Here’s a clarification of my recent Tweet about Diana. Sometime over the weekend Diana, our primary Linux box that serves as the backbone of our home network (DNS, file server, internal Web server, SSH gateway, SVN repository server, etc.), gave up the ghost. I only discovered this yesterday evening, so I haven’t had much time to diagnose the problem. It’s almost certainly a hardware issue. I’m thinking it’s the power supply or the motherboard, as when I try to power her up, nothing happens. The power light comes on, I can watch the CPU fan twitch like it wants to start spinning, but otherwise nothing else visible occurs. No output makes its way to the monitor so there are no error messages to follow.
At this point, I’m not sure of the status of the hard drives. My hope is that they’re fine; the obvious problem appears to be occurring before they even start to spin, as if they’re not getting any power (and that’s why I suspect it’s a power supply issue). The good news is that Demeter, her predecessor, has been sitting idle and collecting dust and has since been rapidly pressed back into service. I should be able to slip Diana’s disks into Demeter, check their integrity, and hopefully recover the data. That’s the core thing right now, getting the data off; hardware is replaceable, data is not. The only hitch is that Demeter is old enough that I’m not sure her BIOS will read Diana’s larger disks. Demeter’s current HD is already larger than her BIOS supports, though, and Linux seems to work fine in this situation, so I’m hoping that won’t be a problem. A worst-case scenario might be to throw a live Linux distro into Athena, our current “alpha” Windows XP desktop, and try to grab the data that way. (Diana’s disks are in ext3, which obviously Windows can’t read.) Both Demeter and Diana have EIDE drives while Athena uses SATA, but I’m almost certain Athena also has legacy EIDE on the motherboard somewhere; if not, I’m hosed there.
Why might this be a concern to you? Well, for one thing, Diana was one of several redundant backup locations for storing my my high-resolution original strips. Fortunately, everything from Year Nine and back has already been backed up to multiple DVDs stored in multiple physical locations, while Year Ten’s files are stored across three redundant drives (two in separate physical machines and one external USB drive). More importantly, Diana was my SVN repository server, housing all the source code for the GPF site. I have working copies of that repository in multiple locations so I’m not hurting there, but with the repository down I’m stuck manually keeping those working copies in sync. The biggest problem that may affect you guys is the humongous time sink this will be for me to repair/replace Diana and get all our internal mechanisms working again. With my day job, two hours of commute, and toddler patrol vying for my time, my comic production schedule is severely squeezed as it is. This is probably going to impact that buffer I was forced to take a hiatus in December to reclaim as I wasn’t able to increase my production, just maintain the status quo.
For those of you who might care, I’ll post updates here when I can. More frequent cries of frustration will likely come through the Twitter feed. If the comic will be severely impacted, you’ll get something in the GPF News. So keep watching those RSS feeds.
Sorry again for the long dry spell. As hinted at in the latest GPF News post, things have been hectic in the Darlington household these past few months, with tons of minute issues slowly chipping away at the overall allotment of free time. The good news for GPF fans, though, is that I should have a good month’s worth of comics in the buffer when the comic restarts on January 5th, and with the holidays behind us I should be able to concentrate more on getting things done and on time.
In the tradition of last year’s “Christmas loot” post, I thought I’d post some of the awesome things I received as gifts this year. I know some people might look at this as a bit of bragging—and I can see how it can be read that way—but it’s really not. It’s an honest, geeky desire to share some of the exciting things my friends and family blessed me with out of love and happiness. If you want to read bragging into this, well, that’s your choice and you’re free to ignore this post. Otherwise, let me squeal with geeky glee as I delineate some of the cool things I was blessed to receive from people I love.
I’ll start off with a note to the folks: I know some of my family reads this blog, so don’t be offended if I didn’t mention something in particular that you got me. It’s not that it wasn’t memorable or that I didn’t like it; it’s because you know I have the memory of a sieve and I didn’t take copious notes after each present was opened. Since I’m composing this away from where the presents are stashed, I’m doing everything from memory. I also spent most of my time during the present opening ceremonies assembling and subsequently helping Ben play with his new toys, so there were lots of interruptions. So here’s my apologies in advance and don’t forget that blog posts can thankfully be edited.
My favorite gift, by far, is the one given to me by my wife. (Well, she signed Ben’s name on the tag, but I know he has neither the budget nor expertise to have picked it out himself. Just remember that if you read this years later, my son.) She got me a Nikon D60 digital SLR camera. As I previously Tweeted, “It’s like giving a 16-year-old with a beat-up ’85 Civic the keys to a sports car.” 10.2 megapixels, “real” lenses, tons of preset and manual options… it may technically be a “prosumer” or low-end professional camera, but it’s definitely the best I’ve ever had.
I’ve always wanted to learn more about photography, but have had neither the time nor capital to really invest in more than casual picture taking. We’ve had a succession of digital cameras over the years, all of which have served us very well (the Shows & Cons subsite is loaded with the results). However, they’ve all been relatively cheap, low-end models geared for amateur consumers. Our previous family camera was a nice little Olympus that only topped out at three megapixels and still used SmartMedia cards. Do you have any idea how hard those things are to find these days? While still functional, it was definitely showing its age. However, like many consumer cameras, it did all the automagic focus and lighting settings, making it a simple point-and-shoot device. This new Nikon can do point-and-shoot well, but it has enough manual options to make it a good learning platform for a curious amateur to graduate to a serious hobbyist. Now my biggest problem is finding time to actually play with it…. 😀
As an ironic side note, as I mentioned in the previous “Christmas loot” post, my wife’s birthday is also in December, and guess what I got her? That’s right, a new camera. Her’s is admittedly not as nice, but it is exactly what she wanted: a small little point-and-shooter that she can tuck away in her purse for those spur-of-the-moment photo ops where lugging the old Olympus around (and, for that matter, my new Nikon) would be inconvenient. As she so succinctly put it, “Who knew we were going to have such a photogenic holiday?”
Other items of note:
So, what did Santa leave in your stocking this year? 😉
If you’ve never heard me talk about politics, there’s a good reason for it. I hate politics, with a passion that cannot be quantified. I often see elections as a choice between the lesser of n evils, which is never a good thing. This year’s presidential election in the United States exemplifies this frustration. I don’t think I’ve ever been less sure what I’ll do at the ballot box than this year, and that includes my first time to vote years ago when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I feel neither love nor malice toward any particular candidate, and I can’t see either one of the Big Two doing significantly better than the other. It’s a choice between one mixed bag ideologies that I half agree with and a second, polar opposite mixed bag of ideologies. I am disgusted with certain aspects of the past administration, but I can’t see any way the opposing party will make things any better. I swear, once this election is over, I’m probably switching my political affiliation and going independent. I’d secede and go somewhere else if I honestly thought it would help my frustration.
That said, I will be voting today, and I sincerely urge my fellow Americas to vote as well. I may not like the choices I’ve been given, nor do I think my vote will make much of a difference. That said, it is both my right and my duty as a citizen to try and make an informed, conscientious decision, and I’ll do my best to try. If I vote and my candidate of choice loses, then I have a right to be frustrated when things go south in four years or less (and it probably will). If I don’t vote, I don’t have anyone to blame but myself.
As for the rest of the world… I say pray. Whether we all like it or not, the United States has tremendous sway in international politics. Pray to whatever god you serve that Americans will make the “right” choice today, whatever that means. Despite what my estimeemed colleague might hint at, today’s choice may indeed affect history as we know it. It may not, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t. We don’t know. And that’s what makes the choice all that more important.
Over the years, I’ve mentioned a lot of celebrities in GPF. Some have only been mentioned in passing, some have had brief cameos, while others have practically become characters in their own right. Other than a brief run-in with Tracy Scoggins at Dragon*Con 2000, I have not had the honor of meeting in person any celebrity I’ve mentioned, cameoed, or parodied. (Scoggins’ brief mention in GPF is here.) I certainly haven’t had any celebrity contact me concerning GPF; I’m still waiting for Sean Connery‘s lawyers to threaten me over his portrayal in the strip, but that’s about as close as I thought I’d get.
Well, I guess I was about due.
On September 26, I drew what I thought would be just another innocuous continuation in the Harry Barker and the Napier’s Bones parody. I had reached the point where in the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, the children managed to social engineer Hagrid (played in my parody by Dexter) to find out how to get past the three-headed dog Fluffy. In the original, Hargid reveals that Fluffy is lulled to sleep by music; this is a play, of course, on the classic myth of Orpheus, who entered into Hades by putting the three-headed dog Cerberus to sleep with his lyre. In the chain from myth to parody, Cerberus → Fluffy → Kerberos, a robotic three-headed guard dog who is deactivated with the passphrase “Play Harp.mp3!”
I came up with this little chain of geeky reasoning to arrive at what I hoped would be a pretty funny joke. Unfortunately, I was at first at a loss to explain exactly how the kids would get Dexter to reveal the passphrase. In the original, Hagrid has a tendency to blurt out things unintentionally, a trait Dexter does not necessarily share. So I thought I should come up with something that would appeal to his geek nature, something so tantalizing that he would forget all sense of security protocol and blurt out the passphrase in a desperate bid of nerdy desire. Dex, of course, is GPF’s resident expert in all things sci-fi—he has a shrine to Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas in his apartment—so perhaps if Harry and his friends could find something Dexter would covet above all things, he would give up the passphrase without a second thought.
I’m not sure exactly what chain of events led to the epiphany, but somehow my thoughts wandered to Dexter’s love of Star Trek and then to “The City on the Edge of Forever”, perhaps the most famous and popular episode of the classic series. This story, of course, is the only Star Trek episode penned by Harlan Ellison, the prolific speculative fiction author, and the story of the grudge between he and Gene Roddenberry over the script for this episode is almost legendary. Ellison’s anger over the changes Roddenberry and his staff made to his original script led Ellison to disown the story. (Ellison has many times in the past had his screenwriting credit changed to “Cordwainer Bird” on projects that he no longer wished to be associated with. Roddenberry refused to allow him to change the credit on this episode, which may have inadvertently added to its legendary status.) This combined with the fact that the story is so beloved by fans and listed in many places among one of the top TV episodes of all time (both Roddenberry and William Shatner listed it as one of their favorites) makes it a unique jewel in the Star Trek crown. And that’s when the idea struck me: what else would be more tantalizing to Dexter, the Star Trek geek of Star Trek geeks, than to come across an unproduced Star Trek script from the author of the most famous episode of all time? Of course, the script turns out to be bogus—it’s really Harry’s database homework—but Dexter will find this out far too late and the damage is already done.
The comic, as previous stated, went “live” on September 26. At first, it garnered little apparently attention; the following strip with the “Harp.mp3” line generated more immediate feedback due to the Orpheus reference. (Unfortunately, I have to pass credit to J. K. Rowling for that idea.) But then, on September 30th, I received an e-mail from Steve Barber… the moderator of the forums on Harlan Ellison’s site. Somehow, some way, Mr. Ellison heard about my little mention of him in the strip and wanted to speak to me about it. I found this especially surprising, first because I didn’t think someone of such notoriety would come across my little comic and second because I had read (on his Wikipedia page) of his “substantial distaste for personal computers and most of the internet”. Thus, someone must have pointed the reference out to him and he made a conscious effort to get online and find the strip in question. Mr. Barber assured me not to “hide under the table, it’s a good thing” and asked for some contact information. With a twinge of hesitant trepidation I gave him my home phone number and the best times to call.
On October 1st, just as we were finishing up dinner, the phone rang. The caller ID indicated the number was blocked. I answered. A thick Indian accent came over the phone, announcing itself with an absurdly difficult-to-pronounce name and informing me that my “shipment of cedars from Lebanon” was ready as soon as I could provide a shipping address. I couldn’t help but smile slightly. Since I was expecting Mr. Ellison’s call, I knew it either had to be him… or a really, really bad telemarketing scheme. I played along, being much more polite than I usually am to telemarketers and cheerfully informed him that I had ordered no such shipment. Mr. Ellison then announced himself properly, but the tone of the conversation was already set.
We had a wonderful conversation lasting somewhere around 15-20 minutes. He was delighted to hear about my little homage; I didn’t have the heart to tell him that GPF’s readership is probably a lot smaller than he thinks it is. I’m not sure how much of Dexter’s history and character he is aware of (he knew enough about the Harry Potter parody being a special story), but if any of my characters would truly appreciate the correspondence, it would be him. Mr. Ellison was quite entertaining to speak with and I’m far more honored that he went out of his way to contact me than the other way around.
I’m sending him a print of the September 26th strip along with some appropriately humorus and irreverent sketches along the side. (I’d happily send him the original line art if I hadn’t been working completely digitally for the past several months.) In return, he’s promised me a signed book of his own. Personally, I’m hoping its the published original drafts with commentary of “The City on the Edge of Forever”; that would certainly be the most apropos.
Now if only Jeri Ryan would finally return my calls….
So I was listening to this week’s edition of TWiT, during which Leo Laporte and the usual band of miscreants psychoanalyze Microsoft‘s new ad campaign featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. I had not seen the ad yet myself—apparently it debuted during an NFL opening game, and considering that I don’t watch professional sports and the overwhelming majority of my television watching now consists of shows containing magic backpacks and talking monkeys that wear red boots, it hadn’t come to my attention yet—so the discussion naturally raised my morbid curiosity. So I dug around a little on YouTube and found this. I must admit, it’s as surreal as I was led to believe. I won’t attempt to try and mine this thing for hidden meaning like Ryan Block did; the only comment I think I can really make about it is that it tells me absolutely nothing about Microsoft, Windows, or any other product they may have in the pipeline, and after watching it I am no more inclined to pick Microsoft options over the competition than I was before. I thought that was the point of advertising….
But that’s not the weirdest part. Last night, I dreamed about Bill Gates. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was a prescription-drug fueled haze (I’m currently in the middle of my quarterly bout with bronchitis), but it was not something I was particularly expecting. There’s nothing really interesting to say about the dream, though. In what little I remember, Mr. Gates was there, tying his shoes. He wasn’t necessarily trying on new ones, nor was there any indication that the shoes were noticeably old. They were shiny, brown leather dress shoes, so they could have been either new or well maintained. Mr. Seinfeld was nowhere in sight. The setting was unclear; I can’t say that it was a shoe store, a men’s locker room, or any other recognizable setting. I know only that I was seated on a wooden bench which I believe was painted a dark green and that Bill Gates stood next to me, lifted one leg, and set the foot on the bench, then proceeded to tie his shoe laces. Then he left without saying a word and the dream moved on to wherever it went after that. I remember nothing else about the dream, and to my knowledge Mr. Gates appeared nowhere else within it.
I have no desire to do any research on what kind of Fruedian analysis can be drawn from watching a billionare-CEO-turned-philanthropist from one of the world’s largest and most reviled software companies tying his shoes next to me. I’d be afraid of what I’d find. So I’ll just say it was the prescription cough syrup working its magic and go back to talking to the pink elephant and the green roast beef sandwich on either side of me. It’s a conversation about world politics and an economy built entirely around edible golf balls will solve the world’s energy crisis. It’s very enlightening. Maybe, somehow, some way, we’ll figure out exactly what makes Windows “delicious” while we’re at it. Drug-enduced hysteria is about the only way I can think of in my current semi-lucid state to make an operating system taste delicious. It makes me begin to wonder, though… what would other OSes taste like? Would Mac OS be crunchy? Would Linux be spicy? Would my Treo’s PalmOS be light in calories? I certainly hope so… I am trying to lose weight….
My wife recently bought a Wii Fit. She’s been coveting the device ever since she first heard about it. I would say I’ve caught her looking into the window of the local gaming stores as much as I have lately, but she actually plays more computer games than I do. The Wii Fit has just made her look even more frequently. So it wasn’t really much of a surprise when she announced to me via e-mail a week or so ago that while she was at a toy store during lunch looking for birthday presents for Ben (who recently turned two), she snatched up a Fit just as they were opening a new case.
I’ve been mildly skeptical of the device. I’ve known enough fitness nuts and I’ve got enough head knowledge about fitness matters to know that a wireless scale that talks to your game console isn’t likely to be a good substitute for a membership at the local gym. And it’s not. But it’s certainly better than nothing, and right now between my day job, a 1.5 hour commute each day, chasing after a toddler entering his Terrible Twos, and squeezing in three new comics per week plus site updates… well, nothing is about all the exercise I’ve been getting.
The Wii Fit is far from perfect. As stated above, it’s essentially a wireless scale that is sensitive enough to detect shifts in weight. Thus, it knows not only how much you weigh but where you’ve placed your feet, where your center of balance is, and with some sophisticated guesstimation, where your body is in space relative to the device. Believe it or not, that gives it an incredible amount of flexibility as a game controller. For example, there are a number of balance games included, such as a ski slalom course that you control by shifting your weight just like a real skier would, and a “table tilt” game where you try to roll little balls into the holes of a disembodied table by shifting your weight to tilt the table this way and that. It looks to have a lot of interesting potential as a controller beyond the Fit game, especially for sports games like skiing, snowboarding, surfing, etc. The sensitivity is a little questionable sometimes; there’s a step aerobics “game” where you almost have to stomp on the device to get multiple foot presses to register. But all in all, it expands Nintendo’s Wii game play innovations in a new direction.
Another beef I have is its use of body mass index as a general gauge of health. BMI is a better indicator than weight alone, but a good read over the linked Wikipedia article will give you tons of reasons why BMI alone isn’t very useful. OK, I know I’m overweight; I’ve already come to terms with that, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been using the thing pretty religiously for the past week or so. But your weight (and thus BMI) can fluctuate all over the place during a given day and even day to day. One good Sunday dinner with the in-laws was enough to blow the previous week’s progress according to the all mighty Fit. Unfortunately, it actually gets worse as you improve. Muscle is more dense than fat, so a fit person might have a higher BMI than and overweight person of comparable height and weight. Of course, it would probably have been too difficult (and not to mention spooky) to have little robotic arms with calipers come out to actually measure your true body fat, so I suppose this is better than nothing.
I’m also mildly annoyed with the Fit’s preoccupation with posture and balance. I know my posture isn’t the best in the world. There was concern when I was a child that I might have mild or borderline scoliosis, and my right foot actually turns outward a bit when I stand naturally and comfortably. Both of these, probably combined with years of desk sitting and (admittedly) weight gain, have made my posture less than ideal. The Fit constantly chastises that my center of balance is off-center or, worse, that it can’t get a good measurement because I’m constantly “fidgeting”. Of course I’m fidgeting; I’m constantly readjusting myself to stand perfectly straight just so you can take your blasted measurements. Sigh….
Probably the most useless thing about the Fit is the “Wii Fit Age”. This is some magical, arbitrary calculation based on your real age and BMI that is supposed to determine your overall wellness relative to your true age. In reality, it’s completely pointless and has no basis on anything useful. My Fit Age has bounced around from the mid-50s down to the mid-20s, sometimes within a day of each other. For a man in his mid-30s, that’s a big range. As previously stated, my sense of balance isn’t the best in the world and the Fit Age calculation is based in part on how well you perform on two arbitrarily chosen balance tests such as balancing on one foot, shifting your weight to certain pre-determined ratios, or simply whether or not you favor one leg over another as you walk. Thus, I stink at these games and they throw my Fit Age out the window. I’ve learned to mostly ignore it, as the minor buzz you get from a negative difference between it and your real age is easily offset by the buzz kill when it swings positive the next day, just because you’re tired.
But enough dumping. Let’s say what’s positive here. The big plus is that the Wii Fit has gotten me off the couch and doing something, anything, rather than plopping on my rear every evening after Ben goes to bed. It’s cut somewhat into my comic production time, but not any more than regular household chores. It has a nice balance of different types of activities so it’s extremely hard to get bored of the same old routine. There are yoga exercises (which I pretty much ignore), aerobics (my primary focus for trimming the fat right now), strength exercises, and balance games. Many exercises make combined use of the Fit board and the standard controller; for example, the synchronized boxing has you stepping off and on the board to “block” while the Wii remote and the Nunchuck are used to throw punches. Since the board is a sensitive electronic device, the running activities use the accelerometers in the Wiimote (you stick it in your back pocket) rather having you smash the board with your feet. Unfortunately, it is possible to cheat on such activities, i.e. you can “run” perfectly fine by sitting on the couch and shaking the Wiimote with your wrist. However, you’re on the honor system in that regard and having someone else playing with you can keep you honest.
As stated, I’ve been concentrating on the aerobics portion at the moment. Aerobics are all about burning fat, and I’ve got plenty of fat to burn. At the least, I want to turn that spare tire from a full-size to a compact. So I start by doing a regimine of step aerobics (first the easy beginner mode, then advanced). (You would find this hilarious if you had seen me join my wife’s aerobics class several years ago; it’s quite a mental picture.) I follow this with a nice long run then the sychronized boxing. Once I’ve done all this, I’ve done a good 25-28 minutes of real aerobic exercise. I pad this with a little bit of balance games or strength training to make sure I’m over 30 minutes. Some of the little things it does to encourage you are cheesy, like having other Miis stand on the sidelines and cheer you on while running or by participating in big group step aerobics sessions. This is particularly funny for me because in addition to friends and family running or stepping beside me, I’ll occasionally see some of the GPF Miis my wife created. It’s mildly disheartening to see Dexter run past me at three times my speed, but equally enjoyable to see him trip and land on his face.
The Wii Fit isn’t a suitable substitute for a serious diet and exercise regime by any means. But it’s a fun, entertaining way to get started. I’ve started and stopped many exercise plans over the years, and this is perhaps the first one that really has made me want to get started each evening. Some of the scoring seems arbitrary at times, but each time you beat a previous record you get that sense of gaming accomplishment that motivates you to keep trying. I’m hoping it will be a gateway to a more serious exercise plan, but for now it’s at least getting me to do something more with my evenings than watch TV.
I’ve picked up an interesting new job function to add to my résumé: voice-over narrator. Nobody could be more surprised about this than I am.
The primary project I work on at my day job is a series of interactive, computer-based training initiatives for the U.S. Navy Reserve. Until recently, my work has mostly been software development, building a Web-based learning management system through which reservists can take CBTs online and receive the appropriate credit. My time has since been split among several other projects, such as a custom content management system for our digital artists, but it’s largely been in the programming arena. That is, after all, what that fancy paper that hangs on the wall in my office says I’m good at.
As hinted at above, we also have a full digital creative team filled with artists, animators, and specialists in instructional design. While my team builds the nuts-and-bolts front end to serve the training content and keep track of the results, our creative folks actually build the training content itself. This can range from the individual diagrams and 3D models used in illustrations to complex animation sequences and all the way up to the final Flash-based instructional GUI. We’ve got some incredibly talented folks who work here, and I’m pretty proud of some of the things I’ve seen each of them do.
Lately, I’ve found myself crossing the line between coder and creative type. My managers took note with great interest during my initial interview that I’m both an artist and a programmer. My first year or so here, though, I’ve spent most of my time in front of Microsoft Visual Studio, bashing out C# code. Recently, however, I’ve found myself being pulled into more creative endeavors on our team, such as writing the storyboard for a promotional video that will be shown at a major defense contracting conference in December.
The biggest surprise came several months ago when my boss pulled me into a meeting that I normally don’t attend. During that meeting—in which I spent most of my time doodling in a notebook because nothing seemed to apply to me—my ears perked up when it was announced that I would be doing the narration for our interactive security scenario builder demo to be released at that year’s conference. I was a bewildered to say the least.
Later, my boss recounted how my name came up in a previous meeting between several people involved with that project. You see, one minor problem we tend to have here is that the overwhelming majority of us at this site are natives to the region. Well, that’s not exactly a problem from the “mining the local talent pool and supporting the local economy” standpoint. It is a problem when the vast majority of us have noticeable West Virginia “hillbilly” accents. As much as I hate stereotypes, this was is pretty darn close to true. Almost everyone here has a noticeable accent, some so far to the point that they sound like caricatures. It’s almost laughable, really.
During this meeting, the team was musing over this problem. They didn’t exactly want a backwoods hick accent talking about how to report potential corporate security violations. It was then when my boss proffered: “Have you ever heard Jeff Darlington’s voice mail message?” I was apparently out of the office at the time because he called my desk and played my outgoing message over the speakerphone. The consensus was undoubtedly unanimous.
And that’s where I am now. In addition to the aforementioned security scenario demo, I’ve recorded narrations for multiple training sessions surrounding shipboard computer administration within the Navy. I can’t really say much more about those lessons, largely because I don’t know how sensitive the material is. It’s not top secret by any means as I don’t have the necessary clearance. Still, it’s probably sensitive enough that I can’t share any samples. However, below you’ll find a link to an early draft of the security scenario builder demo. We’ve reworked it multiple times so the final outcome sounds much better than this one. Nonetheless, it allows you to hear my melodious tones. Enjoy.
I still find it bizarre to be doing this. It’s not something I’ve foreseen myself doing. I’ve been told that I don’t really have an accent, although I can hear it in my own voice especially when I’m tired or when I’m around others with more pronounced accents. My biggest concern right now is for our poor test team, who has to listen to my voice over and over again for hours while debugging the lessons.
Just a head’s up to say I’ll be guest hosting Friday’s installment of the Jesus Geek podcast. I apologize in advance for any static or artifacts in the audio; chalk that up to my podcasting inexperience and not as an overall indicator of the quality of Jesus Geek as a whole. I’ll post a direct link to the download page as soon as I see that it goes live.
Update March 21: Aaaand… here it is.
Sorry for the dry spell, all. With the holidays I’ve been largely offline with the exception of keeping up with my daily webcomic reading and uploading new comics into the queue. (Yay!) I hope everyone had a happy holiday, no matter what holiday(s) you celebrate, and I wish everyone a slightly premature Happy New Year (or, if you celebrate Chinese New Year, either a very belated one or a slightly advance one).
Firstly, in case you haven’t seen it or don’t subscribe to the RSS feed, make sure to check out the latest GPF News post. Some important updates are mentioned there. I’ll expound upon one of those in a separate post here.
I thought I’d share with you my list of “geeky Christmas loot” for this year. I don’t do it to brag, but more just to share. I always like hearing about other’s newest geek toys, and I love sharing the same with others. So maybe if I share about some of my new playthings, others will chime in and share as well.
Perhaps my favorite gift this year was not one that I received, but one that I gave, and technically it wasn’t even a Christmas gift. My wife (“kmd” on the forum) has a birthday in December, and I always try to make it special for her. Being a December baby can be tough as many people either buy you one slightly larger gift to cover both the birthday and Christmas or worse, completely overlook your birthday altogether. So I try to make her birthday extra special, take her out to a nice dinner, and just give her as best a day as I can. This year, I gave her one of the brand new third-generation iPod Nanos. One of things that made this special is that it appeals to her geek side; she too is a programmer, and sometimes I know she feels “overshadowed” by me in all things tech among folks who know both of us. It’s also significant because most of her geeky gadgets are my hand-me-downs; when I get something new (like a new Palm), she usually ends up getting the old one. So now she has a brand-new geek toy all her own, as well has her entire “Weird Al” Yankovic collection in her pocket wherever she goes. (I also got her the one “Weird Al” album she didn’t have on CD, so now she has his entire discography in digital form.)
As for me, my geek gifts were numerous and plenty. My parents had a definite Doctor Who theme: I got the third series of the new Doctor Who; the transition between two of my old-time favorite Doctors, Tom Baker and Peter Davison; a Tardis 4-port USB hub; and a “You Never Forget Your First Doctor” T-shirt. There were several other DVDs amongst the list, including one of Pixar short films. My wife surprised me with a terabyte(!) external USB hard drive (because you can never have enough disk space).
But probably the credit for the most unexpected and most played-with gift this year has to go to my sister-in-law and her husband. For now I’m suffering from an affliction I only heard about while growing up: Nintendo thumb. I am now an owner of a Nintendo Wii.
Well, I guess I’m having less problems with “Nintendo thumb” as I am with “Wii shoulder”. I’ve suffered tendinitis in my left thumb for quite a while now (it kept me from drawing for an entire month back in 2002) and I actually think the workout it’s been getting from the Wii has been somewhat therapeutic. But several hours of Wii Sports, especially bowling and baseball, had me running for the pain relievers the next day. Man, am I getting old. I’m doing better now, though. I never had a popular gaming console while growing up (or an unpopular one, for the matter); while most of my friends were playing with their ColecoVisions, Intellivisions, or NESes(eseses), I was hacking away in BASIC on my Tandy CoCo. (Gee, that didn’t date me at all, did it?) So this this was an entirely new experience for me. We quickly ran out and purchased a second controller (“wiimote”) and “nunchuk” and added a game or two to the ones that accompanied the system as separate gifts. The system has been loads of fun, although I must admit I’ve done far less comicking this past week than I had hoped.
So… what nifty geek trinkets did you get/give this holiday? And do you have any suggestions for utterly awesome kick-butt Wii games that I supposedly must absolutely, positively have or my life will be incomplete? Dump core below.
Recently, I received a surprise in the mail. My good friend Wally (who accompanied us to our very first con, Dragon*Con 2000) and his wife sent me a much belated birthday card. I say much belated because it was several months after the fact, although I certainly wasn’t expecting it and would have been perfectly content with the knowledge that they simply remembered me on that day. (Sadly, many of our old friends are scattered across the country now, and seeing each other in person is becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence.)
Enclosed with the card was an iTunes gift card. Obviously, Wally had been reading the blog and found out about my recent iPod acquisition. After a reading over the note in the card (which was written in orange highlighter; Wally is anything but conventional), I stopped and examined the gift card itself. My first thought was that I doubted that I would take advantage of the free That’s So Raven episode download advertised on the front. (If it had been Kim Possible, maybe.) My second thought was that I hadn’t a clue what in the world I would spend it on. My brief excursions to the iTunes store in the past had borne little fruit, turning up very little that I was actually interested in. At that point, every single song stored on my iPod was either ripped from a CD I (or my wife) already owned or was a freely available download collected from somewhere else.
My first purchase choice came quickly thereafter. When I browsed the store before, I noticed my nifty little fifth generation device was capable of playing specially formatted games. Lo and behold, Ms. Pac-Man was among them. I had already downloaded the one-level demo and played it, which brought back waves of nostalgia. (For some reason, I had always enjoyed Ms. Pac-Man over her masculine predecessor, probably because of the “super speed” version that doubled Ms. Pac-Man’s speed and made it more difficult to play.) So the first thing I bought was the full game. For some reason, my thumbs have been much more tired lately.
That done, I was at a loss of what to purchase next. I searched and searched to no avail. Perhaps it’s just my eclectic tastes in music, but I had trouble finding anything that either piqued my interest or I didn’t already have on CD. (Naturally, I’d much rather have my music in physical form so if a hard drive crashes (since that’s such a rare occurrence) I’d have a handy backup.) I saw a couple things I seriously considered, but I waffled back and forth on because I’d much rather have them on CD first.
Then some little dormant trigger fired in my brain.
I’m sure that everyone has one. You know, that dirty little secret. That one album you keep squirreled away, hidden from prying eyes, that you secretly relish but you hope that no one every finds out about. It might be that one Mozart symphony stuffed between gansta rap discs, or that one bubblegum pop boy band stashed among your vast country collection. You know what I mean.
Personally, my CD collection largely consists of motion picture soundtracks (or, more appropriately I suppose, instrumental scores) from the likes of John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, and Jerry Goldsmith. It also contains my wife’s and my combined collection encompassing most of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s discography and a smattering of contemporary Christian albums I’ve grown fond of over the years. Lately, a couple of lullaby CDs have been added for placating Ben in the car, but I consider those largely transient.
It is also worth noting that I have a rather adamant distaste for country music. Perhaps it’s because country is so pervasive here in West Virginia that I had difficulty avoiding it while growing up, but as soon as a country song starts playing, going on about how somebody’s spouse left them, their hound dog died, or their pick-up truck has a flat tire, my brain enters some sort of dormant protective state and shuts down. I block it out like some devastating traumatic experience and usually can only be resurrected by playing the Star Wars or Star Trek themes. About the only country artist I can really stand is Ray Stevens, and that’s because his humor is catchy enough to override my self preservation urges and let me actually enjoy the music.
However, during the days after Wally’s gift card arrived, I caught myself unconsciously humming a song I hadn’t heard in years, if not a decade or two. I was surprised at first that I remembered it so clearly and that I could recall most of the words. I was also surprised that it stirred up other musical memories, to the point that I was able to mentally reconstruct most of the album from which it came. The music became so conscious in my mind that I caught myself singing one of the songs to Ben at bath time one evening. And that album is the dirty little secret I’ve come to reveal.
You see, my dad, being a child in the 1950s, grew up on the two staples of television and films geared toward boys of that era: science fiction and Westerns. Thus, it was natural for me growing up to find classic sci-fi novels lying around as well as Dad’s favorite Gene Autry or Roy Rogers films in the VCR. And one of his favorite tapes to listen to in the car on those long family road trips was Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.
Technically, I suppose this album should be considered a “Country & Western” album, as the genre was known as back in the day. Of course, the “Western” part has long since been dropped from the genre’s title, probably because that sub-genre fell out of favor at the same time the Western started disappearing from TV and the big screen. Most of the songs retell stories of the Old West, of gunfighters, cattle rustlers, and Arizona Rangers, although they are largely the work of fiction from the romanticized West of Hollywood than the real thing. Many of the melodies are very simple and singable, but the tales can be as graphic and violent as the period in which they are set. And as I pondered whether I should actually spend Wally’s gift on such a purchase, I caught myself humming these songs over and over. Eventually, I gave in to a combination of nostalgia and frustration over the few lines of songs that I couldn’t remember.
So now my dirty little secret has been revealed. If you’re interested, here’s the link to the album in iTunes. The link above will let you find the CD on Amazon. Either place should have samples you can listen to if you’re curious enough. Now I’m going to go hide under my desk and listen to “Big Iron” one more time.