (Didn't see Bushman, but I have since been convinced that he actually does exist, based on his 4-star rating on yelp)
  • Had amazing Mexican food in the Mission.
The weather was unfortunately very atypical for California. We had one or two dry days, but most of it was pretty cloudy and rainy. No more than it normally does in Seattle, though, so Kathryn & I were fine. It was pretty funny to see our friends freak out about a light mist or to hear them complain about how cold the 57-degree weather is.

It was a great trip overall. It's always good to see old friends. I may make an effort to tell smaller stories from my trip. We'll see. :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

iPad Writing

iPad Writing

I'm a little surprised how much quicker I've got at making blog posts. Okay, to be fair, I don't know if I've actually gotten any quicker. But they do seem to come easier. They seem to flow a bit more. They also seem to be better written, but that could just be me psyching myself up. This would be all for naught if, after writing daily, my quality of writing deteriorated.

I don't know how I got so behind. I've been writing double entries almost every day this week in an effort to increase my post count. It seems that missing a couple weekends of posts puts me in quite a hole.

I've also been giving writing on my iPad a go with the last few entries. I don't think it has any impact on the quality of my writing, but it's a nice change of pace. I feel very futuristic methodically tapping glass in order to make text appear. And oddly enough, the ever-present clicking noise to simulate the auditory feedback of a key press hasn't been as annoying as it was on my iPhone. Except if you're not the one doing the typing, or so I'm told.

The biggest issues? The same ones found on any netbook. The keyboard doesn't have an apostrophe key. It's certainly better than my actual netbook keyboard, since a full set of symbols is just an extra press away, and if I can just think forward enough to not use an apostrophe then odds are the autocorrect feature will just fill it in for me. But years of typing muscle memory a hard to overcome.

I really wish I had this in college. It would have been so nice to carry something like this to class, take notes, and in all likelihood play addictive games as a distraction in the boring classes. It'd also be great if I could get ebook textbooks. I really wouldn't need to carry anything else.

But those days are past. The best I could hope for is extensively using this for a big writing goal, like Nanowrimo. Bringing this thing with me is certainly less difficult than bringing a real laptop. So I could really write from anywhere for a month. Although I'd probably still do most of my writing from home anyway. Writing in other environments tends to be too distracting (last time I tried writing on a bus, I got very little written and a giant headache to show for it)

I've got a big weekend ahead of me. I'm probably going to fall behind on posts, even with all the extra work I've been doing to keep up. Oh well. With any luck, I'll come back with a bunch more stories to write about that should help I'll the void of posts my a sense leaves behind on the internet.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Slog in the Bog

A while back, I played at an Ultimate tournament called Slog in the Bog. It's really just the first tournament after winter; it's a sign that things are getting better and summer's on the way. Unfortunately, it's usually punctuated by freezing temperatures, harsh rain, and the occasionally flurry of snow.

This year was no different. It didn't have snow, but it was constantly raining and absolutely freezing. The fields had large puddles of standing water -- I'm impressed they let us play on those fields. But, they were grass fields, which always gets me excited about playing D. Laying out when it's wet and the ground is soft is the absolute best time to lay out.

I could go on about the tournament: We had crews there early and late to set up. We planned ahead and got reservations for dinner so we wouldn't be starving. We played well and ended up winning 2 of the 5 games that day. Fun was had all around. But that feels like the usual tournament recap fodder.

What I really want to show you is this:
Falling with style
In our third or fourth game, an older man was walking along the sideline. He carried a pretty big camera. It was clear he wasn't there to play, he was just there to take pictures. He noticed someone on the opposing team who also had a large digital SLR camera taking pictures of the action, and was asking him for advice. He seemed to be full of practical action photography advice that I hadn't ever really thought of: where to stand depending on which team had possession, what to look for, where to focus the camera. All interesting stuff.

Then I forgot about their conversation and went on playing our game. Due to the weather, there was a lot of swill. One point I was on was particularly bad. I was a side cutter in the horizontal. A throw went up towards a cutter in the middle, but the wind caught it and it slowly floated back down. I managed to attack that while the nearby defenders were waiting for it to fall, I caught it and fed it back to the nearest handler. Then I returned upfield.

A few throws later, it happened again, but without the luxury of time. A crisp outside-in backhand was heading right towards an in-cutter. Suddenly, the wind caught the outside edge of the disc, and it jumped up just above the receiver before she could catch it. As it was rocketing down the field, I saw it curving towards me. I sprinted towards the disc and made a flying leap to save it.

Then the old man snapped that picture.

He showed it to me when the point ended and we came off the field. He had all these photography based critiques about it. He wished he had captured a bit further in front so the disc wasn't cut off. I was a bit out of focus. I told him I didn't care; I thought it was awesome. This was really the first picture of me layout out that was absolutely clear it was me. Up until now, the closest I had was this:

...which you basically have to trust is me, since I'm so small & blurry in it (I'm the one in white).

I'm pretty sure my mouth was open in that shot too, because that's how I lay out.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Bike

I've begun to bike places more often. Part of the reason why is health: in general I like the idea of exercising while I commute. Part of it is cost: I save money on gas and parking, and members fees at a gym that I might have to join in order to get this same amount of exercise. And, part of it is just because I enjoy biking.

(part of it is also the fact that Moya, my car, tends to have her alarm go off at all odd hours of the morning while nighttime joy riders drive super fast down the road by Kathryn's house. Not being woken up, sometimes repeatedly, in the middle of the night is something amazing you don't know you have until it's gone)

The story of bike is an interesting one.

When I was growing up, I would bike every day to school. This was the case ever since I learned to bike back in grade school. This would happen rain or shine, and there always were a few days a year when I would have to go the whole morning completely drenched since it had been raining on the bike in. Fortunately, this was northern California, so that kind of rainy day was few and far between.

When I went to college, I didn't bring my bike. I didn't need it. My brother, on the other hand, did need a bike, as his had fallen to pieces over the years. So, when I left, I let him use my bike. It seemed like a simple enough solution, at the time.

A few years passed, and two things happened at about the same time.

First, I found a bike abandoned in the bushes after one of my frisbee practices. It was rusty, partially flat, and the rear brake pad has been completely worn down. It was not a great bike. But I decided it would make my trips up and down the hill to my apartment a bit faster (well, down the hill, anyways). After a week or so with this crappy found bike, I began to wonder what had happened to my high school bike.

Second, Alan was finishing high school and moving on to college. He also decided that he wouldn't need a bike once he went to college, since everything would be in walking distance.

You would think this would have a simple solution, but no.

I called home and asked what happened to my bike. I got a curt reply. "That's Dad's bike now."
"What? No, I mean my bike. The one Alan was using."
"Yeah, that's Dad's now. He's going to leave it up in Tahoe so he can use it when he goes up there."

I won't go in to my dad a lot, but this is typical him. He'll just completely disrespect us, pull some shit, then get angry and yell about how he pays for everything, even though our mother is the primary breadwinner.
Apparently, Dad thought it was an old bike in need of a few upgrades. Especially if he was going to be riding it. So when Alan left, he took it to the shop, and poured about $800 worth of upgrades into the thing. He spent the money on it, so now it's his. Plain and simple.

I told him I didn't care how much money he put into the bike, it wasn't his to repair. It was still my bike and he couldn't take it. Despite my moral high ground, he had the physical advantage of actually having the bike, as opposed to me being an hour away at University. So, I lost. My dad stole my bike.

He tried to make it up to me when I came home for the summer. On my birthday, he gave me a brand new bike. It was not well received. Not only did it drudge up our argument (after all, his unscrupulous actions were the only reason I needed a new bike in the first place) but the bike was a weighty behemoth. It had adjustable shocks, disc brakes, thumb shifters, wide tires, all kinds of things you'd expect to see in a quality off-road bike.

Except I wasn't planning on off-roading at all. I needed a commuter bike. Definitely not this. If you go out of your way to create someone's need for a gift, as tasteless as it is to get them that gift, you could at least make it a good one.

I didn't like the gift. My dad didn't understand why. This bike was worth more than my old bike, more than the upgrades that he paid for improving my old bike. Do I know how much it costs? I should love this bike.

Needless to say, I never used it.

That is, until last summer. Kathryn moved from West Seattle to Ravenna, and she had to get her old bike to her new house somehow. I suggested we make a day trip out of it. Pack a couple of snacks, plan a relatively easy route, and just explore the city on our bikes.

I went to the storage unit below my apartment to pull this baggage-laden behemoth out into the light of day. It's the only bike I had, and it would get me along our picnic route quite nicely.

When we both started biking regularly, I looked at replacing it. But there were so many options, so many different types, so many price points. I tried to take a road bike for a test drive, but I happened to try this when all the road bikes were rented out for an annual bike race from Seattle to Portland. Then, the weather turned south, and that was enough to keep me from riding my bike for a little while. It was enough time where I questioned if a new bike would be a worthy investment, or if I would just spend the cash only to have my new bike hide out, once again, in my storage unit.

So I stopped looking. Now I just use this gargantuan block of metal on fat tires to huff and puff my way up and down the Burke-Gilman trail. If I really can keep biking despite the weather, than I should give buying a road bike a second chance. But for now, this bike that should never have been bought, that I should have never gotten, that I somehow didn't manage to get rid of, will do just fine.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Term Papers

Kathryn is stressing out about grading papers. Some kids just aren't trying and want good grades anyway. Others appear to be trying but don't have the communication skills to aptly transcribe their arguments. Or follow directions.

I can't stand this crap. Ages ago, from the student side of things, I hated the fact that I had to write papers for my major. My roommate, Alec, agreed with me.

"With technical topics," he'd explain, "there's always a right or a wrong answer. You either did it correctly, or you didn't. With English papers, it's all interpretive. You can have two papers which absolutely say opposite things and they'll both get passing grades."

And I took some bullshit classes to fill my English breadth requirements. I loved my theatre and poetry classes, but my Southeast Asian Studies and Repression Stories classes were both a waste of time and traumatizing, respectively. They fit my schedule, got me the credits I needed, and taught me a very formulaic way of cranking out papers that got me a good grade.

But all in all, I agree with Alec's sentiment. It's never about what you say, it's about how well you write. Which they can teach you in writing 101. But which they grade you for over and over in courses where the intention of the material is to teach you something else useful, not writing.

Maybe it's my harsh engineering-style black-or-white way of looking at education, maybe it's the fact that I'm not tasked with teaching these kids anything-- I don't have to see their faces every day, I don't humanize them. But if you're in a college-level course, and you're making me strain to understand the gibberish you've written to make some poorly constructed argument that's not even on topic, then eff you. You're not putting in any effort to write the paper, then why should I put in the effort to read it?

Chances are you will fail. No, I won't hold your hand and give you a C so you don't have to retake the course. I refuse to devalue the grades of the students who excelled in writing their papers, or even those who did a pretty good job, by polluting their ranks with your sorry excuse of an essay.

Deal with your failure, learn to write better, and try again next quarter.

Stop stressing my girlfriend out.


PS: I can't tell if my hard line stance on grading would make me an excellent or a terrible teacher. I'd hope it's the former.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Launch Party

Some things sound so ridiculous when you hear about them, you think they must have been a joke when they were created. Sometimes that's about serving size. Other times, it's about software engineering.
Brian Regan - Serving Size
Brian Regan VideosBrian Regan JokesBrian Regan Standing Up

My team had a party to celebrate launching AWS Elastic Beanstalk (we launched in January). This was the big shindig, where everyone was encouraged to bring significant others, and all of the other teams involved in helping us launch got to hang out and have some free food & beer.

Kathryn came along with me. She was a bit nervous that the evening would devolve into geeky technobabble and she'd be completely lost. As much as I try and filter myself, sometimes I do slip into computer lingo. Or I simply forget that the lingo I'm using isn't widely understood outside the tech industry. Such conversations typically happen when I'm talking about my day:

"I just spent 4 hours in sprint planning."
"Sprint planning?"
"Yeah, what we're going to be working on next sprint."
"What's a sprint?"
"Oh, it's just 3 weeks worth of work."
"Are you always sprinting?"
"So then how is it a sprint?"

No surprise, software engineering has a particularly dense vernacular of common words used in uncommon ways. I don't bother to question how they're used, because when I learned them I just treated them as new words. It doesn't matter what "sprint" means in other contexts, in this context, a "sprint" is a time-bound span of work. But that just doesn't seem to work for Kathryn.

So when our cocktail party conversation drifted towards work, the overused engineering lingo reared its ugly head again. Kathryn still didn't understand why we'd overused these words in this manner, so she asked the group. Bill, a coworker who is particularly good at explaining things, tried to answer her.

"But you're not going any faster. You're always sprinting"
"But you see, it's different from Waterfall, where it took years to release updates. Now it's on the order of weeks. It's much faster."
"But you're still working at the same speed. Sprinting should be when you have to work extra hard or extra fast to get things done. The normal speed of working should just be called Doing Your Fucking Job."


Later on, Bill tried to explain software engineering principles in general. "It's all part of this process," he said, "Scrum is how you can develop software more quickly."
He paused. "Are you familiar with what a scrum is?"
She thought for a second. Then, it came to her, "Oh yeah, from rugby?"
"Yeah, exactly like a scrum in rugby."
"So you bash heads together and don't go very far or very fast?"

We laughed.  Yes. Sometimes, that's exactly what agile development feels like.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Musings of #196

I wrote this while waiting in line for the iPad 2 last week.

This is the ridiculousness. I'm #196 in line for an iPad 2. They tell us that they'll have enough. That I'll definitely be getting one. That is all I wanted to hear. That is all I want.

I drank a bit last night. Not to excess, but enough to make me exhausted. Despite my intention to stay awake til 1am and order them online to avoid the release-day lines, I valued some quality sleeping time instead. I passed out around 10:30pm consciously deciding that trying to force myself to order an iPad at 1am would be an unneccisary waste of effort. I could just order one online in the morning.

Then morning rolls around. I roll over in bed and launch the Apple Store app - an app I've really only used to schedule appointments at the Genius Bar so far. I tell it that I want an iPad. It says, "Great, that'll be 2-3 weeks".

2-3 weeks? Are you serious?

I'm normally a very patient man. I can rationalize waiting for most things. A new game coming out? It's okay; a month after release Amazon will likely have it in a GoldBox deal for 50% off. I can wait a month on that bet. Late to be somewhere? No sense in getting all worked up about it now, the car I'm in or the bus I'm waiting for won't be getting here any sooner if I'm stressing about it. And if something happens a little later, no big deal.

I don't know if Amazon Prime has set my expectations for 2-day delivery for all online purchases too high, or if Apple has the marketing ability to send me back into the mindset of a 7-year-old weeks before Christmas. Whatever it is, 2-3 weeks isn't cutting it. I wanted it and I wanted it NOW.

I start thinking tactically. How can I get what I want as soon as possible. I could just order it online. Fuck the wait; I wanted the first iPad when it came out but I decided to wait. I could wait another few weeks and get exactly what I want without another thought.

This is the cool, rational, planning me. This me makes sense.

But the 7-year-old yells "THAT'S STILL THREE GODDAMN WEEKS AWAY".

He's a cranky one.

The alternative is to go to an Apple store, wait in an epic line, and hope they have the model & accessories I want in stock. That spawns all kinds of other questions. How early should I try to go stand in line to secure my spot? What if they don't have the version I want? What if the line doesn't move fast enough (I'm supposed to grab dinner & a movie with my girlfriend tonight)?


Or, I could go in next Tuesday morning. The Apple store is right by Kathryn's place and if you get there when they open they might have just gotten a new shipment...


And so, here I am. Like a tired mother giving her kid whatever he wants if it will just stop him from kicking and screaming and give me a moment of peace for once. A block away from the Apple store (that's how long the line is), seated on cold concrete, typing on my laptop.

And I've still got an hour to kill.

April Project

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself. I still have 2 half-completed songs to finish and one more browser plug-in to write this month. But I'm already thinking what my April project should be. I've got lots of ideas swimming around in my head, but nothing jumping out.

iPhone Game
I want to make an iPhone game. Not a cross-smartphone webapp-style game, but an honest-to-goodness native iPhone game that I can give away or sell in the App Store.

I'm not so sure this, on its own, is a good project. My biggest motivation to do this is to play with Objective-C, the language used to write native iOS and OS X applications. I looked in to it a while ago; it's got some really interesting concepts not present in other language. But, as I've mentioned before, I can hardly stay motivated when my goal is explicitly learning.

There are other motivations. I want there to be more iPhone games so I can play them. It's also tempting to think that I could be the next rags-to-riches App developer and make tons of cash. Failing that, even if I only made a moderate sum it'd be nice to make money off of one my own projects, one of my own ideas, rather than explicitly making a living building other people's dreams.

Chrome App
The same thing could also be said if I wanted to build a Chrome Game. It'd really be just about that last bit though, not learning Objective-C. Somehow, this seems less appealing.

I'm hesitant to do either of these, because it seems like my motivation is in the wrong place. I don't even have a fully fleshed game idea, nevermind one that I think I'd actually enjoy playing. So all I really have for these projects is some vague desire to have something completed without actually knowing what it is I want to complete. So these projects might have to wait until I have a good game idea.

Kindle Book
Okay, so the theme might really be "I want to make money on one of these projects". But there are other motivations, too! I'd like to genuinely be published. I also enjoy writing fiction, I just tell myself I don't have enough time to really do it well.

Which absolutely isn't true, if Nanowrimo proves anything. I can make time to write a story. I just need to have it be a goal that I'm focused on.

This project also lacks a clear definition, but it's less worrying. Creativity can be like a strike of lightening, a giant shock appearing out of nowhere for an instant. More often, it's like static electricity: a bunch of smaller, almost invisible shocks that you only get by rubbing your feet up and down the entire carpet for a couple of hours. If I just try for long enough, I'll think of something interesting to write about.

But my biggest concern is keeping my project time diverse. I'm already writing daily in this blog. It's not fiction, but it's still writing. If I make it a month-long task to write fiction on top of my blog, I might get burned out from writing. And I'd rather not stop blogging just to focus my writing efforts in other areas.

Something else?
I've still got a while until April. So hopefully by then I'll have something figured out. Or I'll get inspired and do a completely different project. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Easier iPhone games

I realize that iPhone games aren't made to be particularly difficult. Just the opposite actually, most games are made to be a bit simple and repetitive. Their focus is on having you enjoy yourself as quick as possible, since odds are you're waiting at a bus stop, or standing in line to get on the bus, or on the bus that's not going anywhere in traffic. You don't have time for a deep, involved game that takes time to learn or skill to use.

And yet, Angry Birds is a skill based game that takes time to learn and get good at, mostly from trial and error. Cut the Rope requires you give some of the puzzles serious thought, others require quick reflexes. Doodle Jump requires persistence and a quick reaction time. These games are fun, but no doubt are alienating those with a lack of coordination, or only a few seconds to spare instead of minutes.

So, behold! My list of even easier iPhone games:

(Side note: I had intended to make mock screenshots of these games, but with all the other things I have to do this month, I'll just let you imagine them.)

Indifferent Birds
Some pigs stole these birds' eggs! But they don't seem too worried about it. Gameplay is like Angry Birds, but without a slingshot. Just after about 3 seconds in to each level, the birds shrug and walk away, and you get 3 stars.

Big Wings
This bird has always dreamed of flying. Thankfully, he has pretty big wings, so flying is effortless for him. Gameplay is just like Tiny Wings, but you don't have to worry about all that pesky swooping on the hills. You just gracefully fly from island to island, always escaping the sunset.

Leave The Rope Alone
Om Nom is a cute monster who wants candy. Thankfully, there's a bag of candy right next to him. So he eats candy. Also, there is a rope. Just don't touch it and you'll do fine.

Zero Blade
A scenic castle is seen in the distance as our hero stands at the edge of a cliff, pondering his fate. In an ancient dialog, he says "Father, I will avenge you." Then the camera pans a bit further back and we see his father standing next to him. "That's nonsense. Stop this dungeons and dragons fantasy, go inside and do your homework," he commands. "Yes sir," replies our hero. The End.

Doodle Stand
A Doodle guy stands in a wide variety of environments, including the Jungle and space. There are monsters floating above, but since he's not jumping, there's no chance he'd hit them.

Ground Control
Instead of managing planes trying to land, you have to manage planes who want to take off. The planes stay where they are unless you tell them to go somewhere. And they're not stupid; they'll out on the brakes if you try and make them drive in to each other. All you have to do is get them in line for takeoff.

Fruit Space Marine
Ninjas may need to be stealthy and work with weapons that silently slice to cause harm to their victims. Space Marines not only have guns, but they don't have to deal with pesky gravity. Fruit slowly floats on the screen, and you tap it to fill it full of holes from your semi-automatic weapon.

Hopefully someone will go ahead and make these games, so we can see iPhone games expand to even more casual gamers. Someone just taking one of these ideas and building it would be payment enough.

Unless you make it big, in which case I want 30%.


I feel like I've always got more things that I want to do than I have time to do them. I'm sure it's a common scenario. It's why I began this whole Project-A-Month deal; to force me to focus on one task at a time, give it a deadline, and to either complete it or fail at completing it. In the best case, I would complete a large chunk of the ambitious side projects that I've had burning a hole in my head. Worst case, it would shorten the list down.

I'm noticing a trend in my motivation level for various projects. Some of my projects, at their core, are about developing a skill. I want to learn Ruby on Rails, I want to learn the ins & outs of the new CSS3 hotness. These projects have the most long-term benefit. I'm learning skills that are immediately transferrable to other projects & realms.

You'd think the value these projects have would mean that I'd do them first. And that I'd enjoy doing them first. But I just can't get motivated to do them.

Then there's the other kind of projects. Write some songs. Make Statastic. Make some browser plug-ins. These might very well have the same impact as the above projects; writing songs is a good way of improving my guitar & musical skills. Statastic used some cool "HTML5" features that I had to learn. And I'm learning loads about how to build browser plugins. But somehow, these objectives are more compelling. These are the tasks that absorb my attention.

So, what's the difference?

Maybe I'm really a user first and a developer second. I have the skills and tools at my disposal to build anything. I very well could build for the sake of building, but I'd much rather build something that I'd actually like to use. The how it's built is a secondary question to what it is I want to build. If what I'm going to build isn't going to be very good, then who cares what it's built with?

This could very well describe my motivation for my work in addition to my personal projects.


Monday, March 14, 2011

A PrettyGood play

When I first heard the term "The World's Greatest Play", I thought it was a once in a lifetime thing. It was a youtube video of an Ultimate play. A man was running towards a disc as it sailed out of bounds. He jumped at it, caught the disc, and threw it back in bounds. Another player caught the disc in the goal. Score.

I was a bit underwhelmed. "That's really cool," I said, "but how does it qualify as the world's greatest play?"

"No, no," my teammate explained to me. "That's not describing the play. That's what that play is called. That's a Greatest."

It's just called Greatest for short, following the tradition of shortening names to their unquestionably boasting adjectives ("Ultimate" for "Ultimate Frisbee"). There are also spin-offs of the Greatest; a Worstest is when you think the disc is going out ouf bounds, jump at it, catch it, and throw it back in bounds mid-air, only to have the disc hit the ground as you land in bounds. You could have just caught it, but now you look like an ass. Hence, "Worstest". 

But there's a real spectrum to this play. There are a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of different stages to the Greatest that you can successfully perform, without it being a complete greatest. Even if you do everything right, if there's nobody there to catch the disc, it was all for nothing. 

I'd like to fix that. Not completely, but one possible outcome at a time.

This happened to me this past weekend. I ran deep. The disc went up, but the wind caught it. It began drifting out of bounds and travelled down the field just outside the line. If it hits the ground, we lose a lot of yards, since the disc goes back to where it goes out of bounds. Even if I jump and catch it, unless I'm dragging my toes and touching in-bounds when I do, it still counts as out of bounds and we lose the yardage. So the only way to keep it is to get the disc back in bounds somehow.

There was nobody downfield, so even if I could get a decent throw off, nobody would be there to catch it. I wasn't at all close to the end zone. And I absolutely was not throwing the disc back for a loss of yards (I've done that before. You look like a complete ass if you can save the disc from going out of bounds only to lose 20-30 yards on an errant blady throw)

I ran full speed and dove at the disc. It was too low to the ground to do a real catch-and-throw before I landed. I hooked my finger under the rim as I twisted on to my back. I flung it back in bounds just before hitting the ground. 

My ad-hoc plan kinda worked. When I got up, I could see the disc in bounds, still rolling downfield. The wind was furiously helping, keeping the disc from ever coming to a full rest. 


This was not a Greatest. But it was a successful leap out of bounds to keep the disc in play. I propose we call it a PrettyGood. Because it's really not great. But it's pretty good. 

Side note 1: It was pointed out to me that, since I didn't actually catch and throw the disc that it might be considered an intentional mack, which is technically against the rules. The rule makes sense (you can't intentionally bobble a disc to gain yards on a catch) but I'm not sure it was intended to apply in this case. What do you guys think? Was this against the rules? I doubt it would ever be enforced if it was.

Side note 2: After rolling, I ran towards the guy who picked up and got a handblock. It was immensely satisfying. :)

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood; The Da Vinci Disappearance

Ubisoft released the Da Vinci Disappearance a while ago. I got it when it came out. I haven't bothered with the single player, but if it's anything like the rest of the storytelling present in the single player campaign, I'm sure I'll love it.

The real drive to get this add-on was for the multiplayer additions. There are 4 new characters to play as (to further test my memory skills when I try and talk about the characters) and 2 new game modes. The game modes are really what I was interested in. They are:

  • Escort -- There are 2 teams. One team tries to assassinate the VIP. The other tries to kill the other team & stop them from assassinating the VIP. 
  • Assassinate -- Free for all. Everyone for themselves. You can kill any player you find amongst the clones.

At first, I thought I would hate Assassinate. It would be a free-for-all deathmatch that betrays the allure and strategy of the rest of Assassin's Creed multiplayer. I thought Escort was a great idea; somebody gets to be the VIP and send teammates out to take out the attackers. This would probably be one of the best co-op modes yet.

Turns out I misunderstood some things. And, after playing it a bit, it turns outthat I was absolutely wrong with which mode I'd like better.

First of all, nobody gets to be the VIP. The VIP is a computer-controlled clone. Additionally, there are 2 VIPs in each round, not just one. This splits the efforts of both teams; you're not all going after/protecting one guy. You've got two to deal with.

Misconceptions aside, the interesting thing about Escort is that the path of the VIP is (somewhat) known to both teams. The VIP follows a very direct, predictable bath from wherever he currently is, to wherever the current checkpoint is on the map. Both teams can clearly see where the next checkpoint for each VIP is.

This lends itself to a lot of stand-and-wait gameplay. If you know the VIP is going to be coming by this area, why rush towards him? Just find a good haystack, hide in it, and wait for your target to come to you.

Sounds good in theory. In actuality, I still tried playing this mode like the others and ended up walking into a pack of 2 or 3 opposing team members ready to slice my throat. Then my defense proved fairly useless since the most effective assassins jumped from a nearby roof to land on the VIP I was supposed to be protecting. There's no way to stop that. That's not even stealthy at all.

In short, trying to discern your target (who is an NPC clone) from the non-important NPC clones is more difficult than in any other game mode. Additionally, the tactics needed to play this game type well are very different than the skills that the other game modes taught me. After a handful of rounds, I was left annoyed and frustrated.

So I reluctantly decided to try Assassinate.

This game mode is also more complex than I thought it would be. Turns out it's not a free-for-all, at least not like other games. You can still only have one contract, one target, at a time. But you get to choose who it is.

It plays like this: Your compass gives you some vague indications of where to find other Templars. They're much more subtle, smaller indications than if you had a contract straight away; they have to be able to show you 8 simultaneous targets so all the indicators are a bit smaller. But that's all it can do, tell you in general which way to look.

If you keep your eyes peeled, you will likely see someone giving away the fact that they're not a clone. When you see this (or even if you don't and just want a guess) you can lock on to them. Once you lock on, you get a contract on their head, and you can kill them like any other target. They'll be alerted that someone is pursuing them as soon as you lock on. So even after you know they're a good targt, it's good advice to remain hidden.

And that's it. Kill your target, or realize someone is after you and be killed. You can still stun your pursuer, but only after they've locked on to you and decided they want to try and kill you. Again, you lose your target for a failed kill. Failed kills are even worse now, as if your target stuns you, then they can make you their target and kill you while you're helplessly writing on the ground.

It's a really interesting dynamic. Everyone is still trying to act like they're just an innocent clone. And whenever someone kills someone, any Templar witnessess immediately lock on and start tracking them for their next target. This requires just as much patience and skill as any of the previous modes, with moments of killfest frenzy that are just awesome.

The biggest drawback to this mechanic is that it's fairly easy to mistake your pursuer for a target. I've been walking directly at someone who I knew was a Templar. They were walking straight at me. We both began locking on to one another as we approcahed, and apparently my opponent began locking on slightly before I did. As I closed in and tried to kill him, I saw the "Stun" prompt appear, and I was very confused. Why would I stun my target? I want to kill my target.

My confusion was ended by repeated stab wounds to the chest. Oh, apparently, he was the man pursuing me. I was the target. Now I know, but now I'm dead. Whoops.

That confusion aside, Assassination is a remarkably fun game type to play that doesn't devolve into the itchy-trigger killfest that comprises most multiplayer gaming. It keeps the skill & intrigue of the rest of the AC:B multiplayer types with bigger bursts of crazy action.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer strategies

See my last entry for an introduction to the world of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

There are some techniques I've used to track my targets & avoid my pursuers.

How you move in AC:B is the biggest tell that you're not just an NPC (Non-Player Character) clone. The clones never run. The clones never fast-walk. They tend to walk in the middle of a path, taking wide turns around corners. Occasionally, one will peel off and walk into a standing or sitting group, or leave a group to continue walking around the Environment.

Trying to move like an NPC is extremely hard. You really have to fight the quick-twitch kill skills that other games teach you. The only time I run is when I don't have any pursuers on me and when I'm a long distance from my target. Otherwise, I just casually walk around the map. I try to blend in with moving groups as I walk around the map so my pursuers can't easily single me out. I also leave the walking group to join a standing group of people on occasion. These standing spots give you a great chance to watch your back for your pursuer without having to worry about walking just like an NPC.

Finally, the hardest part about moving around is not letting your target know you're a Templar. If they're running around like an idiot and making it super easy to spot and track them, that's their fault. Most folks are a bit smarter than that, and will be standing, walking, or sitting next to an NPC that looks just like them. If you don't have any means to tell which one is your target, either (a) guess and hope you're right or (b) just keep walking. Stopping to ponder who you'll kill will give you away, since the only place NPCs stop walking is if they're in a standing group.

Also, don't ever walk directly at your target. Folks seem to have a good sense when someone is walking directly towards them with the intent to kill.

There are a number of unlockable & upgradeable abilities to help you hunt your target & elude your pursuer. Every time you start a round (or you re-enter the round because you just died) you get to choose 2 abilities to help you. These abilities are:

  • Disguise - Look like a different NPC clone for a short while.
  • Sprint Boost - Run really fast for a short while
  • Smoke Bomb - Everyone around you stops and coughs for a short while
  • Hidden Gun - Shoot somebody
  • Templar Vision - Highlight your attackers in red & your targets in blue for a short while.
  • Morph - Change all clones around you to look identical to you.
  • Firecrackers - Blind any nearby players, and make the NPC clones near you cower on the ground.
  • Throwing Knives - Injure someone so they walk very slowly for a few seconds.
  • Charge - Blitz through a croud & automatically kill/stun your target/pursuer.
  • Decoy - Make a nearby NPC look like you and run frantically away.
  • Mute - Nobody near you can use abilities or kill/stun for a few seconds
  • Poison - Prick your target with a poison pin & watch them die a few seconds later.

The specifics are best explained here, but that's the gist of it.

Abilities for Wanted
You need a good balance of offense & defense when you play Wanted. I've found that the higher you are in the rankings, the more Templars will come after you. So I usually start with erring on the side of offense & then lock down in a very defensive mode once I'm doing well.

For offense, Poison is amazing for getting really high-point kills. They're difficult to pull off since you have to be very close to your target to do it, but the extra points are worth it. This is especially true if you have a string of bad luck and you get a Score x2 multiplier. It's also the only way to kill a target without exposing yourself for 2-3 seconds to your own pursuer.

If you don't have Poison yet (it's the last Ability to unlock) then I'd probably go with Throwing Knives for my offensive ability. It will slow down a far-away target so you can still creep up too them without drawing too much attention.

I also carry either Mute or Smoke Bomb with me for defense. If I can spot my pursuer, I usually go for the stun; I'm not very adept at running away. Both of these abilities give me the advantage if I can see my pursuer coming. Smoke Bomb has proven to be more effective for me, since my pursuer can't move at all if he's caught in it, but Mute draws substantially less attention to myself. I typically equip both of these when I'm in defensive lock-down mode.

Abilities for Manhunt
Since you'll be exclusively on Offense or Defense for an entire round, my choice of abilities shifts dramatically. Your pursuers will be less subtle, since they don't have anyone looking to kill them. Also, your targets will be more likely to be in groups, hiding places, or otherwise giant clusters of identical clones. They don't have anyone to go after, so they can spend the entire round happily standing still.

For offense, I usually go with Templar Vision and Charge. I try and use Templar Vision from far away or from a rooftop; generally anything that will hopefully be a bit out of sight. When I use Templar Vision, I glow bright white, and basically tell my targets that, no matter where they're standing, I've just found them. If they see me, they're likely to run, and then I'll have to chase them, and the whole super-stealthy assassinate thing gets messy. So I keep my distance, use Templar Vision, and mark which of the folks in the crowd are our targets so my teammates can casually walk up and stab them in the back.

While that ability is recharging, I use Charge. It's substantially less subtle. If a crowd of target NPCs walks by, I'll just bet that one of them is a player and run at them like a rhino on fire. It works more than you'd think.

Defense is a different story entirely. I used to use Morph a lot, until I realized that it just told other players to use some ability on the crowd (like Firecrackers, Charge, or Templar Vision). I still use it on occasion, but when I do, I usually morph a stationary group of people, then move on and stand in a different stationary group. So my decoy group of clones will hopefully get a pursuer to give themselves away by using one of their abilities on a harmless crowd.

I really like the idea of Decoy, but it hasn't been as effective as I would imagine. It's just a bit cumbersome to select the nearby NPC and send them off running in a direction that isn't directly at you. But when I do send a decoy in my pursuer's direction and watch them fall for it, it's quite satisfying.

I also still like Mute & Smoke Bomb.

Abilities for Alliance
I haven't really played much of this mode. Apparently nobody else does, either. The wait times for starting this game type are unbearable.

Chest Capture
Again, I don't play this game mode a lot. There just aren't a lot of folks who want to play it. When I do, it's really the only good mode I've found for Disguise.

I've used Disguise in other game modes before, mostly at the end of a chase so that my pursuer will lose track of me, but I've only had moderate success. Usually, my target or pursuer will see me put on the disguise, or I'll lose the disguise just before I can close in for the kill. I need to work on my timing.

It works well for this game mode, though, since I just need to make the approach unnoticed. I can hang around for a while without killing anything and still make a bunch of points.

Phew. 2 AC:B posts behind me. Now I can finally get to discussing the new game modes released in the latest DLC, The Da Vinci Disappearance. But that will just have to wait for another post.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Multiplayer Intro

I've mentioned Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood here before. I just sort of dove right in to my experiences, and didn't give much of a preface as to what the game was about. Even here, I'm not going to explain the single player story; I'll let that speak for itself. But I do want to give a more in-depth introduction into the multiplayer, since I especially like it. I also just began playing the new Da Vinci Disappearance add-ons, and I'd love to talk about those, but they really require a good background.

Without further ado, here's a brief overview of AC:B multiplayer.

In the near future, a war is brewing. Your side (the Templars) have tons of money and tech, and have assembled what amounts to a giant virtual reality simulation. To prepare you for the real war at hand, you and all of the other Templars are going to use this VR simulation as combat training. You assume the identity of some of the most skilled Templars in history, in scenic historic locations, and are given other Templar targets to find and stealthily kill. This should be done while taking special care to avoid your pursuers who are out to stealthily kill you.

There are wonderfully detailed maps of Renaissance-period parts of Italy and (in some maps) Spain. There are plenty of hiding spots to escape pursuers or wait for suspecting prey. There are also Chase Breakers -- doors or lifts that close quickly after you run through them and take a few seconds to reset. This is to give you some time to escape your pursuer if they're actively chasing you.

But the interesting part of these environments isn't the static fixtures. It's the other people.

There are some street vendors and messengers, but most of the world is filled with clones. There are hundreds of clones who look just like you. There are hundreds of clones that look just like the person you're trying to kill. There are hundreds of each player in the match, all standing around chatting, sitting in benches, and walking in groups. These provide the best ways to remain hidden while in plain sight and to move around the maps without attracting attention.

Contracts & the Compass
Most game types have the idea of a Contract, like the kind you'd sign with a hitman to take out your target. You can only kill the player you've been contracted to kill. And you only get one shot at killing them; If you kill the wrong player, if your target finds you and knocks you out, or if you kill a clone that looks like your target, you lose the Contract.

For each contract you have, a compass appears on the screen indicating the general direction of your target. The accuracy of the compass substantially decreases the closer you get to your target. From across the map, you know exactly which way to head towards your target. But when you're right next to 5 clones that all look like your target, you have no way to be sure which of them is your target unless they run, use a Templar ability, or otherwise disclose the fact that they're not a clone.

Game Types
There are a number of different ways to play in this environment:

  • Wanted - You get one Contract at a time. Kill your target to get a new Contract. Avoid being killed by your pursuers. This game lasts 10 minutes.
  • Manhunt - You're placed on 1 of 2 teams. There are 2 rounds that last 5 minutes each. For one round, you're exclusively on offense: You have up to 4 Contracts to kill any of the members of the opposing team. Nobody will be pursuing you. For the other round, you will have no Contracts: you must simply hide from all the pursuers on the other team.
  • Alliance - You're on a team of 2. You have 2 concurrent Contracts; you're hunting another team of 2. You're also being hunted by a pair of Templars. 
  • Chest Capture - You're placed on 1 of 2 teams, again with 2 rounds that last 5 minutes each. There are treasure chests placed throughout the map. When you're on offense, your goal is to stand near enough to a chest to steal it for about 5s. When you're on defense, your job is to spot the folks going after the chests and kill them before they get the chance to steal them.

There are also Advanced versions of some of these game types. As best I can tell (I've only played them once) the Advanced mode just makes the compass even more inaccurate, so you must further rely on your observation skills to identify & assassinate your targets.

Point System
The lure of this game is really the environment and gameplay. But for those who want to know if they were the best at the end of the match, there is a point system.

This isn't like your classic multiplayer deathmatch. Not all kills are the same. If you run at your target like a madman and shoot them in the face, not only will the person pursuing you know *exactly* who you are, but you'll get a measly 100 points. However, if you're walking in a crowd, prick your target with the end of a poisoned pin, casually sit down at a bench a few feet away and watch as your target realizes they've been poisoned and desperately gasps for breath, you can get around 600 points. Stealth kills, acrobatic kills, stunning your pursuers, staying alive for a long stretch of time, and varying how you kill your targets all give you big point bonuses. Quality kills are heavily favored over quantity of kills.

The exact nitty-gritty of how the points are tallied is better explained here. The important part is to act like a real assassin to get the most points.

That's the general world of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Hopefully this will make my other posts about this subject more easy to understand. I have deliberately avoided discussing Templar Abilities. I'm saving them for my next post. I want to not only explain what they are, but how I use them & which ones work best together.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Book Review: Switched

Okay. My bad.

When I got about halfway through this book, I knew I had been tricked. But I kept reading, because the point of no return for me is by the end of the 2nd chapter unless the book is absolutely terrible. And it wasn't terrible. I was just upset.

But that's my fault. I was hooked by the back cover pitch:

When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. It isn't until eleven years later that Wendy discovers her mother might have been right.

I was like, "Alright! A book from the point of view of a monster! I wonder what horrible things she does that are beyond her control? I wonder how she psychologically battles the drive to embrace her monster nature versus fight it and try and be a good person! This has the setup for some great action battle sequences where she no doubt confronts other monsters and fights for her life! And there should be some wonderfully deep and complex character development along the way! Oh boy!"

But that was the bait in this bait-and-switch. And the book is called "Switched". So it really is my fault; the signs are so painfully obvious in retrospect.

There was none of the action-adventure I imagined. There was but one action scene in the whole book (one and a half if you count a scene where the main character kicks somebody's knee) and the rest of it was lovey-dovey romance about the main character doting about this or that boy, or maybe about coming to terms with Troll society.

That's right, she's a Troll. Which, in this book, means she's just like a normal person except she has difficult hair.

I really wanted to like this book for political reasons. Amanda Hocking is a self-published author on Amazon who sells her books for cheap and has made fat bank doing so. All her books are available to lend. Which just goes to show: just because something is popular doesn't mean I'll like it.

What it also shows: If you want to rake in the cash, it's not a bad idea to write a forbidden romance story about vampires trolls, just like Twilight Switched.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Charlie (Sheen) Bit Me

I don't have the video kung-fu prowess to digitally insert Charlie Sheen into the infamous Charlie Bit Me youtube meme, but somebody out there should.

Internet, make it happen.

I don't get most folks' fascination with celebrities. The most I usually care to know about them are what movie/album/TV show they'll be working on next. Or when someone leaves the band. I have no interest in what drugs they do, who they're dating, or really anything about their personal life. But it seems like I'm in an extreme minority with this opinion.

I have no direct problems with folks who don't agree with me. You can follow all the drama of what Kanye West said, or who Tiger Woods slept with, or who might be dating Angelina Jolie all you want. Follow them on twitter, monitor whatever celebrity gossip site you want.

But that's where these stories should be confined to. Celebrity gossip websites. Opinion pages. Entertainment sections. None of this is news. Absolutely none of it.

News is supposed to be something important & informative. Hard data about important wide-reaching issues that have impact on a large amount of people (or perhaps a disproportionate impact on a minority of people). News is supposed to be thoroughly vetted and verified so folks can trust hard facts that they wouldn't necessarily find out during the normal course of their lives. Most of all, it should provide a curated cross-section of relevant stories from all the different sections of news that have an impact in a person's nearby community, or their view of the world.

News is important. Celebrity gossip is not.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Introducing: Statastic

Introducing: Statastic, the easiest way to gather team-wide statistics for Ultimate.
All you have to do is:
  1. Enter whoever is on the roster
  2. Start a new game. For each point, tell Statastic who's on the field.
  3. Every time the disc changes hands, tell Statastic who just caught the disc.
  4. Any time during or after the game, flip over to the Stats screen to see the most up-to-date player stats and a play-by-play point recap.
My biggest concern is step 3. I'm hoping I made entering that amount of data easy enough such that folks don't get frustrated when trying to keep Statastic up to date with the game. But with that amount of data I can do some pretty neat stats:
Since Statastic will know everything that happened in the point, I can compile some pretty sweet statistics. Currently, Statastic keeps track of points played, goals caught, assists thrown, defensive plays, and turnovers. "Total" is just the sum of the last 4 in the list. You can even sort the columns to see who's winning in each statistic.

And if there was a particularly epic point, you can just look at the point summary:

Feel free to try it out and let me know what you think. I've got plenty of ideas for new features to add, but I'm probably just going to end up using it as-is for a while to see which missing features give me the most hassle. Enjoy!

You can play with it yourself at