March 2010 - Spruce

A Trip Through The Minefield

 I lost my parents over twenty years ago. I've been alive longer without them than with them, and I'm not an old guy. So yes, from time to time my thoughts wander across the minefield as I wonder things like "how would Mom feel about this?" or "I bet Dad would have figured this out by now."

Unlike a real minefield this is one you can build up a resistance to. What used to blow off a leg now just means I need to brush my pants clean. The metaphor fails in extended application.

Today I'm positively giddy with excitement. A new (but very good) friend and consummate professional is joining me and some of my other consummately professional friends (also very good) for two days of recording sessions. I sprang awake at 5:15am with the sort of enthusiasm I usually reserve for Christmas.

And I wondered, casting my mind back to my early years "when Dad was 43, was he ever giddy with Christmas-morning-esque enthusiasm?" 
[CHING-KLICK] goes the pressure plate to the mine I've just stepped on.
"No," I say to myself in irritation. "This isn't 'I miss Dad,' this is a serious question. Do you ever remember him being giddy?"
I ponder the matter, poring through the jumbled mess of poorly indexed memories from twenty-five, thirty, and thirty-five years ago.

"No," I reply. "I don't."
Did it explode because I can't remember something I should, or because I wish my Dad had been a happier person? Regardless, I'm going to need to change these pants.
March 2010 - Spruce

Dressing Down

I wore a t-shirt in public today, and threw a "Halo ODST" cap on my dome to complete the grungy ensemble. My usual crisp, professional look stayed in the closet.

I think this is the first time I've been this grubby while shopping in around two years.

It's also the first time a checker has asked not just to compare the signature on my card, but also checked TWO photo IDs (one on my Sam's Club card, one on my Driver's License) to confirm my right to pay with Howard V. Tayler's Discover card.

The moral of the story?

Dress nicely if you want to get away with stealing other people's credit cards.  
March 2010 - Spruce

Nap Time

 I used to share nap time with my youngest. Well... it was nap time for me. Or it was supposed to be. I'd lie down for a nap and he'd tumble into the bed and decide that it was play-time. He'd offer me his blankie, I'd accept, snuggle it, and then he'd steal it away. I would petulantly say "hey!" and he would giggle. Then he'd offer it again. Repeat.

It was called "The hey game." 

I lay down for a power-nap about 45 minutes ago and discovered that my youngest, now almost eight years old, had left his blankie in my bed. It's a nice, thermal item -- too small to be an adult blanket, but perfect for wrapping around a bald head, turban-style. I did so.

Nobody stole it from me. On the one hand that left me longing for the days when my children were younger. On the other hand, I got a nice, warm nap with a blankie wrapped around my head.

Sometimes the good things in life are better when they're enjoyed while savoring the memories of other good things in life.
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March 2010 - Spruce

Some Grand Teton Vacation Notes

I'm on vacation right now. It's not something I'm very good at. Vacation, to me, means completely unwinding and relaxing. Touring the Grand Tetons, even just for half a day in the rain, means something else entirely.

But it was certainly pretty.

Now we're back at the hotel, the kids are swimming, and I'm pouring sweat in the dry sauna trying to accelerate my caffeine detox. Later I think I'll unpack some paints and base-coat a couple of trolls in the hotel lobby.

Sandra is stressing over the vacation a bit. I think that this first attempt in years is a little bit like other, more intimate things a couple might do for the first time: it probably requires practice before it's as awesome as everybody else makes it out to be.

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March 2010 - Spruce

Doctor Who Season 5: my big three worries are resolved

I've been harboring three big worries about Doctor Who for the last several months.

1) The Professor River Song story seemed to be broken.
2) The trailers showed The Doctor punching someone.
3) The trailers showed The Doctor firing a pistol.

As of right now, all three of my concerns have been put to rest (though in truth #2 and #3 didn't worry me all that much.) I'm confident that The Doctor remains true to the overarching elements of his character, and that the River Song story has not only not been broken, it's going to rock the Tardis. 

I'm also of the opinion that Stephen Moffat is going to succeed in turning the Weeping Angels into a returning Doctor Who villain worthy of upstaging the Master, the Daleks and the Cybermen (all of whom have been played pretty far past their shelf life, so upstaging shouldn't be a big trick.)

In short, I'm really, really happy with Season 5 thus far. 
March 2010 - Spruce

And Because I'll Be at a Linux Expo in Ten Days...

So.. I just confessed to replacing XP with a drive-scrubbing clean install of Windows 7. Why didn't I move to Linux instead? 

Three things, really:

1) Text boxes in Microsoft Word 2003: These things have defined my process for creating scripts, and are now so integral that I can't imagine life without them. I tried Open Office, and the boxes didn't work right. No Open Office means no Linux.

2) Photoshop's learning curve: I've figured out how to make Photoshop do what I want it to do. GIMP may do all those things, but I'd have to learn how to make it do that. I'm not interested in spending time learning how to do what I already know how to do. I'd rather spend that time learning something new that makes the comic better.

3) InDesign and my Print Broker: I have to use InDesign to make books. It's not available on Linux. Books are my livelihood. End of argument.

We can shout about technological superiority, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, market forces, and disruptive innovation until we're BSoD in the face. Ultimately everybody complaining about my choice of OS will realize with frustration that I quite amenably agree with most all of their points. 

What it comes down to, really, is that I love the idea of open-source software, but I don't want to use it. Sure, sure, if everybody felt that way then open-source software would die, but everyone CAN'T feel that way. Humanity, even just the computer-using slice of it, is just too diverse. So I can choose freely without worrying that I'm somehow hurting the cause.

The open-source movement has gained enough momentum, Linux and Open Office have enough market penetration that Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and others must compete aggressively for customers. They have to bring their 'A' game, and they have to play HARD. In that world I, the customer, win EVERY TIME. Even when I choose something too expensive and technologically inferior, I'm still choosing something that is worlds better than it would have been without the competitive marketplace.

When I worked at Novell I felt very passionate about what was on my computer. I loved certain software because my friends had helped to make it, and I was helping them sell more of it. These days I have no such connection with what I run, and that's okay. It leaves me free to run what I believe will work best for me, and I'm pretty sure my friends at Novell, Apache, UTOSC, and Penguicon will understand. Though only indirectly, their excellent work makes my life better.
March 2010 - Spruce

The Death of Drive C, and The Disposal of 15 Years of Evolution

Don't panic. I didn't lose 15 years of data. I lost an evolutionary dead-end. But that's skipping ahead...

UNBOOTABLE_MOUNT_VOLUME is not a happy BSD (Blue Screen of Death) to see when you restart. My 5-year-old PC running Windows XP Media Edition ("it seemed like a good idea at the time") had gone a long time without BSDs, but apparently the attempt to use Windows Explorer instead of Sonic MyDVD LE to burn DVDs (an honest mistake, for which I forgive Sandra) resulted in sharp, steely sorts of data caltrops being thrown about in precarious places.

The final straw, the BSD from which I could no longer boot, only came when I ran out of space on my portable backup drive. Don't worry -- the stuff I ran out of room on was some movies I don't need. Apparently that BSD kicked some of the caltrops into the boot sector, and Drive C became unbootable, only in ALL CAPS, and with underscores attaching it to other words.

I'll spare you the story of my wrestle with inner demons. I won't bother to regale you with the strings of ear-blistering obscenities, vulgarities, and profanities I concatenated with angry abandon. I'll make only passing mention to my friend Bob Defendi who talked me down from the ledge twice, and my friend Jake Bingham who provided me with hope, if not with the actual tools to solve the problem.

No, the important part of the story is the part where I realized that while I still had all my data (on two different backup drives, as well as on one internal drive), I was going to have to choose whether or not to keep my processes. Installing a new operating system (Win7, about which I've heard wonderful things, and which is, as of this writing, performing flawlessly) necessitated wiping drive C. From there I could easily copy all my documents back, but those directory trees were convoluted.

"Evolutionary dead-end," I said. An example: Before I started creating Schlock Mercenary I used AOL Instant Messenger to chat with friends. At the top of My Documents was a folder labeled "AIM Chats" which hasn't seen new data in over five years. It's at the same level as a directory called "SchlockDocs," which is the parent directory of dozens of nested children. You see, back in 1995 when I first realized I was going to want to save some things pretty much forever, I decided that it made sense to organize them by taxonomy, and the only taxonomies I was familiar with were very general at the top, and increasingly complex at lower and lower layers. So that's how I stored my stuff.

And that's how I stored it for 15 years. When I first started storing stuff that way, the directory trees were on a Mac LCii, or some such. They moved with me, always growing, because if there's one thing you never do to a taxonomy, one thing such trees are never subject to, it is PRUNING. (Note: Feel free to comment with examples of taxonomies that have been pruned. But I bet they got bigger afterwards.) 

Windows 7 seemed to suggest, through its "library" interface, that the things I do most should not be leaves on twigs on branches on limbs of a huge tree. They should be front-and-center. In fairness, my old processes included creating shortcuts to the leaves, but this meant my desktop was a mess of shortcuts. Now Win7 was suggesting that there might be a better way. No, it didn't hold my hand through the process of deciding what goes front-and-center. But by looking at how it tried to organize content, I realized that files I am currently working with should go at the top of the library, front-and-center. Once I am done with them, they should be shuffled off onto the D drive (and backed up to G, H, and beyond...) where it's okay to maintain a deeper directory structure.

So that's what I did, and I did it aggressively. My desktop has exactly one icon on it right now. "Recycle Bin." I should point out that I preferred the name "Trash" from the old Mac interface. Files are not "recycled" unless you reuse their contents. Disc sectors are reused, yes, but when I put a redundant copy of Schlock dialog into the Recycle Bin it's not going to show up on your computer as witty repartee. It's TRASH. But I digress. I should have used parentheses. (Like this.)

One icon. My task bar, which auto-hides, is only half full: Windows Explorer, IE, Google Chrome, FileZilla, Windows Fax & Scan, Media Player, and iTunes. Why so spartan? Because the things I do most often are script, blog, trawl, upload, scan, and jam. Oh, and watch Doctor Who. 

All my other cruft is buried. I created a directory called, appropriately enough, "cruft" in the My Documents directory, and any time I find myself hitting folders there more than once in a day, I give them a new home on Drive D. Eventually the Cruft folder will go away completely. As I mentioned elsewhere, this is like moving all your stuff into a storage unit, then going into a new, empty house, and only furnishing it from storage as you need things. That cedar chest full of sweaters that don't fit anymore? It never shares four walls and a roof with you again.

This process is painful, but it's the right kind of painful. It's like losing ten pounds and realizing your pants fit correctly again (apropo of nothing, I've done that three times in the last 15 months, each time with a downwardly-trending size of pants. There! I used parentheses this time!) 

Soon I'll be replacing this worn-out PC. But migrating my data to a new machine will be fairly painless, because I don't have to carry around a cedar chest full of sweaters that don't fit, and the pants I'm wearing DO fit. 
March 2010 - Spruce

At Best, Inappropriately Expressed Enthusiasm

I blogged about the final round of the easily-spoofed Washington Post poll, and I made a mistake. I mentioned that it was easily spoofed.

This was not meant as encouragement to spoof, but apparently it was taken as such. For this I am sorry.

You see, when I blogged at 9:15pm local time, Schlock Mercenary had around 120 votes. Three hours later Schlock had 211,000. That, for those who are interested in this sort of thing, is more unique IP addresses than hit my own website in the course of an entire month. I don't for one minute believe that more than 1,000 of those votes are legitimate. And by curious coincidence, during the one minute for which I'm not believing, about another 1,000 votes arrived.

I'm embarrassed and saddened. It's much more fun to mock an easy-to-rig popularity contest when it's not one of your own fans doing the rigging. You see, now if tens of thousands of Penny Arcade fans visit the poll (and they will) they will associate "Schlock Mercenary" with dishonesty.

Whoever you are, mister or missus Inappropriate Expressor of Enthusiasm, you are damaging my name with your antics. Worse still, you are making all of the smart, discerning, tastefully dressed, and bewitchingly attractive Schlock Mercenary fans look dingy and disreputable.

Shame on you.
March 2010 - Spruce

Eating to live

So... This last thursday Cafe Zupas had a sign up saying that all proceeds that day were going to the Red Cross to help out in Haiti. I had been planning to use a free meal coupon, but decided to save it and spend money instead.

Then I decided to get a dessert, because hey, it's for a good cause. Then I added a soda, and then a soup.

As I was eating, and filling up long before my comestibles were consumed, it occurred to me that I was overeating so that others might not starve. The irony was so thick I could spread it on that delicious bread I got. So I did.

If charity through excess is wrong, I want seconds. Of that custard, please...

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