Well, I haven't posted since March, so I figured I would do some random rambling. A couple of my friends have launched blogs recently (Klopzi's Mediocre Poker and Evening Tipple) so I guess I have some catching up to do.
Installed Ubuntu a couple of days ago. The whole installation process was very easy. Installed GnuCash and some other software. I want to get back into the good habit of using a personal finance manager. I used a very old version of Microsoft Money for a few years, but due to a meltdown of my old computer that slipped. I think this will be a good New Year's resolution.
I need to find some new blogging software. I like b2evolution but I need a fresh start. There are thousands upon thousands of spam comments in the database and it's not practical to delete them all. I might give Wordpress a shot, we'll see.
Added a new page to my website on dexterity tricks. And I'm practising my poker chip shuffle with 10 chips in each stack as I type this...
Might as well do a quick movie review summary of the last three movies I've seen while I'm here:
* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 8. Enjoyable, but we've seen this movie three times before.
* Walk The Line. 9. Terrific performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Highly recommended.
* A History of Violence. 8. A strange movie by a strange director. Close to being a classic but too implausible.
I see this is my first post of 2005. Not exactly what I expected but I have no excuses.
Anyway, my news is that I bought a new monitor. Finally joined the legions of LCD owners with the purchase of a Samsung 915N. The monitor features a 19" display, 8 ms response time, 1280 x 1024 native resolution and 700:1 contrast. Plus, the best news is that there were no dead pixels upon arrival. The colors look very good and there is a very comprehensive on-screen menu. There is a huge amount more real estate with the larger resolution (I was running things at 1024 x 768 before). I previously had a Samsung 955 DF, which was very nice but at the 1280 x 1024 resolution things still looked a bit too small for some reason so I couldn't use that regularly. I knew the viewable area on a 19" CRT is less than on a 19" LCD but didn't realize how big the difference really is.
I played a bit of MOHAA a few minutes ago with it, and was a little disappointed, although I didn't fully expect it to be perfect for FPS games. I expect that I'll continue to use the CRT for serious gaming, and the LCD for everything else since it's easier on the eyes.
Update: I was fiddling around with some of the on-screen menu options and there is an "Entertainment" mode which seems to make the screen a bit brighter and more responsive. Played some more MOHAA and it was significantly better. Not quite CRT-standard but close.
I have written an overview of SSARC and SSRESTOR, the archive and restore utilities that come with Microsoft Visual Sourcesafe 6.0. These are poorly documented, and I've had to experiment a fair bit to get these to work properly. Maybe it's just me, who knows, but in any case the page is: Guide to SSARC and SSRESTOR.
I have been using Gmail recently, which seems very nice. The much-hyped 1 GB of space isn't all that important to me, but the conversation threading is really nice. It can be a little creepy at times but I am liking it so far. I have a few extra gmail invites to give out while it is still in beta. If you want one, email me or post here. I will update here if I no longer have any to give out. First come, first served. Update: I am all out. Try requesting a gmail account at the gmail invite spooler.
The Rogers Extreme modem has been treating me well. Ping times are still very low, and I actually experienced a sustained 600 KB/s download while snarfing the Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault demo. Yes, over half a gigabyte was sucked down in around 15 minutes.
I just got Rogers Extreme internet service, courtesy of a Motorola Surfboard Cable Modem SB5100. It is pretty darn fast: a performance test clocked in at 4617 Kb/s down and 702 Kb/s up. Obviously it is not a pure test and many people have obtained speeds that are even closer to the advertised 5000/800 (down/up). The download limit, capped by Rogers, of 5000 Kb/s is, oh, 347 times faster than my trusty modem that I used for four years to connect to qlink. In any case, I think the practical effect will be to approximately double both my downstream and upstream bandwidth, which is always nice.
I played a little bit of Medal of Honor: Breakthrough tonight and noticed some slightly lower ping times than I usually get, often in the 35-40 ms range. I don't think the latency is supposed to be much improved, but every little bit helps with fast-paced shooter games.
The fine print is that you pay $100 (plus the usual tribute to Paul and Dalton) for the modem, which you own. There is a 2-year warranty, however these things will no doubt be obsolete around then. You pay the same $45/month for the service, however this no longer includes a rental, so it's a slight price increase per month, in effect, to cover the cost of the modem and the risk of having to purchase a replacement.
It seems to me that I used to get around 2000/360 (although observations can be misleading), but according to this FAQ on the RBUA site the theoretical limit of my previous modem (a Terayon Terapro) is 14000/14000 (!!!), however we received 3000/384 service. I guess from a marketing perspective Rogers wanted to (a) raise the price 10% or so in as nice a way as possible and (b) conceal the fact that our existing hardware could have done the job. In Rogers' defense, I understand these modems are the better technology (including an even higher maximum speed of something like 30 Mb/s and faster latency) and will be presumably standard issue shortly. Also, it's not quite clear why they would want to get out of the business of renting cable modems, which is surely a fairly lucrative one.
Details aside, for the price of a couple of coffees a month it didn't take me much pondering to choose to double my internet connection speed!
I went to a most interesting talk tonight at University of Ottawa, Quantum Superpositions, by Damian Conway. I was a little worried, not being a physics type, but he held everyone's attention for nearly 3 hours, which is quite a feat. He threw in a large number of jokes and references that required an agile mind to keep up with. I'm sure I missed a few things too.
It's always inspiring to listen to someone who has a total mastery of a subject.
The first part of the talk was on quantum physics, at a very abstract level. Then he moved into discussion of this Quantum::Superpositions perl module that he has written and different problems that could be solved with it. The module introduces a couple of new operators to perl, "any" and "all". Each takes a list as its argument. any returns true if any of its values make the statement true, so any(1,2,3) == 1 is true. all returns true if the statement is true for all of its values, so something like 0 <= all(1,2,3) is true. These operators are (by the sounds of things, knowing zilch about physics myself) abstractions of a quantum superposition.
The operators are also useful for non-physics-related problems and thus they will be included in Perl 6, along with a couple of other operators, none and one, which are true, respectively, if zero or one of the items in the list make the statement true. I have a feeling that these operators will become a regular part of my regular Perl 6 vocabulary, whenever that comes out.
Anyway, a most enjoyable evening, and I would highly recommend this talk to anyone who has a chance to see it.
A couple of unrelated things: first I'm going to shill for Bloglines.com, a web-based news aggregator that is amazing and a regular part of my web surfing. It lets you easily view new stories in RSS-enabled web sites and they just did a very slick re-design. Highly, highly recommended. It also has a feature to manage your blogroll, so I just hooked that up to the side menu, so you can see the feeds I'm currently watching.
I joined a lob-ball team with work and have been playing that once a week. It's been fun, but it seems like whenever I hit the ball hard, it gets caught, and when I hit the ball weakly, it falls in. I assume that will turn around with time though. We lost 15-13 tonight, but it could have been a lot worse since we started off with only 7 players. I think we're 2-6, but it's still a lot of fun.
A few movies seen recently (and my IMDB rating for them)
* Cidade de Deus (City of God) (10: amazing cinematography, moving story of a boy who escapes the violence of the Rio de Janeiro favellas)
* Paycheck (7: interesting concept but mundane execution)
* Shrek 2 (8: fun summer movie, similar to the first one)
* Spider-Man 2 (8: very good, maybe a bit better than the first but I enjoyed the first more since it was new)
* Super Size Me (8: moronic experiment and dubious science but punctuated with a number of good points about our fast food culture and obesity in general)
Time to delete the porn referrer spam...
I haven't blogged in ages but I finally have something to talk about -- a couple of movies. One was really good, while the other "earned" the distinction of being the first movie I've ever walked out of the theatre from.
The good one, which I gave a 9 (and seriously considered giving a 10) to was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The screenplay was by Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, a couple of very interesting movies. ESotSM is really a love story between Jim Carrey's and Kate Winslet's characters. They alternately go through a sci-fi procedure to erase each other from their memory. Much of the movie consists of their dream-like memories. The movie weaves together the real-life memory erase procedure and the memories in an extremely novel way. It's a remarkable, thoroughly original movie that I would highly recommend. If you liked Adaptation or Memento I'm sure you wouldn't go wrong with this one.
The second one, which a friend and I walked out of after 30 minutes of mind-numbing tedium was Dogville. Apparently the movie is 3 hours in length and after experiencing a mere sixth of it I couldn't have imagined sitting through the whole thing (and I normally don't mind long movies). I don't give ratings on IMDB unless I actually watch the whole movie, but if I had stayed I would have given it a 1. This "movie" is really a filmed theatre production on a stage, which was totally irritating. Why didn't they just do a normal movie with a real set? The town of Dogville is kind of drawn out on the stage and you can see everyone in their houses. This is somewhat neat but it gets to be old hat after about 10 minutes. The story, such as it was, was some boring drivel about this woman Grace (played by Nicole Kidman) who is on the run from some gangsters. Everything was so slow, dry and emotionless that it was just painful to watch. It positively made Gosford Park seem like a action-packed thriller. Enough said about this waste of time and money. I should mention, out of fairness, that apparently everybody else thinks it's really great and it's currently at 8.4 on IMDB and is the #100 rated movie of all time. I should look at the silver lining here though -- next time I have to do something unpleasant, like see the dentist or do my taxes, I'll think to myself, it could be worse, I could have been forced to watch the whole of Dogville.
Oh, I'm also playing a "Succession Game" of Civilization III. Feel free to follow the action at: Civfanatics.com. Basically four other people and I are taking turns playing a single game. We each make 10 moves and then pass it on to the next player. In between the moves we strategize and critique each other's play. I've learned a lot already and we're only about 1/4 of the way through the game.
With the super-cold temperatures there hasn't been all that much to do, so I've been splitting my gaming time between three games: DX2, Civ 3 Conquests and MOHAA.
I liken Deus Ex: Invisible War to the movie Gangs of New York: very flawed, and easy to find problems with, but I just really liked it anyway. My Deus Ex: Invisible War Biomods Guide got indexed by google and is now getting some traffic, maybe 20 visits a day. I finished the game a couple of weeks ago and tried a couple of the endings. The last third of the game had a lot of tie-ins to the original game, which was neat. I didn't like the inventory management system, which was too simplistic and unrealistic. Also, the universal ammo system (one ammo type fits all weapons) was okay from a usability standpoint, except only nine clips could be carried (as if one could carry around, all at once, a flamethrower, sniper rifle, swords, SMG, shotgun, and a few other weapons, but no more than 9 small ammo clips).
I got the Civilization 3 Conquests expansion pack, which has been a good buy. There are some scenarios, which allow you to play a particular segment of history, with different technologies and different rules than the regular game. The multiplayer seems to be a lot better than the very slow and buggy multiplayer capabilities in the previous expansion pack, Play the World.
As well, I've been continuing to play MOHAA multiplayer. I have the Breakthrough expansion pack and went through the singleplayer campaign in a couple of days. Good, but nothing revolutionary. Fortunately there are a lot of really good multiplayer maps, which almost seems to be the main value of the game. I'm not complaining though. I wish MOHAA had some sort of centralized ranking server, where you could learn approximately how good your opponents are (like America's Army). If I'm having a bad game, it's nice to know if it's because the other players are more skilled, or if it's just a bad night, or lag, or whatever other problem there might be.
Finally there was an article on Slashdot discussing the strong rumors about the next Grand Theft Auto game, supposedly GTA: San Andreas. Needless to say, this is the game I'm most eagerly anticipating right now. It's scheduled to come on the PS2 later this year, with a probably mid-2005 release for PC (probably sometime around the final, still-unnamed Star Wars movie)
It's not every day that something happens that you had been waiting for, for more than five years, but tonight I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It's really awesome. Suffice it to say, I have already cast my "10" on IMDB
Unlike a number of other eagerly-anticipated sequels which I won't mention, this one totally lived up to the first two. It was simply the third part of an amazing whole. Seemingly every detail was in place and although the movie is extremely long (the longest movie I've ever seen, I believe), I wanted more. There are the now-usual light-hearted remarks from Gimli, the incredible battle scenes, and a formidable array of strange beasts.
The movie focusses on different material than the book. The first 2/3 of the movie basically follows Book 5 of the trilogy, interspersed with the end of Book 4 and the start of Book 6. The last third deals with the climax of the story, and then skips past most of Book 6. As an example, the encounter with the grotesque Shelob, which occurs in the last two chapters of The Two Towers book, probably takes place 2/3 of the way through the ROTK movie.
The decision to not include seven minutes of Saruman was widely criticized by fans of the series, and after seeing the movie I'm in agreement. It would have been more logical to at least show Saruman's fate onscreen, especially when his prominence in the first movie in particular was probably greater than his prominence in the first book. And, given that the movie is 3:28, what's another 7 minutes? The ending itself, which a number of people have disliked, was drawn out in a lengthy sequence of snippets, with a number of false endings, which did feel a little choppy to me, especially since a few years were passing between some of the sequences.
In what seems to be an off year for Hollywood movies, I think ROTK has to be the favorite for Best Picture, and probably Peter Jackson for Best Director. Given that the other movies did not get major recognition, you would have to think that they are due. The three movies together are a landmark of movie making and one has to wonder when something so grand in vision and successful will next be pulled off. My bet is we'll be waiting a long time.
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