Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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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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Trip Report: GDC 2012

GDC 2012 was here in San Francisco last week, and I caught the tail end of it on Friday.  It’s the world’s largest game developer’s conference, with a wide variety of contributors from the industry coming together for talks, demos, fun, etc.

I spent most of my time in game career seminars, wandering around the career pavilion, and checking out the expo.

Game Career Seminars

1) gHarmony: Networking Your Way into Acquiring Your True Love Job Match in the Game Development Industry

This talk discussed different forms of networking, starting with fire and forget online resume submissions (worst) to finding opportunities through your friends (best).  Basically, the more high quality exposure you have, the better.  Get out there!

    • LinkedIn – Used heavily in the game industry.  Have a profile, make it count.
    • Professional blog – Detail the projects you’re working on, and the process you’re taking.
    • Alumni Association – Take advantage of any school connections you have.  They last forever, can provide unique contacts, and have a vested interest in your success.
    • Game Development clubs & competitions – These are great opportunities to get involved and gain experience in your area of interest.
    • Modding – Another great way to demonstrate your interest, skills, and gain experience.

2) Perfecting Pitchable Prototypes

This talk was given by a cool guy from Double Fine about their 2 week prototyping sessions.  They break into teams of about 10, with the goal of a playable demo by the end.  A number of their shipped games started this way.  Nice to hear how a top game studio is using prototyping effectively.

    • Stand out, look different – Pick whatever is different about your game idea and embellish it.  Now’s the time to experiment.
    • Don’t build an engine – It’s too time consuming when you’re goal is a playable demo.  There are many great and inexpensive frameworks available to test your proof of concept (Unity, Unreal, etc.).  Leave the low level engine work for a real product cycle after you commit to the full project.

3) Ask the Experts: Professional Programmer’s

This panel had a good cross section of game programmers with different levels of experience and company type.  It was aimed more at students and junior programmers, but still interesting and entertaining.

    • Do Stuff – Emphasis on do.  Many of the panel answers included advice to get out  there and work on things.  If you are interested in a specific area, then create things in that area.  If you don’t know what area is for you, try everything.  This struck me as good advice outside of professional game programming too.
    • Make Games – The most useful thing you can do if you want to become a professional game programmer is to make games.  There was a large focus on learning through doing, and landing jobs through doing.  Do.
    • Finish Some – At least some of them.  If you’ve ever worked in software, you already know the last 20% can kill.  Hiring managers know this, and want to see that you can complete a project, or three.  Anyone can start a project, but can you finish?
    • Hardware – Know your stuff.  A skilled programmer understands the relationship between program and hardware.
    • Algorithms – Know your stuff.  Knuth.
    • Design – Know your stuff.
    • C++? – Yea, it’s used for a lot of game programming, but no one really cares.  You’ll learn a lot of languages throughout your career.  Do NOT ever aspire to be a language X programmer.  Languages are tools of the trade, and you’ll use what makes sense.
    • What are your biggest weaknesses? – This is a stupid interview question.  Go political: Well, I don’t know a whole lot about AI.  Or, answer a slightly different and more useful question: An area I’d like to know more about is AI.

4) Breaking into Game Development: Ask the Pros

This panel had a good cross section of different disciplines (programmer, QA, design, producer).  There weren’t a whole lot of new ideas from the earlier seminars, just more  interesting stories to support the main takeaway: The best thing you can do to break into the game industry is to make games.  This can be on your own, in groups, contributing to open source projects, or working for a game company.

Takeaway: The best way to break into the game industry is to make games in some form.

Historical books to check out:

Career Pavilion

There were 40 odd companies in the career pavilion, so I tried to hit up the locals first and then branch out.  The booths were mostly manned by HR folks, so there was limited opportunity to ask engineers specific questions about the companies.

CSE Software

Peoria, Illinois company that makes simulation and training software.  Not quite in line with my interests, but they did have some cool demos of big yellow earth movers.

Facebook

Hiring for the gaming platform team.  This would be a cool spot to be given the explosion of social gaming.  I’m more into console and PC games.

Ubisoft

Bigger AAA game company with offices around the world, including SF.  Nice guy from HR gave me a run down of the company, culture, opportunities, etc.  The SF office typically has support engineers (somewhere between game developers and clients) and a few AI engineers.  Hopefully that expands in the future.  I really should check out Assassins Creed.

Nintendo

Lots of hiring going on at their Redmond-based US headquarters.  Similar to Ubisoft, they have support software engineers that don’t require specialized game development experience, and positions that do require prior experience in areas like 3D graphics, UI, or networking.  Interestingly, the HR woman suggested experience could be obtained through projects outside of typical employment, which is in sync with the game career seminars.

Havok

Ireland-based game development middleware company.  The friendly HR woman didn’t have many specifics beyond that they were growing and you should craft your resume to the position.

Sony

The Sony booth was a bit underwhelming.  There wasn’t anyone onsite that could answer specific questions, but I did learn they have a streamlined application process.  Basically, you create a online profile and then add interesting positions to your shopping cart.

Blizzard

Now, I know Blizzard is based in Irvine and not exactly local.  But, I’ve been playing their games for years, and as far as I can tell they only ship stellar games.  Naturally, I had to stop by, and it turned out to be my longest career booth visit.  First, there was an engineer on hand to speak with, which was great.  Second, he was a fellow ex-Microsoftie who told me all about the QA infrastructure team he was building.  This was particularly interesting to me, since I’d worked on similar stuff on the Internet Explorer team awhile back.  Nice guy.  Irvine isn’t looking so bad on this rainy morning.

Expo & Random Stuff

Some of the booths were pretty sweet.  Next time I’ll take decent pictures.  Oops.

The youthful male demographic was well covered.

I came across some new HTC Windows Phones in a Microsoft area, which were pretty cool.  But, more importantly they had unreleased versions of Carcassonne and geoDefense Swarm!  Based on my 5 minutes of testing, I’ll skip the Trial and go straight to Buy.

See you next year GDC!

Milling around waiting for the next talk. Expo entrance past the stairs.
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Pretty Nerdy: Woodcutter’s Hut Spreadsheet

I’ve been playing a game recently called Lord of Ultima.  It’s a free-to-play browser-based MMO RTS by EA, which sounds kind of nerdy by itself when you write it out.  Anyway, it’s fun.

A big component of the game is building up cities, which are comprised of different types of buildings.  The buildings are interrelated and modify each other based on their placement, which allows for lots of granular optimization.

I created this spreadsheet to help me figure out what to upgrade, and when.  The part you see above is for a Woodcutter’s Hut, and tells me how long it will take to recoup the cost of upgrading it based on the formula in the bottom left.

Higher level huts take a long freaking time to recoup, but the game takes about 6 months to beat so I guess it’s all relative.  Good thing I made this spreadsheet with the reverse engineered production formula.

It was pretty nerdy.

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eBay Shill Bidding

Last week I bought a used road bike on eBay.  Actually, I bought it twice, paid once, and know a little bit more about shill bidding.  Time to share.

Shill Bidding: You or someone you know bidding on your own auction item.

This raises the price to the detriment of other buyers, and is a violation of eBay rules and federal law (fraud).  But like most rules, they don’t prevent all transgressions.

Auctions are fun.  If you’ve never tried them out, you should.  There is some excitement to be had in the uncertainty leading up to the close.  My bike auction was no different.

Bidding Theory

eBay has automatic bidding.  This means you enter your maximum bid and eBay automatically increments your current bid only high enough to be the highest bidder.  Here’s an explanation.

With limited research, I uncovered two bidding strategies and opted with the lazier approach #1:

  1. Put in your maximum bid early.  This raises the bid price and discourages bidders who might have been interested at a low price from getting involved.
  2. Put in your maximum bid late.  This may keep the price lower, because there isn’t as much time for bidders to slowly inch the price upwards.

Unfortunately, this was before I had considered shill bidding.  #1 is good for shill bidders because it allows them more time to raise the price and then retract a bid.

Bid Retractions

eBay allows you to retract a bid under certain circumstances.  However, the circumstances aren’t checked before retraction, and they don’t block anything.  They probably only aid fraud investigations later.

How does this help the shill bidder?  They can bid high to discover your maximum bid, retract, and then bid right below your max.  Now you’re paying the maximum amount, instead of the minimum.  Lame.

http://pages.ebay.com/help/buy/bid-retract.html#cond

The Search

I was looking for a Cannondale road bike, size 56, no more than about $500, and no older than 10 years.  Difficult to find in person, but eBay has everything:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=270906777113#ht_10058wt_1396

The Action

Going into the final day of the auction I was the high bidder at $170.  Great, right?  Bike I want, well below cost.  Let’s just hope the final hours of bidding don’t raise it too high.

At 5 hours to close a new bidder(r***0) swoops in with a high bid of $400.  Oh no!  Don’t panic.  Based on past eBay auctions we knew the bike wouldn’t go for $170.

20 minutes to close and my max of $470 is not the winner.

15 minutes to close and my max of $470 is the winner.  Eh, what?  eBay bugged?  No, r***0 has retracted his high bid.  Thanks r***0 for bowing out and letting me have this one!

10 minutes to close and my max of $470 is a loser again.  r***0 is back!  Weird.  Ok, I’m prepared to pay a bit more.  Hmm, my new $520 bid is not a winner.

8 minutes to close, and my $520 is a winner!  r***0 has retracted another bid.  Weird redux.

5 minutes to close, and r***0 is ahead with $530.  Ok, what am I really prepared to pay?  Do I really want to spend any more time looking for another bike with the right specs?  $570 is my final offer.

Auction closes at $550 in my favor.  r***0 final max was $545.

Here’s the bidding history, which doesn’t show bid retractions unfortunately:

http://offer.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewBids&item=270906777113&showauto=true

Bid retractions were a little weird, but I haven’t bid on any eBay auctions in awhile so maybe this is normal.  Knowing a little too much about software, I absent-mindedly brainstorm technical explanations like timing issues between multiple bidders and eBay servers, etc.

Spider Sense

The mind is a funny thing.  Sometimes you just have this feeling like something isn’t quite right, but you’re not immediately sure what it is.

Less than a minute after the auction closed I received an email from the auction owner that the description may have been wrong.  Specifically, the bike was listed as a 2010 model but may in fact be a 2001 model.

Now, I already knew it was not a 2010 model, because I’ve already researched Cannondale bike models and their history.  The only measurements I did care about were the frame size, which presumably was still correct.  However, the value difference between a 2001 and a 2010 model is significant, so this information is valuable to have before the auction ends.

Why am I getting this email immediately after the auction?  Did the owner just come by this information, or not get around to updating the description before auction end?  What the frak dude!

My elaborate explanations of the bid retractions are gone now.  A simpler explanation is available.  Foul play.

Decisions

Should I complete the transaction or back out?

I haven’t bid more than the bike is worth to me.  The owner has good feedback, so I’ll probably receive what is in the pictures.

On the other hand, I am annoyed by the potentially fraudulent behavior and don’t like the idea of supporting it by paying more than the bike was worth on the open market.

I reply to the owner’s mail about the model year and say I’m not longer interested in the auction.  He cancels it, and that’s that.

Epilogue

My bike is back on the market after a week or so of watching eBay and craigslist.  r***0 is back in the fray as the high bidder with a day left.  My new strategy involves bidding right before close for the max I’m willing to pay.

I forget to login before bidding and end up winning  the bike for $510 with 2 seconds to close.  No time for bid retractions this time.

The only interesting element to the second auction is what amounts to an unofficial reserve price equal to r***0′s max bid.  An official reserve price allows the owner to notify bidders that the minimum amount they will sell for has not been reached yet.   Setting an unpublicized reserve price through another account is still shady behavior, but I don’t care at this point.  I saved $40 and didn’t feel like a victim this time.

http://pages.ebay.com/help/sell/reserve.html

The bike arrives quickly, was packed well, and the dents and scratches make it look like it  survived an apocalypse.  The frame is smaller than the stated measurements, but it is still just big enough.  A new set of tires and handlebar grips is all needs.  It’s perfect.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/270914223697?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649#ht_10160wt_1396

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