So I’m listening to a new Pandora station this morning (Thanks Robert for the suggestion — good stuff). The music of the particular track that I’m listening to at the moment reminds me so much of an old MS-DOS game called Privateer by Origin Systems. I remember distinctly getting the game from my Dad in 1993 and loading all 7 or so diskettes into our ancient beast of a computer. After some tweaking to fix some memory issues, we finally got it up and running. The basic gameplay is as a pilot of [initially] a small ship, flying between planets, space stations, asteroids, and other bases while choosing to play as a trader, a mercenary, or whatever you chose.

This game was amazing. The graphics of course look awful now as I review the site. But the game play was incredible. The joystick took some skill to use effectively whether you chose life as a merchant or a gun for hire. Interaction and AI wasn’t great, but for the time, it was pretty good. I spent many hours playing the game and really enjoyed it. The music was “futuristic” synthesized music, probably not the best quality, but it always felt so fitting for the game. The game created an incredibly immersive world that sucked you in despite the relative simplicity compared to modern games like EVE Online. It was a good balance. I was inspired, intrigued, and entertained but not to the point that I forgot about reality altogether. Newer games definitely provide more depth than this old-time game, but I can’t afford to spend an average of 2.5 hours per day (which apparently is average for EVE Online players).

I did also play Freelancer (made by the same designer after Origin was acquired by Electronic Arts) but it just didn’t feel the same.

Anyone out there know or or can recommend any games like this that can balance a high level of fascination with a certain restraint that still encourages reality?



Psalm 119.9-16

How can a young man keep his way pure?
  By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
  let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
  that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
  teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
  all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
  as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
  and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
  I will not forget your word.

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Kill Kill Bill Bill

I’m here to say that Quentin Tarantino stole my idea.

Also you’ll notice that I still have some outstanding homework to complete. My Mom returned this to me, and let me know that she’s still waiting on this (notice I have one more “fig” left). I intend to fax and return ASAP — I was home schooled — she’s not just Mom, she’s the principal and apparently I shouldn’t have graduated.

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Church Software

I begin this post having spent almost no time looking at what options may already exist. However, I see the need for a piece of software (preferrably open-source) that could accomplish some of these tasks:

  • Manage church events and calendar items (ideally through interaction with a solid interface like Google Calendar, 30 boxes, Airset, etc.). Would be nice if event planning could include RSVP-type capabilities to alleviate manual planning (e.g. “Are you attending this Saturday? Click here…”).
  • Management of scheduling/duties at a church (Similar to many calendaring options but perhaps a little more “duty roster” focused). Some features might include automatic rescheduling via email (replying with a “cancel” to an event would trigger a notification to admins to find a replacement — that sort of thing)
  • CRM”-like capabilities for sending emails, announcements, etc. to the church body while providing church leaders with the ability to make notes, add  prayer requests and other very church-specific type features.
  • Some sort of document management (possibly again through simple integration with an existing, reliable document management source) for things like procedures, newsletters, meetings, etc. as well as every-week things like bulletins.
  • Newsletter options — email and web version of all “newsletters”. Providing users with the ability to opt-out of email listings but also view old newsletters archived on the website
  • Audio handling. Some interface that would streamline the ability to upload and manage sermon/lecture/class recordings that doesn’t require too much technical knowledge.
  • Budget-related financials — not a full-blown piece of accounting software, but that something that could provide instant feedback to leadership on details of the budget and perhaps summary information to members.
  • Online church directory (not public)
  • Private portal (I know “portal” is such archaic jargon) — but some sort of interface that would allow more insight to member-only items (like the church directory) as well as details like Annual Reports, etc. that may not be intended for the public.

Some of the design goals would include:

  • Lightweight — keep it simple and straightforward
  • No “registration” required — most features would be available to members even if they don’t want to register on the site.
  • Solid and reliable authentication
  • Extensible — I’d be building this for our church, but it would be nice if the concerns of both larger and smaller congregations with different leadership styles could be taken into account.
  • Possibly integrated into an existing CRM (like WordPress) as a plugin.

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George Orwell on Language

Posted many other places but I’ve always enjoyed this:

I am going to to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one.  […] It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence following the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations–race, battle, bread–dissolve into the vague phrase “success or failure in competitive activities.” This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing–no one capable of using phrases like “objective considerations of contemporary phenomena”–would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (“time and chance”) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do no want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence that to the one from Ecclesiastes.

From George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946 — emphasis is mine.

Perhaps my brain is turning to mush a bit young, but I’m often quite baffled by modern writers who seem to intentionally be making language become liquid and amorphous. Even more troubling, I find that people often will point to something like the parody sentence above and be convinced that because of its technical use of language, it’s probably superior, and even more concrete. Loss of metaphor, use of highly specialized language, and tacking of rote phrases and clauses together results in a meaningless jumble of confusion.

See also: George Orwell on Writing

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It’s been bugging me…

Want to know something scary? There are bugs living on your eyelashes! Yes, that’s right: little parasitic mites that are similar in some ways to spiders. They enjoy a hardy diet of skin oils and fluids around hair follicles. Yum! They’re mostly harmless but apparently can cause some problems in some folks, in particular a rash (demodicosis or Demodex mite bite) or some inflammation of the eyelid (Blepharitis). Interestingly, the older you get, the more likely that you have these. These little guys are less than a millimeter in length but sure do look scary up close. Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

Here are three of these little bugs, embedded head-first in a hair follicle:

And a nice shot showing the whole body:

There’s some neat information on Wikipedia and also quite a few anecdotes on Google of people dealing with bites and solutions for them. For most of us, they’re just disgusting little reminders that we’re not as clean as we like to think.

Also, “Demodex and the Mitey Blepharitis” would be a sweet name for a rock band.


How often to commit

… in the context of coding that is.

I’m intrigued to know how often developers reading this commit code and why? Frequent commits are trendy these days, the “hip” developers are all doing it (I don’t know if I qualify as “hip” but I’ll pretend I do). Especially with the advent (or at least wide-spread adoption) of distributing revision control systems like Git, frequent commits seem like a great idea. All of the backing up of code and high level of granularity in changes without the pain of constant difficult merges.

I work with a lot of older developers who have been coding since before I was born. These developers (who have a lot of experience and knowledge) always seem very reluctant to make frequent commits and also seem annoyed that they’re expected to comment their commits. To me, it’s very natural and I find it confusing and bewildering working even a relatively small project without any commits that are at least tied to requirements or specific major features of the application.

Any war stories with regards to version control systems, older developers, and general crankiness with the combination of these two?

A good StackOverflow post here has some good thoughts.

(The screenshot is on revision 40. Or commit de9f2c7f d25e1b3a fad3e85a 0bd17d9b 100db4b3 if you’re using Git. When I said frequent, I meant it! :-P)

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Playing with Adobe Illustrator

Had some fun this morning playing around a little bit with Illustrator. The intent was to make an insignia similar to the one that D’Harans use in the “Legend of the Seeker”.

Specifically this one:

And also a variant of which is on their breastplate:

Ok, so it’s a little morbid, but I thought it would be super cool if my 3rd-born could have a cape like this (oddly, it really reminds me of him) and so we’d need a pattern to cut out.

I’m very new at Illustrator (but understand the basics) so spent about 30 minutes to create this:

… and then touched it up in Photoshop:

Reminds me a little bit of the Storm Trooper helmet in Star Wars  in a way, but I like the end result. I’ll take some pictures of the cape if/when we complete it.

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Twitter: A great way to complain

I was pleasantly surprised recently to find a practical use for Twitter. I’m no Luddite, but I rarely find a lot of value in Twitter that I don’t find elsewhere. I’m following a lot of tech writers/bloggers/developers and that can be good for keeping up with developing trends, but I digress.

The practical feature: Complaining.

We had a miserable experience at the local Red Robin recently (South Hill/Puyallup, WA). Dirty, long wait, poor waiter service, etc. I posted this on Twitter:

Just got back from #RedRobin — disgusting…. that place has really gone downhill. Too bad.

Notice the tag on RedRobin. I was surprised when I fairly promptly got a reply on Twitter:

@andrewflanagan Yikes! Can you please send us the details/location at [email protected]? Thanks for your help.

The beauty of this is that anyone searching on Twitter for RedRobin will find my tag and see my post and my rotten rating. I sent an email, they replied (CC’ing a huge number of Red Robin staff) and I was asked if I wanted to talk to the manager.

This is pretty good service. My blog (yes, this one) is not exactly all that busy and I could have posted here for weeks without anyone at Red Robin being aware of it (or even if they were aware, they wouldn’t care since it’s not exactly all that visible).

So Twitter gives you visibility. Not just to a company, but to that company’s customers. I suppose it’s a little bit more like picketing a store instead of sending a letter to the management (which is more like a blog entry).

I also recently had an issue getting approved for our Bizspark account with Microsoft (you get free software — essentially an MSDN subscription — as well as help with your start up). Again I complained, and again I got a quick response (which was very civil). Interestingly, when I followed up via email, I was asked (somewhat rudely I would say) to remove my complaining post from Twitter. I complied, since they did fix the problem, but I’m somewhat surprised by just how much visibility I got.

What are your thoughts? Will the visibility last? Any similar experiences using Twitter or other social networks?

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MacBook: RIP

Well, OK, maybe it’s a little premature to call it dead, But I’m barely using it anymore. With some notable exceptions, I’m finding my new Windows 7 box to fill most of my day-to-day needs. I still love my Mac and I still mostly despise Microsoft but there are creeping doubts and uncertainties towards Apple at this point. I’m not liking their decisions regarding Google, I’m not liking the direction they’re heading, and it seems like maybe the glory days are now behind them.

If I had my druthers (whatever they are), I’d still prefer a new MacBook Pro (or Mac Pro) over virtually any system. They’re pretty, the OS is immaculate and I feel productive, secure, and efficient. But there are some issues. I know these are super, super specific issues that many users don’t care about. But it means something to me:

  • Non-finalized CD support. I’m talking specifically about the application ISObuster for Windows here. OS X tends to be easy to use and simplified but sometimes you need something a little closer to the metal. I know of no such tool on OS X that can open up non-finalized CDs. This seems to be a common issue in some cases. OS X works beautifully for 99% of the time, but it seems impossible to do certain tasks. Know of a tool that will do this under OS X? I’d love to know.

But there are some real advantages of OS X too that I’ve hit:

  • Sound routing. I love the Soundflower application. It allows you to virtually route sound around the OS. It presents as a playback and  recording device and it just plain works. When I want to record something from a YouTube video that I’m listening to, I can pop open my preferences, route to the Soundflower device and then record from that device in Audacity. It takes just seconds and it works nicely (incidentally this is how I convert MIDI to MP3 as well).
  • Command line tools that work. Putty works OK on Windows for SSH’ing but why can’t it just be part of the base OS? Grep, Cat, etc. I love my command line and Windows just doesn’t have the same depth. I know Cygwin exists. It never seems to work that well, always seems to have some issues here or there but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

In addition to the above (and the fact that OS X is clearly just way cooler), I’m really enjoying my new iPad. How can you not like it? It’s magical! I find myself doing a lot of the typical blog reading, email checking, and movie watching on this. It’s powerful, quick, and the battery lasts a long time. Not the easiest for input (as in replying to long emails or making blog posts) but with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, it definitely comes close.

Update: As I was finalizing this, I realized that in fact, the Macbook may be toast. My oldest son (who I love dearly, but still) may have destroyed it. It won’t boot and this is just AFTER I replaced the screen (which I cracked on our last road trip). I’ll probably try to salvage it and maybe get it booting again if that’s possible, but I think I’ll be posting it soon on Craigslist. Anyone want a “well-loved” black Macbook? I’d be willing to sell for a good price…