Squash Spaghetti

Cube, spice, bake, add to pasta. Simple.

Best served with an episode of Friday Night Lights.

Start with these, cinnamon, nutmeg, parmesan cheese

Prep

Cube. Using a potato peeler is laborious. How are you supposed to prep squash?

Douse with cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper. Bake on oiled cooking sheet for 30 min at 350. Start some pasta about 10 minutes in so they finish together.

Plain pasta bed, heap on some parmesan, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle baked squash on top.

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A Cure For Scurvy

Thanks to the wonders of Usenet and Google groups backups, I recently came across a computer game I created with some high school buddies back in 1997. The team: Palazzi, Grendor, and Tenecuklas. The game: ScurvyMUD.

What is a MUD?

MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeon, and was a precursor to today’s MMORPG (think World of Warcraft, Ultima Online). There are no graphics, just a whole lot of text and typing (‘w’ to move west, ‘kill goblin’ to attack the goblin in the room). Most were hack and slash adventures where you built up the strength of your character by exploring the world and slaying the monsters.

The worlds were very detailed, but the real strength was the multi-user component. Running around with hundreds of other real players to team up with or compete against brought it alive, just like MMORPGs today. But without graphics you relied on your imagination to visualize, much like when you read a novel.

Roll Your Own

Two things allowed people to start their own MUDs.  First, source code for generic base versions were freely available so you didn’t have to start from scratch. For example, if you wanted the same gameplay but set in the 1950s Chicago, you could update the text files describing the world without any programming at all.  Sword => gun, dragon => mob boss.

Second, no graphics.  Graphics are expensive to create, and require programmers and artists collaborating to make the final result.  Without graphics, you only need programmers and story tellers, and there is a little story teller in all of us :) So the three of us took our fledgling hacker skills and started our very own MUD.

The Nitty-Gritty

We started with the C source code of CircleMUD and the world map files of a different MUD, and started building upward and outward from there. Here is a hilariously old Usenet post to alt.mud describing our game and some of the unique changes we made.

The “server” (really shouldn’t be in quotes because it was the server) was a Pentium 90 in my bedroom connected over a land line via a 28k modem. This PC was also our main development machine. I kept it on 24/7 and stuffed couch pillows around it at night so I could sleep through the hum. Our players depended on us!  It cost us about $24/month for the telephone line. Even split three ways, it seemed pretty spendy at the time.

Scripting

While the Pentium was our Secretariat, there was another workhorse at ScurvyHQ: an old 8088, my family’s first desktop.  It had 8 colors, and belonged in a 70’s NASA photo. I was  convinced the 14k modem could download text faster than the screen could scroll it. However, it was good for more than playing Rampage.  It had a BASIC interpreter.

Just like how it’s easier to describe monster AI in Lua than C++, it was easier to make maps in BASIC than in C.

Using BASIC, I wrote programs that generated new maps for our game world.  They would add some random elements to structured text files the game engine understood.  No, they weren’t our best maps, but they were fun.  My favorite was a jungle with a winding river that had room descriptions relevant to the water’s movement near your character. E.g. ‘The river bends to the left as you gaze north.’

What did we learn?

Even though this wasn’t meant to be an educational experience, I did end up learning a thing or two anyway :)

From a programming perspective, we covered several computing concepts: networking, threading, resource management.

Getting more players was an ongoing effort from the start.  We started with word of mouth, coaxing our friends to play.  We used online discussion boards and website MUD directories (e.g. mudconnect.com) to advertise. We found there were differences in expectation between the early devoted user who wants to experience the big feature changes along the way, and one that is looking to join a polished game with critical mass.

And then they lived happily ever after?

They did indeed.  After about a year one founder and I moved on to other projects.  The remaining founder continued to work on the game with a new partner before parting ways.  Two of us ended up in the software industry, and the other a chemist with a healthy dose of programming.

I didn’t realize it then, but it was pretty ambitious for three friends with high school-levels of free time on their hands.

Old Usenet Links

 

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WP Funnel

This is a version of Funnel I’ve been working on for Windows Phone (WP). It has most of the features provided on the iPhone version, but looks pretty different given the UI feel on WP.

I’m using the prototype to create this post, and it’s soo easy. I may abandon blogging from my PC.

We’re planning to release it in Feb. Woohoo!

 

Home page, shows the latest posts

 

User’s page, showing the scrapbooks tab here.

 

Detailed view of a post

 

Creating a post. Specifically, *this* post. Don’t think about it too much :)

 

Different ways you can share a post. This view is probably due for some polish before v1..

 

Login screen. I have a new love of Facebook; no more username/passwords to remember!

 

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Labor Day

My best Labor Day memory is about five years old now.  I watched a dozen CSI episodes and not much else.  There was a marathon that day, and they cleverly started the next episode during the credits of the previous one.  Genius.

Sadly,  I may never achieve a lower level of labor on Labor Day.  However, I gave a good effort (or lack thereof) today.

 

Here is the day so far:

  1. Sleep in
  2. Lazy breakfast in front of the tube
  3. Last two episodes of Parks & Rec season 4
  4. Therapeutic update installing on a neglected laptop: Adobe, Windows, and a surprise showing from WordPress
  5. Late 90s disaster movie Deep Impact (47% rotten..)
  6. Free chocolate sample at Ghirardelli’s
  7. Coffee, mobile web surfing, and the book Code at Blackpoint Cafe
  8. Salad and dessert at Hard Rock Cafe
  9. Season 2 Episode 3 of Downton Abbey
  10. First blog post since April
  11. Reddit and more Downton Abbey (probably)

This blog post is the closest thing to labor today, but I won’t proof it.  Speaking of blogging, why the four month hiatus?

I have been working on an independent software project since May.  It is an iPhone app with accompanying website, and we are going to launch it in less than two weeks.  Too soon!

The project has provided a host of new areas to blog about.   Start-ups, cloud services, open source, small business, and working from home, to name a few.  It’s also eaten all free blogging time.  But I can’t complain.  It’s been a fantastic learning experience.

See you next Labor Day!

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Huge Phone Menus

The Windows Phone menus seem to be wasting precious screen real estate.  The Foursquare app has pushed me over the edge, and now it’s time to look for solid proof.

We’ll be comparing the Yelp, Foursquare, and Netflix mobile apps on Android and Windows Phone.

Disclaimer: the pictures are painfully fuzzed and the fault is mine.  Next time I’ll bring the safari cam.

Yelp

Android (L) Windows Phone (R)

The title area is certainly smaller on the Android, but this looks like a design issue specific to the Yelp app and not a platform standard.  So, not great support for my claim that Windows Phone menus are unnecessarily large.  Maybe in the restaurants screen.

Android (L) Windows Phone (R)

This is closer.  Android has incorporated an input box, buttons, and a label into the same top area.  We see the standard application menu at the bottom on the right.  Even so, the Windows Phone version looks nicer.  Hmm.

FourSquare

Android (L) Windows Phone (R)

Look how much space is wasted on the Windows Phone menu!  However, it’s still prettier and has more information because of the grid layout versus the list used on the left.  Hmm #2.

Netflix

Android (L) Windows Phone (L)

Ack!  The menus in the Netflix queue screen look the same size.  Unrelated, but I’m not sure whether I like the titles wrapping or not.  Final showdown: Netflix home screen.

Android (L) Windows Phone (R)

I don’t know what to tell you, dear readers.  The menu navigation is different, but they are taking up nearly the same amount of space.

I’m going to keep an eye out for better comparisons, but for now I’ll concede that Windows Phone is not wasting more of my precious mobile screen real estate than Android.

Is perceived wasted space equivalent to actual wasted space?  When it comes to user experience, different designs can feel roomy or cramped while taking up the same physical space.  Pretty cool.

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Online Pictures

I was reminded recently that sharing pictures online is not a solved problem.  Below is what I wanted, and what I found.

Ideal Online Pictures

Wish list:

  1. Web and mobile support
  2. Easy to browse
  3. Easy to organize pictures
  4. Privacy settings for  individuals and groups
  5. Sharing with individuals and groups
  6. Original picture resolutions saved and available
  7. 20+ GB of free space, with expansion available (paid okay)

Comparison of 3 Popular Picture Sharing Sites

I chose SkyDrive (Windows Live), Picasa, and Flikr as my potential picture sharing sites.  If you know of a better option, please let me know.

SkyDrive Picasa Flikr
Uploading easy easy not easy
Original picture size yes yes no
Organization Multi-level folders Single level albums Photos can belong to multiple sets
Privacy settings On groups (folders) On groups (albums) Only on individual pictures
Easy sharing yes yes yes
Web browsing good good good
Mobile browsing Web & App App no
Free Space 7 GB 5 GB 300 MB/month

Analysis

I ended up using SkyDrive, with Flikr my second choice. Sorry Goog.

Browsing pictures on the web was easy on all three.  Only SkyDrive had a good mobile experience..on my Windows Phone.

Sharing photos or groups of photos was easy on all three.  Privacy settings is a difficult user experience, which held here.

Organization was a big factor for me, since I recently had 1000+ wedding pictures to save and publicize.  Flikr allows you to put pictures in multiple sets. For example, if I have a picture of me eating wedding cake, I could put it in a Cake set and a Wedding set.  Unfortunately, SkyDrive and Picasa are not as flexible.  Picasa provides a single group of albums, which is horrible.  SkyDrive allows sub-folders, which at least lets me put cake pictures nested inside the wedding pictures.  Hopefully the two stragglers catch up with Flikr soon.

However, not allowing the original picture size without a paid Pro Account was a deal breaker for Flikr. Also, its site feels much older than the other two, which was annoying. Too clunky and slow!

None of these sites was awesome.  If you have a Windows Phone too, SkyDrive is probably you’re best bet.

Examples

Flikr

PicasaWeb

SkyDrive

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Things I No Longer Do

Once you’ve got two of something it’s time for a list.  If you’re lucky, you’ve got blog post material as well.  Here are some things I don’t do anymore.

Open Bank Accounts for “free” Money

Brick and mortar banks, online banks, credit unions, financial brokers, piggy banks, etc.  A delicious buffet of financial accounts to keep us sated.  But, we soon ended up at Bank of America adding people to accounts (or subtracting?) during the typical post-wedding death-of-fun administrative tasks.

“Do you want to open a personal checking account and receive a free $25″, the friendly bank lady asked me.  “And if you blah blah blah, your wife she gets $25 too”, she added helpfully.  Hmm, I don’t have one of those yet, I probably thought.  I don’t remember how long you had to keep it open for the free cash money, but I’m sure it was reasonble.

“Sure, let’s do it.”

3 months later I received a letter in the mail explaining that my wife’s existing BoA disqualified us both from the free money.  3 months after that I tried to close my new account at a local California branch, but couldn’t because there was -$4.94 in savings.  That’s right, negative money.

It turns out Washington BoA branches can’t talk to California branches, yet.  I’m assured they’re working on it.  Oddly, I had the business card of the bank lady who originally opened my free money account.  She was able to reverse the minimum balance charge and close the account over the phone.  Still very friendly.

I no longer open bank accounts just to get free money.  Not even if you dangle sweet alumni-themed cards in front of me.

Make Your Own Ice Cubes

I mostly don’t know how much things cost at the grocery store.  Unless it’s organic milk or peanut butter, I just buy the cheapest version.  Either you need an item or you don’t.  However, the actual price of something caught my eye recently.

Ice is practically free!  It’s $.30/lb on Amazon Fresh, and I hear they deliver.  If my math is correct, that means you’ll just need to cut back on absolutely nothing to make room for ice in the budget.

Time for a significant life decision: I will no longer be making my own ice in the little plastic trays.

This is a break from the long tradition of Lotts making their own ice, which I was indoctrinated into at an early age.  I tried to convince my Dad that he also should stop making ice, but it was a stalemate.  Apparently only future generations will be saving time and freezer space by fully adopting modern refrigeration.

Speaking of refrigeration, my current apartment came with the latest in home ice creation technology.  I think these are reusable ice cubes (that don’t fit in the trays!?).  I would test them, but that would violate my new policy of spending zero time creating ice.

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Everest

Many of my exercise goals are absorbed from others, and the first quarter of 2012 was no different.  Other M’s goal is to do one pull-up by the end of March.  My goal was straight from this great video: 8 pull-ups.

I could already do 1-2 pull-ups, which is a decent base for adding 7 more.  However, if you’ve got more potential for growth than I do, there are a a couple tricks you can use which work great.

Negative pull-ups: start with your chin over the bar and lower yourself as slowly as possible.  More info here.

Assistance bands: big rubber band stretching from the pull-up bar to the bottom of your foot.  It reduces the amount you are lifting, making it easier to work up to an unassisted pull-up.  More info here.

Training regimen:

  • Pull-ups twice a week
  • 5 sets each pull-up day
  • Each set is max pull-ups followed by enough negatives to make 8 per set.

I’m proud to report my final two pull-up days for this quarter started with the full 8 pull-ups on the first set.  No negatives required!  I’m less proud to report that my other 4 sets each day were replaced by victory laps around the apartment.

Alas, I’m again in need of a new exercise goal.  Who’s got one?

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Pretty Nerdy: Shaka, when the walls fell!

I came across this hilarious Facebook exchange recently, only to realize it was probably nonsense to most viewers.  Why?  Well, it’s a reference to a ST:TNG episode (Darmok) where the Enterprise encounters an alien race that communicates purely through metaphors.  Awesome, I love metaphors!

As an aside, I refer to all rhetorical figures of speech as “metaphors”, even though someone has pointed out similes and the like have their own names.  Whatever, you know what I mean.  Procrastination paragraph, nice.

Ok, back to business.  I’ve been keeping up with my goal of averaging one post a week.  Or, roughly four a month.  Realistically, one a day for the last four days of each month.  Not surprisingly, I’ve got three days left and three posts left.  No problem, right on schedule.

I had grand plans to write a quality post instead of this filler song, but they can’t all be hit singles, right?  Instead I was doing trigonometry on my whiteboard.  Let’s pretend that Star Trek stuff above was the nerdy part.

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