Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reading and Writing and 'Rithmetic

On my current stack of reading is the Stephen King book "On Writing". I originally got the book as part of a birthday present from a friend of mine who gave me an Amazon Gift Card (thanks Jim). I got it partially because I thought it'd be useful in GMing and partially because one of my secret goals is to be a writer (maybe not secret anymore). The Trophy Fiancee has inspired me to give it a whirl. Part of this means, that I'm going to try adding FICTION to the rotation of posts here. I'm working on an idea now.

One of the things Stephen King points out, is that if you want to write, you have to read. Sadly, I've never been a strong reader, so historically I've not enjoyed reading. I find it very difficult for several reasons. First, I read incredibly slowly. Whereas my mother can devour a Robert Ludlum book in 3-4 hours, it took me about 18 to read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". Somewhat disheartening, eh? Secondly, I find it a hassle to have a book on me at all times (a rant on why women can carry purses and men being forced to rely on pockets to come later). After all, the average paperback is about 4 by 6 by 1 inch. It's hard to stick that in your pocket - especially if it's a newer book that is hardback ONLY and doesn't fit in your pocket. Furthermore, when it gets dark you need a book light, so you can't read just "whenever". Heaven forbid you loose your place.

In the book, On Writing, I was struck when Stephen King says "I'm a slow reader." Sure, he says he reads 70-80 books a year, but when you realize he reads an average of "4 hours a day" that means it takes HIM an average of 20 hours per book (360 days, 4 hours per day, 75 books). I suddenly realized that it's not that far off from MY reading speed. I just need to focus my attention a bit better.

With this being said, I decided to further pursue my "better living through technology" mantra from a couple years ago which has worked so well and see if I could circumvent these problems (computer = 'rithmetic, BTW).

As I've previously reported, Amazon has offered the "Kindle" as a free iPhone app.
  1. iPhone - always on my person
  2. Smaller than a paperback
  3. Glowing screen
  4. Very hard to lose your place
With these facts at my side, I took the plunge and bought the "Kindle Version" of the first novel of The Dresden Files. Many of my friends have been reading this series, so I thought that it would be a good start.

It is indeed.

This is extremely convenient. I do always have my iPhone. I can always whip it out and read. It has a built in light. The font is adjustable. I can have my book out and ready at a moment's notice.

It helps that The Dresden Files: Storm Front is a GREAT book. I'll post a review when I'm done. I'll also post a review of On Writing.

In conclusion, Kindle for iPhone - Win! Dresden Files - Win! On Writing - Win!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rethinking my space

I've talked a bit about a Trophy Fiancee a few times now. In June, I will be "shacking up" with her (don't worry, I'm still in the Austin area). As most people know, I work from home. Obviously, this means I will be rethinking the area I seem to spend about 50% of my life. I think this is probably an excellent time to rework the area since it will be in a new room. Furthermore, it means I need to rethink what is and isn't in my work area.

So, for starters, I turned to my FAVORITE website - This got me thinking of what I could do.

Amongst the tidbits I came up with after looking.

  1. Add a White Board. I think this will help a bit with my organization. I also think that the shiny white "thing" on my wall, will increase the ambient light.
  2. Add some colourful artwork (I bought this). Part of this is that I want to have my webcam out and ready for people to "see" me. Should provide a better background, even if not optimal. I'd also like to be able to SEE this a bit more often.
  3. Increase my workspace. I have a table I'm going to add to my work area. Since I currently use 4 computers (and need to replace 1 CRT with 2 LCDs) the more space I have the better. Currently, my desk fits in a corner, and each "arm" extends 75 inches from the wall. The table I'm going to use has drop leaves, so it can be 39", 29" or 19" (approximately). That should give me a bit of "forgiveness" to get it to fit. It also allows me to have a dedicated painting space with natural light (it will be right next to the window).
  4. Get real filing cabinets. I can get fairly cheap ones at the Salvation Army, so I figure that is the best place to go. I think this would be better than the plastic boxes I am currently sticking stuff in.
  5. Shelves! I'll be loosing the ones I have. While the trophy fiancee isn't ashamed of my possessions like the ex was, I still need some of my stuff in my space. I've not decided how I'll best handle this.
However, there will be a few caveats in this. For example, there will be a futon in the room. While the room is slightly larger than my current area, there isn't a great way to work in the futon. Chances are, it will be below the whiteboard. Still, it will be nice to be able to have a "meeting" in my office if I have to.

Now the REALLY fun bit. When I move, I'll be dropping Time Warner Cable for AT&T Uverse. As part of this, I'm hoping to get the house run with Shielded Cat6 cable (for you non-computer types - that is uber fast cable that is protected against electrical interference). Since the trophy fiancee's telephone gets staticy whenever it rains, I think this is probably a smart move.

As to the mundane, I want to paint it before I move in. I'm thinking either a bluish-grey or red.

This plan will evolve a bit, this post is mainly for me to collect my thoughts (funny how that comes up in this blog).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saving a little bit of green!

As Chris mentioned previously, environmentalists need to be "showing how when we recycle we can save money". Well, I ran across a few nifty articles that provide real economic incentives to 'green behaviour'. Also, if you are like me and enjoy a bit of "Do-it-yourself" AND want to do your part, these are definitely for you!

So, in honor of "Earth Day"...

Self Watering Garden using recycled A/C water
You don't forget to water, you don't pay for the water, so your water bill is lower. The electrical trade-off is minimal. Heck, here in Texas, that kind of pump could probably have a little bitty solar panel on it and you won't even use that! You may still need to supplement with a hose occasionally, but it's a nice reuse of existing resources. Its nice to SAVE GREEN and have your garden MORE GREEN. Oh, and you are being "green".

Quick and easy uses for plastic bottles
Yep, if you are a gamer like I am, you collect a bunch of plastic soda bottles. Well, other than simply recycling them, look at the above. Now, before you get too jaded on some of the cornier uses, note the one about filling them with water and freezing them. Makes your fridge more efficient and saves water for times that the utilities go out. Yep, less energy to keep your fridge cool = less electricity used = more money in your pocket!

Reduce your trash, and make a handy resource if you (or your significant other) likes to garden. It's FREE. Of course, if you want to spend money on expensive fertilizer and high end potting soil, that is up to you. I'd rather spend money on dice.

Use a Rain Barrel
In Texas, it's nice to have water to keep your lawn green. Sure you are paying for a barrel, but it's less water you are paying for out of your faucets.

Vacuum out your refrigerator coils
Will run more efficiently, using less electricity, saving you money! It will also make your fridge last longer. If you do the same inside your computers, the hardware will last longer, and the thing will run quieter. I want replace stuff on MY schedule, not anyone else's.

These are just a few things. A good rule of thumb is, figure out ways to reduce power usage and water usage so that you don't have to pay it on your utility bills.

If you are really motivated, you can do much more. Heck, you can create solar water heaters for cheap that make water so hot, you can scald yourself.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yes, it's really like this

I've worked there.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Can you see the real me?

Since there weren't any negative comments regarding work posts, here comes the first.

In real life, I'm the Senior Software Quality Engineer at my company. This means I spend my time testing software and writing bugs against that software. My tasks also extend to doing light project management, 3rd tier tech support (if Customer Support can't figure it out, it goes to me - usually at that point, it's a bug that needs to be fixed), and test automation (programming).

Automation is a program that is used to test another program in much the same way a user would. I used to be a full out software developer, but due to various and sundry circumstances I ended up being stuck testing. This means that the programming aspect of my job is the one I find the most rewarding - even if I don't get to do it much.

Recently, we drastically changed how our company's software works and so about 90% of the automation I had created in Rational Robot does not work now. This means that the release I've been working on has been a pain in the butt to test, because it forces me to do everything manually. It's a slow process and I've had to pick certain things I will not test because I simply do not have the time. Because my boss flatly refused to update the support license on our test software, I will simply have to stop using that automation tool.

However, it's always darkest before the storm...err....dawn. Using the coding library "WatiN", I will be able to rebuild my automation using C#. C# is the Microsoft Language that our application was written in. Because all of the devs have Visual Studio, I can pick their brains from time to time for assistance. The OTHER nice thing about this is that it will open up my future job prospects by giving me coding experience.

But I digest...

Now, I need to decide how best to go about rebuilding my automation and where I start.

The goals of test teams, especially in small groups, is to find the important bugs fast. Lets face it, when you are using software, do you care if a seldom used portion of the app has badly formatted text, or if the main screen of the application crashes when you use the control that its raison d'etre?

What this means is that the first thing to be tested needs to be "things that are changed". This is where undiscovered bugs most likely hide. Code that hasn't been touched in years may indeed by hiding a sinister bug, but if the users haven't even seen it, it's not as important to test it as it is to test the brand new feature that just rolled off of the assembler line. Clearly though, this is not a good candidate for automation. You will need to manually test this first and start thinking about how to automate it as you test it.

The next thing you look at is a PRIME candidate for automation: Core functionality. These are the things that are the main purpose of the application. They are critical and popular. You'll be hitting this the most in your testing and even if it changes, it will usually do what it has always done so that your automation is not invalidated - or at least will require minimal changes.

So, you've figured out what your Core functionality is. How do you code for it? Starting off, create a basic framework that touches each of the areas you will need to be testing. You aren't working at creating deep functional tests, but a basic "smoke" test. For example, if you are testing a calculator function, you are worried about if it can add, subtract, multiply, and divide at all, BEFORE you start looking at all the different ways numbers can be added. Approaching your work this way permits you to have a framework which will let you easily add functionality. Here we start into test case identification, so you need to have created clear and solid test cases to start from.

More Later.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Bonus

I'm working on a story arc for City of Heroes. I decided that I want this story to be full of CoX tropes. Think of it as a tribute to CoX and all the joy it has brought me. I'm planning on using Rachael as the mission giver.

Here is a quote from an early draft of the story....

"Really? You say Statesman was there? He couldn't have been, I was farming the Statesman Task Force while you were rescuing Atlas Park, he couldn't have been there too.

Furthermore, MAGI was robbed....AGAIN! I think they need a new locksmith. Azuria assures me that the scotch tape they use to hold the vault closed is good enough."

This is....subject to change.

Oh! By the way....for my Macintosh brethren...The City of Heroes Macintosh client has been released. I'm on the Infinity server. @Rachael Storm

One more thing - I'm really enjoying "Saul Rubenstien's Discount Taskforce" by @Ascendant. Its a developer's choice. Very funny missions.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


This started out as an April Fools Joke from ThinkGeek.

But, did you notice what they said on the right?

    ATTN Tauntaun Fanatics! Due to an overwhelming tsunami of requests from YOU THE PEOPLE, we have decided to TRY and bring this to life. We have no clue if the suits at Lucasfilms will grant little ThinkGeek a license, nor do we know how much it would ultimately retail for. But if you are interested in ever owning one of these, click the link below and we'll try!

I hope when they introduce this, it will be in Adult Size!

Special Touch: Notice the LightSaber zipper?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

City of Heroes: Issue 14

I decided to give City of Heroes another spin now that issue 14 is out.


Why is it cool? You can CREATE story arcs and adventures. You can choose any villain group or design your own for these missions. Furthermore, you can share these missions with other players. Keep a special eye for "Developer's Choice" missions. Those are missions that the Dev's felt were incredibly well done. While Champions Online has the "Nemesis" project (which looks to be wonderful), I think this offers MUCH more potential for expanding gameplay. After all, there is something to be said for opening the doors to UNLIMITED content.

I played a few custom missions this morning created by other players. Then I found out that "TwoFlower" was posting missions. I first came upon his work playing his Neverwinter Nights Penultima series. The adventures he designs tell solid stories with a bit of a "tongue in cheek" quality. I was a big fan of Penultima and may stay re-subbed if he continues his work in CoX.

His missions are.
1931: The Do-It-Yourself Laser Moonbase Project (Dev Choice) <- Rachael Recommends
2539: The Best of The Rest of What's Left
1960: The Hydroponic Psychotropic Freak Out!
4562: The Household Chores of the Damned <- Rachael REALLY Recommends!

I may try my hand at creating a few missions, but I'll need good inspiration. This is a feature I'd LOVE to see in other games. It raises the bar of what can be done in an MMO.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thinking about Work

Traditionally, this has been a gaming and general geekery related blog. I know my audience prefers it that way. Sure, from time to time, this blog gets various bits of odds and ends that are more for me and my brain than anyone else. The idea behind this has a few different roots.
  1. When learning material, it is best to read it, write it, and speak it. You engage more portions of the brain and therefore facilitate learning.
  2. In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and various other sources I've read, I learned that when setting goals, it is best to write them down. This gives them a form of reality that acts as a hook for their creation to start taking shape.
  3. By writing things down, I don't forget them.
This may explain why I write some of the crazy things I write.

However, I do work and I want to take pride in what I do. I also need to collect my thoughts together with regard to what I do and how I fit in with my company. So, what does this mean for you, dear reader?

It means that I am considering adding a new type of post here. A post that has to do with Software Development. I know I don't have many readers who are developers and even fewer of them will be true "Engineers", so it could be that these posts may be a bit dry to the average reader. Hopefully, you the reader may get to learn a bit about what Software Engineering and Software Quality Assurance is like.

Do I intend on reducing the amount of "gamer geekery" posts I post here? No. Trust me that if that happens, it's only because I hit a dry spell (like I have of late). It is possible I'd spin that off into another blog at some point, but at the time of this writing, I don't know.

So what do y'all think?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Farewell Dave Arneson

I hope he and Gary save a place at the table for me to roll up a character when my race is run.

The Empty Chair
Eulogy for a Gamer
By Jolly Blackburn

There is an empty chair,
at the table this day.
A hallowed place where,
a friend once played.
The roll of his dice,
my ears long to hear.
Or perhaps it would suffice,
if he should suddenly appear.
With character sheet in hand,
and a bag of Cheeze-doodles to share.
All his friends would stand,
as he sat in the empty chair.
I hear his voice a-callin’,
and it ties my heart in a knot.
For he cries, “Though a comrade has fallen,
You must play for those who cannot.”
We conquered worlds on the run,
he and I in the name of fun.
And as others may come and go,
I make both both friend and foe.
But what I long for most,
is our past now long a ghost.

Dave's not here, man. Farewell, Dave.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Progressive Rant

I am a progressive. I'd say "liberal", but the conservative movement in America has managed to propagate "The Big Lie" that liberal is somehow "immoral" rather than simply a point of view with which they disagree. That being said, I'm incessantly assaulted by those people who disagree with my viewpoints (many of whom are close friends of mine). While I appreciate that my views are not universal AND that freedom of thought and speech are cornerstones of the United States, I find that certain conservative pundits repeatedly spread misinformation in hopes of helping their cause rather than actually using solid arguments supporting their cases. I guess that would take too much effort. So, I often find that I must collect resources to cut through the BS and misinformation that I'm assaulted with.

Now, I'm not going to stick my head in the sand and say that my prime news sources don't have any political agenda. However, I would argue that there is a difference in the quality of news I hear on CNN vs. Fox News.

What types of things am I talking about? Here is an example. When I say I want "Progressive Healthcare reform" every single conservative I know responds with "Socialized Medicine Sucks". Here is a little snippet from a recent post from Media Matters: SOURCE.

    No issue incurs the wrath of these modern-day Red hunters more than health-care reform. For more than 75 years, conservatives have smeared progressive attempts to reform our faltering health-care system as "socialized medicine."

    Let's get one thing straight. Anyone who argues that progressive health-care reform initiatives amount to "socialized medicine" is being disingenuous at best. At worst, they lack a basic understanding of what "socialized medicine" really is.

    Simply put, health-care reform that leaves the for-profit health insurance industry intact, reform that leaves doctors and other medical professionals free to offer their services outside of a government system, reform that leaves citizens free to choose a private health-care plan over a government plan simply can't be described honestly as "socialized medicine."

In the spirit of this, I'm going to list a few links for all that address assertions made by my political opponents.

1. Fact Check - (Non-partisan) a site that catches assertions made by our elected officials and notes half-truths or mis-truths. If you are a conservative trying to convince me of something, get your facts straight - don't assume Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, and O'Reilly are telling you the absolute truth.
2. Media Matters - (Progressive) This seems to be the best site for correcting the blatant lies spread by various Fox News types. I've seen more cases of falsehoods debunked here than almost anywhere else. This is a more progressive link, but still recommended reading.
3. Blast the Right - (Progressive) This podcast is a little further to the left than I am. However, Jack Clark provides an excellent weekly podcast addressing various issues and includes a bibliography for EVERY episode he releases. He includes some great quotes of various well known people that has inspired me to take a more pro-active stance.
4. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting - (Non-partisan) This is a website I've only recently started looking at. It seems promising in what it presents.
5. My History Can Beat Up Your Politics - (Non-partisan) This podcast is more history than politics, but I include it here because it gives a bit of an insight as to the why's of what is going on today.

In conclusion, if you want to convince me, I want REAL SOLID ARGUMENTS as to why you think what you think. I don't want BS reasons that have no foundation or WORSE a foundation based on false information. Put your money where your mouth is.

Got a source you want to share? POST IT!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another Star Wars: The Old Republic Update!

The Treaty of Coruscant featurette, narrated by Lance Henrickson

Furthemore, Issue 3 of The Threat of Peace is available.

Oh! and they did a post on Creating the Bounty Hunter class.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Flames of War Battle Report

But not here....

Recently, the German 10th Panzer Company met the American Able Company 1/141st infantry 36th ID on the field of battle, at the battle of Monte Cassino.

Chris posted a nifty little battle report over at his blog.

Wow, I've never seen him roll THAT good!!!!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Musical Interlude

In accordance with this momentous day, I'm dedicating my post to my two all time favorite things: The RNC and Gangsta Rap.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Conservative Rap Battle - Michael Steele's Response
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Happy April 1st!