April 1, 2010 12:00 AM

So, I’ve relaunched this blog.

And by relaunched I mean, changed the backend to WordPress, imported all the old posts (including the pre-Blogger ones) and made no visual changes or tweaks whatsoever. It’s actually sort of weird to try and circumvent any and all style tweaks.

Besides the fact that I’ve been using WordPress with clients for a bit now, the other reason I went to it was that I had finally had enough of Blogger. The biggest thing was that Blogger for some reason wouldn’t publish enough of my archives. I never figured out if it was a bug or what but anyway it was time to move on. Not to mention my workplace blocks Blogger so there’s no chance of the occasional blog post from there.

The process in moving to WordPress and vicariously looking back was interesting for sure. My first post was in September, 2000, so that makes this blog close to a decade old now. I’m actually trying to remember what the process was that lead me to this. I think back when the web was relatively new – think 1996 or so – everyone had to have a “web page”. This is what lead to things like GeoCities where everyone had a brief but hideous online presence with an unrememberable URL. So I had probably made many “pages” about myself up until then but most of them were on tamu.edu domains, so they were destined to be purged as soon as I graduated.

I went with Tripod for hosting back then and I don’t remember why other than Tripod had some particular advantage at the time. I think maybe it was FTP access. GeoCities, I believe, limited you to using their built-in editor which was very limited and worse, pretty much condemned you to making laughably bad pages. That, or maybe it was because Tripod allowed for a simpler URL. I forget.

The look of the site has always been, and as of this writing still is, very simple. When I was making the site we were in this bizarre transition phase between the ugly GeoCities sites of the world and the maturation of CSS. Consequently most personal webpages were either Comic Sans nightmares or trying to be so ridiculously slick that they frequently rendered incorrectly (this was before Firefox and the rise of standardized browsers) or were performance nightmares. So when I made this page I decided to chuck all that and just do a dead simple, Times New Roman affair. That first post promises a better looking site is “coming soon” but that’s never happened. At some point I decided I liked this page (which, for all its simplicity, still doesn’t render right in the first Mosaic.) I liked that it was more like reading a book than a website. I’m not saying it will never ever change, but it’s neat to have something that’s more or less constant.

I went with a company called NameZero for the domain name. NameZero appears to still be around as a domain registrar but at the time their main gimmick was that they would allow you to get your domain name for free with the proviso that your web site was basically a frames page on their site with your page in the top and a banner ad in the bottom frame. I believe you could also purchase domains from them as well but this was the era of the “free whatever so long as we can serve ads” where you could get things like free Internet access or even a free PC so long as you looked at ads (then the bottom fell out of that market and that was that)

Initially I had the page hosted at NetZero do some JavaScript forwarding and send the user to the Tripod page but then I learned a secret – since NameZero didn’t sanitize HMTL from their inputs you could submit a title or a meta tag with HTML in it that would circumvent their frames page altogether. This was an awesome trick that worked marvelously for some number of months until NameZero caught on and locked out the domains of everyone who pulled this crap and so for some amount of time, so I was actually without a domain. I don’t 100% remember why I didn’t pay up other than the concept that back in college I was living off of my parents and after I graduated I didn’t make crap for money but eventually the domain lapsed and I repurchased it.

Some time after the NameZero debacle, I moved the site to Blogger. Prior to Blogger I was actually making the page, by hand, using FrontPage (2000, I think). I vaguely seem to recall making it across multiple pages and then manually doing the “older posts” / “newer posts” links. Blogger, it seemed, was perfectly suited to this task. It was primarily aimed around the concept that it would store the posts in its database and then create the entire site and send it via FTP to wherever you told it to go. So I did the work to make Blogger’s version of the site look like what I wanted it to and started using that. If I’m remembering right, there was no ability to manually set the date or time on posts, so I had to keep the pre-Blogger posts in a separate file. When I opened up that file’s source to import them into WordPress, it still had a GENERATOR tag of FrontPage 4.0.

After I moved to the DFW Metroplex a local friend who did onsite hosting offered me free web hosting, which was good because Tripod at this point had multiple popups and embedded ads – they literally injected ad HTML source into your site after you uploaded it. So yeah, that service – while free – turned rather lame rather quickly. I’ve stuck with my friend’s hosting ever since – he just recently helped me by setting up WordPress on this server (no small feat as he’s a pure Windows shop).

Something that came along with the Blogger transition was the name “blog”. I had never called what I did a blog even though that’s essentially what it was. It wasn’t some webpage showing off my cats or talking about how awesome I am or displaying fifty animated gifs, it was basically me just putting online whatever I felt like whenever I felt like doing it. In the beginning I blogged a lot more often. I would have one-sentence posts or quick insights, maybe even the occasional linked image results of a quiz. It was sort of like my own one-man Facebook.

Really though I’m a very wordy person and so this blog has always been a good way for me to prattle on and on about some subject or other and commit it all to something. Even more interesting is how it’s out there for the Internet to read. I just feel like writing whatever I want and on whatever terms I want. Quick and dirty posts are fun and all but the short novels I write here are definitely the most fun to do. Hopefully the most fun to read, too.

As for readership, I have no idea really. I don’t do web statistics on this site, never have. I sort of don’t want to know. I think if I knew how many (or how few) people were reading this thing it would change things (I’d get depressed if no one was reading it, I’d feel stressed if too many people were). I get the occasional email from a random person who read a post and has a comment – I’ve posted some of these in posts before. Sci-Fi author John Scalzi wrote me once to correct a point I’d made on a book he wrote. I once did a web search on “Schnapple” and some other random term and found a school paper (college or high school I don’t remember) quoting a post of mine.

Back when I started RSS existed but no one used it. There were a few variants of it (typical open source quibbling/splitting) and really it was a newer version of RDF, which as I follow it was something Netscape just invented several years earlier. So this site did not have RSS for a long time. At some point Blogger started offering an RSS feed as a “pro” subscriber offer. In keeping with my “please don’t spend money” theme, I didn’t subscribe to the “Pro” version. At some point Google bought Blogger and so the “Pro” option went away and most of the features now became free. RSS wasn’t one of them. At some point you could get an Atom feed. Atom was an attempt to bridge the RSS standards, and just wound up being another standard itself (trying to merge two standards into one standard just makes a third standard). I used Feedburner to turn the Atom feed into something that could be used by anything (I should check to see if anyone subscribes to that…) Nowadays RSS is so ubiquitous the idea of charging for it seems ludicrous.

With rare exceptions, I never got personal with my posts. I had an entry on my childhood cat, an entry on a coworker that annoyed me, and some info on my move to the DFW Metroplex. That’s about it. I have a post somewhere I wrote about the process of moving and changing jobs which was initially much longer, but I was paranoid that I would somehow “jinx” it, causing me to lose my job or whatever (it sounds silly, and it is, but this was 2003 at the peak of the offshoring/shitty economy bit). Over the years I have seen people fired for blog entries or Facebook updates, so I’m glad I played things pretty close to the vest.

Anyway my posting continued pretty much unabated for many years, although in more recent years it’s slowed down tremendously. This was a byproduct of two reasons – first, I started putting out longer and longer posts, and second, I got busier as life progressed. For the first few years I blogged a lot. Frequently multiple times per week, occasionally multiple times per day. I think this was because my job at the time was pretty lame. My first job in the Metroplex – which I held in various capacities for four years – was a lot more hectic but I still was able to blog and post. About three years ago I switched jobs and I really haven’t blogged a whole lot since. As you can see, I went an entire year without posting. In fact, this post has a date of 4/1/2010 even though you won’t be able to see it until later. And the post before that was 4/1/2009. Again, the reasons are various and personal but suffice it to say I’ve been busy.

Plus in the meantime “blogging” got all weird.First there became this term, the “Blogosphere”, which was this umbrella term for the ecosystem of bloggers. It’s also a stupid term. I wonder how many of these terms are just someone fucking around. Second, the definition of a “blog” got cloudy. I define a blog as what I’m doing here – posting, writing what I want, a personal “web log”. But CNN has a “Political Ticker” on their site which is considered a blog. Commercial sites run by enormous entities have “blogs”. Sometimes those are cool, usually though they’re just marketing speak with an RSS feed. A movie comes out, launches with a website, the website has a “blog”, and then as soon as the movie opens the blog is never touched again. Of course the same could be said for a large number of “real” blogs – I’ve had a dozen or more friends tell me about their new blog, I bookmark it, then it never sees an update past the first or second entry.

“Blogging” also peaked. The concept of blogging is now passe depending on whom you listen to. Which is sort of fine to me – I never wrote this thing to be hip. Today social networking is the craze. I know someone who briefly abandoned their blog in favor of MySpace, which to me is sort of like abandoning the concept of drinking milk in favor of motor oil. And then MySpace became passe. Now it’s Facebook. And Twitter. Facebook is sort of neat – it solves some of the problems MySpace had, like how to figure out where your friend is if you know their name and not their Internet handle of snookycakes57, or if you only knew her maiden name back in high school, or if you want to make sure that this John Smith is the same one that attended San Dimas High, class of 1996. But I don’t see much use for it – as it stands now for the most part I get to see people I knew in college bitch about Obama, or people I knew in high school play with each other’s virtual farms. Bonus points for when their account gets hacked and I get ten email messages from “them” because they only discovered the Internet yesterday apparently and have never heard of a Phishing scam. Also I’ve only posted one picture of myself there but there’s dozens of me because other people tag old pics of me. Not sure if I like that.

Twitter is a neat idea, but it’s not a good idea. It’s neat that I can follow Ice-T and see him mention what happened on the set of SVU that day. Or the guys from Mythbusters. Or Electric Six. But that’s about it. I don’t see how people get value out of it. I don’t see how Twitter makes money. I don’t think ten years from now it will be seen as a source of data. And as you can tell from how I write my blog posts, I think having only 140 characters is worse than a joke. Twitter does not allow for long form posts and thoughts and while some people see that as a useful zen limit in order to condense your thoughts, I think it’s an idiotic limitation designed to accommodate arcane technology (SMS messages). I use it for when I have a wild hair thought that can be summed up in a single sentence, but that’s it. I simply don’t see how it can last.

I actually thought Blogger (the company) invented blogging (the concept). Now I’m not sure which came first. In any event, when I first started using Blogger you typed your post, HTML and all, into a box and I think it had some sort of preview mechanism but that was it. It led me to use some piece of software, w.bloggar, to do the actual composting and then I would paste it into Blogger. Initially there was actually some sort of length limit so one of my really long posts kept getting eaten alive by the site until I split it into three different posts. Which I then had to post in reverse order so that it would look right.

At some point Blogger created a realtime WYSIWYG interface, which made things nicer and easier. But I noticed that the archives would never post right. And there was a longish stretch in there where it flat wouldn’t work with my FTP server. I would literally have to have it FTP the files to my local machine (an IP-address based FTP server) and then transfer the files “by hand” to the server. Meanwhile my wife wanted a blog for her website and she had heard WordPress was the best so she had me set that up. I had barely heard of WordPress, had never worked with the LAMP stack before (much less in hosted-by-GoDaddy form) but I gave it a shot and it worked. And I was very impressed by the WordPress software. Way better than Blogger, had real RSS, and an impressive ecosystem of plugins. I considered using it for my site, but never moved on the idea. Then the other shoe dropped with Blogger – they announced they were discontinuing FTP support, the one thing I used, in favor of “Blogger for Domains”. I said no thanks, exported my blog (to Atom, of course), and got to work on importing to WordPress.

WordPress can only import from RSS and Blogger can only export to Atom, so I had to find some online service that turns Atom to RSS and then point WordPress to that. Amazingly, it worked. I imported the pre-Blogger entries by hand and then went through the cleanup process. Blogger kept certain metadata fields for itself in the export as “posts” so I had to ditch those. It also published all the “drafts” I had as posts, so I had to unpublished those (most of those will never be posted – they’ve pretty much rusted over). Overall I’m impressed with how well it worked, and I’m surprised I have over 300 posts. It’s also amusing that the posts are imported in such an order that they’re backwards (i.e., the most recent ones have low ID’s, the oldest ones have high ID’s, then there’s this one)

Something I noticed when I switched this thing to WordPress that I never really saw before was the fact that every post I have has no title. I could be wrong, but I think back when I started using Blogger, they didn’t let you give titles to posts. Which was fine with me since I never titled my posts anyway. Now, though, it just seems odd since the RSS feed just has a lot of entries with “No Title”. In reality the “title” is four or five spaces but I guess WordPress trims that out. For now I’m going to name the posts after the date they’re posted. I’m not sure what I’m going to do long term.

One of the things that’s really annoying about the Internet sometimes is when the premise of hyperlinks break down. Namely, when I went through a lot of my old posts I would click on things I’ve linked to discover that the links are dead. Sometimes the server is gone. Sometimes it’s a page on someone’s vanity site which has long been purged. Sometimes it’s a page on a major site which is still in existence but the link itself is dead because they purged old pages, or because they changed their link system and didn’t put in any reverse compatibility. This last one is the situation I found myself in – I had many posts which linked to other posts, but those links would be dead once I moved to WordPress since they’re based on Blogger’s schema. It took several days to find enough time to do it but I went through and edited all these internal links to fit with the new WordPress world order so that at the very least I wouldn’t be guilty of everything I hate.

Anyway, enough prattling. I’ve gone through my blog and I’ve selected a number of my favorite posts:

Music – I go on longish diatribes about KISS, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen and Chinese Democracy. Also, the compilation album and the death of radio.

Professional – I hate on Visual Basic, mavel at C++, I dissect .NET (I wrote this in the .NET 1.0 era so don’t kill me if I got some stuff wrong), and murder the occasional keyboard. Oh and I hate job hunting. Also I like things complicated.

Movies and TV – I run down Disney, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Twin Peaks.

Mythbusting – I try to set the record straight on technology multiple times. Also, I take on the whole “analog vs. digital” bit (which, in hindsight, I got somewhat wrong)

Predictions – Well, they weren’t really predictions but I do pine for things that eventually came true, like GOG.com and the move to DVD cases for PC games.

Gaming – a whole lot of posts on this blog are about gaming, so these are far from all of the posts on it but the highlights for me are things like when my PC could barely play DOOM 3, the time I got tired of waiting and put my PC games in DVD cases myself, that time I drew a correlation between EA and a bar in College Station, or my explanation of where The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Master Quest came from. Here’s that three part rant on MMO’s I mentioned above. I write PC Gamer Magazine a love letter. I dissect game porting. I postulate on underpopulated games. Finally, I must be a curmudgeon.

Miscellaneous – sometimes my completely random shit posts were the most interesting. Like how I lament the death of the phone book. Or how I over-analyze cola. Then I prattle on about books, bowl games and cars with one headlight.

But my wife’s favorite post of all time, hands down, is this one on Velveeta. Yes, the cheese. I think it was the fact that I referred to a part of the grocery store as a “subset of rows” that really put it over the top for her. I can’t say I blame her.

Anyway this post has been a long time coming. Here’s to hoping WordPress actually makes me post here more often.

I wonder if I’ll still be posting in 2020…

April 1, 2009 17:44

So this past year for Christmas my wife and I decided to get our immediate family books. Like, our “theme” was to get everyone a book.

We came up with this idea, of course, on the Saturday before Christmas on Thursday.

I figured we would just go to Barnes & Noble, pick up like 6-7 books and be done with it. My wife though decided to get online and make a wish list of the books we thought would be perfect for everyone.

Of course, for various reasons the books will not be delivered in time if we had ordered them online. Like, some would but some wouldn’t. And the ones that wouldn’t are not in the local Barnes & Noble here in Frisco, they’re in stores scattered all over the Metroplex. And some can only be found in Borders stores.

But, being the awesome guy I am, I tell my wife to heck with it, I’ll go pick these things up on the way home from work. Yes it will be a bit of driving but hey, why not? She tells me I’m awesome and I go “reserve” the books using the online “hold in store” bit that both Borders and B&N have on their sites.

Over the course of the next day I wind up whittling it down to four bookstores in the Metroplex. So about 6 PM when I’m done with work (yeah, kinda started out late) it’s freezing outside, pitch black dark but hey no worries – I have the iPhone now with Google Maps!

This is all in the DFW Metroplex, so locals can laugh at how dumb I am…

So I head to the first one, a B&N on Preston, a few miles from my workplace. I go to the register, they have the book I reserved, and the stoner kid says “woah, cool – a lot of times when people reserve stuff online we don’t have it!” – given that I have like six more books to go across three stores this isn’t a good sign.

I head to the second one, a Borders on Preston. I pull into the wrong shopping center with the wrong Borders because I saw “BORDERS” and freaked out. Got back on the road, passed the real “Borders” because the sign is covered by trees somehow, turnaround and get Book #2.

I then plot out the third store, a B&N on Beltline in Dallas. The trip is 29 miles and 40 minutes away but who cares, I need to get these books, right?

So I’m driving and driving and driving and it’s still freezing outside, raining a little, dark as heck, and I have no idea where I’m at or where I’m going but Beltline is a longass road so I don’t think anything of it.

Towards the end of the trip one of the “roads” Google has me turn on is actually a turn-in to a parking lot. Like, I thought I had screwed it up but as I look down I see my little blue dot on mu iPhone going across the “road” in the parking lot so I figured “whatever” and kept going.

I turn onto Beltline and I’m really close now, so I keep looking for the B&N. At some point though the road stops. Like, dead-end. Not sure I’m technically on Beltline anymore since I thought the idea was Beltline was a loop or went on forever or something. Suddenly I’m at someone’s farmhouse with like cattle and shit. OK, so I overshot it right?

I redo the calculations on the Google Maps app and sure enough I drove right past it.

So this time I turn around and look real close and at some point I realize that there’s nothing but residential houses where Google has told me to go.

No big deal, I’m sure it was an approximate location and it was in some strip mall I passed, right?

Only then do I see that Google has not sent me to Dallas but rather to Grand Prarie, TX.

See, when I told Google “5301 Beltline Road, Dallas, TX” it said “hmm, I don’t see a 5301 Beltline Road, in Dallas, TX, but I do see one in Grand Prairie, TX, which is near Dallas, TX, I assume he meant that” and sent me there.

And me, seeing “Dallas, TX” on the B&N website and realizing that it would be a ways from Allen where I work just sort of assumed that this long-assed distance was normal. I didn’t think to check the endpoint close enough.

It should be clear by this point that I have no sense of direction, a condition exacerbated by the darkness and just enough rain to be annoying and not enough to actually merit windshield wipers.

So I fire up Safari on my iPhone and go find the location on the Barnes & Noble website. I find the phone number. Only I either have to briefly memorize it or write it down because the iPhone does not have cut and paste nor is it smart enough to figure that if there’s a phone number on this website for some reason that you might want to click it to call it (usually it can). So I have to hunt down a pen in my car. And I can’t find one. I’m in the parking lot of some kinder care center in motherfucking Grand Prairie, TX, and I can’t find a pen. I have to dig one out of my briefcase.

So I write down the phone number on paper using a pen so that the Jesus Phone can dial it (note, I love my iPhone but damn). The phone number tells me where the B&N is.

It’s in Addison. Like, right near where I was earlier in the night.


For the sake of reference, here’s a map of how far I was from where I needed to be.

See, the DFW area does this weird thing with some cities where they’re occasionally considered the city of their name and occasionally considered “Dallas”. So in this case the store is in Addison but it was listed as being in Dallas. I have a relative who for years lived in “Dallas” but he really lived in Carrollton. It was like this weird pimple of Dallas in the middle of Carrollton and if he had people send him mail as Carrollton it wouldn’t get delivered to him but if it was addressed to “Dallas” it would.

On my way out of Grand Prairie, I stop at a McDonald’s to get some fries because at this point I’m starving. The woman who handed me the fries was the most terrifying person I’ve seen in a while and the fries were stale. Pretty on par for the evening.

So I drive all the way back to Addison and find the store. At which point I had the one smart thought I had all night – the fourth B&N was the local-to-me one and the only reason they had the remaining books is because those books are easy to find anywhere, so I picked up the rest of the remaining books and headed home to Frisco.

All told it took me like 4.5 hours but hey, at least we got all the books.

So yeah the moral here is – I rely way too blindly on technology and still can’t maneuver for shit in the Metroplex. But I got nearly caught up on my podcasts so it’s all good.

March 14, 2009

Right now I have three posts which are epically long and that I’ve never completed. And it’s been over seven months since I posted and some amount of the information in those posts is now out of date so I’m taking that as a sign and starting fresh.

I am now one of the many people who own an iPhone. My wife and I both got one back in November.

The phone blows me away, though part of that may be due to the fact that this is my first smartphone (and yes I know some people don’t consider it a smartphone because it doesn’t have copy and paste – whatever). Previously, I had an attitude of “I want my phone to just be a phone, I don’t want it to do everything for me.” But after dealing with this phone for a few months now, I start to understand why it’s such a big deal and how useful having a portable computing device in my pocket is.

One of the things that still boggles my mind is how many apps there are for the thing. As of the time I’m writing this, the only way to write an app for it is to use the official SDK. The official SDK only runs on Mac OS X 10.5, which in turn requires a Macintosh. I figured the mere fact that there are not that many Macintoshes in the world, much less Macintosh developers, would limit the number of apps on this thing. I guess I’m wrong. When I look at the fact that the guy who wrote the iFart application was clearing $10K a day near Christmastime, I start to curse the idea that I didn’t drop the $599 on an Mac Mini.

Of course something I’ve learned in the meantime is that a lot of the “best” games on the device started their life somewhere else. Sally’s Salon – which is a really fun game, even if you’re a macho man – started out as a Flash game, so the gameplay elements and all the graphics and so forth were already done. A fairly good GTA clone, Payback, started out its life on the homebrew handheld platform GP32. And SimCity on the iPhone is more a less a port of SimCity 3000 for the PC (with iPhone-specific controls).

Probably the best game on the device, Rolando, is indeed an original game but clearly inspired by the PSP’s Loco Roco, though it does have the advantage of actually being able to use the tilt controls of the iPhone itself, something Loco Roco had to emulate using the PSP’s shoulder buttons.

There’s another offering from Apple, the iPod Touch. Essentially it’s the iPhone without the phone part. I know I’m in the minority here but I think the iPod Touch is the most pointless device ever. It’s an iPhone without the phone. It’s an iPod without much space. It doesn’t have 3G or a camera or GPS, and it can only get online when you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot. And maybe this is just familiarity talking but I think the iPod functionality of the iPhone and the iPod Touch is very weak – sure it’s prettier but it’s harder to use and is missing functionality. But at least the iPod Touch is really expensive – space-wise, the iPod Touch is as expensive or more expensive than the iPhone subsidized by AT&T. Sure, you don’t have the two years of monthly bills from AT&T but I just don’t see why anyone would want one of these things instead of an iPod Nano or a real iPod.

Of course, it does play games. And I like it as a gaming device. But it’s got nothing on real portable gaming devices like the Nintendo DS. Forbes thinks the iPhone could kill the DS. Forbes is good in their area but they’re clueless when it comes to gaming.

First you can make the argument that the iPod Touch/iPhone cannot hope to compete with the DS (and I’m going to keep saying “DS” but really I’m lumping the PSP in there as well, so please just assume I’m saying both) at the price it is. The Nintendo DS is $130 (the PSP is $170) and the cheapest iPod Touch on the market is $230 (the cheapest iPhone is $200 layout but costs $70/month for two years). It is indeed impressive that Apple has sold over 13 million iPhones (and some number of the iPod Touch) but Nintendo has sold 100 million DS units. Literally. Like, last week they sold the 100 millionth unit. And while the PSP is no DS, they’re no slouch either at 50 million units. Sure, some of that is momentum – the DS has been out since 2005 and saw one major must have hardware revision and the iPhone/iPod Touch have only had affordable apps for about a year now, but the fact is that more people are going to buy a $130 gaming device instead of an overpriced iPod or an expensive phone. Even Sony didn’t quite get this – they figured an initially $250 portable PS2 would sell like hotcakes and it didn’t make any real traction until they lowered the price to Gillette Razor levels of uptake.

Second, you can make the controls argument. Rolando works on the iPhone (and since I’m no longer talking price, just assume when I say iPhone that I’m also talking about the iPod Touch) because all it needs is tilting and the occasional light touch on the screen to play. A number of people thought Nintendo was crazy for making the DS have a touchscreen. They proved that there was indeed an entire genre of games which would benefit from a touch screen (though to be fair, it was similar or identical to the kinds of things which could be accomplished on a PC game with a mouse in most cases). So the touchscreen of the iPhone is not the problem. In the right sorts of games, the iPhone’s touch screen makes for some very interesting gameplay.

No, the problem is that that’s all the iPhone has. It has no buttons or control pad (the one button the iPhone does have closes the app). This severely limits what kinds of games it can play. Tilt controls are frustrating – the We Love Katamari game on the device requires the iPhone be level and then tilted from that position in order to control the on-screen character. Fine, unless you wanted to play a game while laying on the couch. Every single Nintendo DS game works fine on the couch. You can put buttons or a control pad on the screen, and some games do, but that kills screen real estate, and in my opinion kills the point. Plus you miss all tactile sensation, which is one of the reasons I don’t like the iPhone as an iPod – with my 5.5 Generation iPod, I can move to the next track by just feeling for the device and clicking. Can’t do that with the iPhone. Heck, some of my favorite games for the DS use the control pad and buttons exclusively. Some even ignore the second screen. This is why FPS games like Brothers in Arms and the forthcoming Prey just don’t work well on the iPhone – they’re cramming a square peg into a round hole.

But the real deal breaker for the iPhone is battery life.

Nintendo came out with the Game Boy in 1989 it had no light on the screen. And neither did any Game Boy unit until the Game Boy Advance SP came out in 2003, some 14 years later. And it’s not like Nintendo didn’t know people wanted a light – people had been begging and pissing and moaning about it for years and years.

Why did Nintendo hold off on the lighted screen? Battery life. People kept telling Nintendo that they didn’t care about battery life but Nintendo knew better – ask anyone who owned a Sega Game Gear, which came in 1991, what they remember about the system and to a one everyone will say first and foremost how they had to buy six AA batteries to use the thing and even then they got at most 2-3 hours of life out of the thing, tops. Sure, it had better graphics than the Game Boy and the lighted screen everyone said they wanted, but who cares when the thing couldn’t play games for very long and was enormous as a result of the batteries to boot?

When Nintendo finally did put a light in the Game Boy it only did so when they could put a rechargable non-standard battery in there. Ironically this put the Game Boy and Nintendo DS in the same category as cell phones in that now they were these devices where instead of buying standard batteries you plugged them into the wall overnight.

I’ve noticed that my favorite games on the iPhone, like Rolando and Fieldrunners, drain the battery like popcorn. And with the iPhone in particular, this is a big problem. The 3G already drains it fast (much moreso than edge or wifi). Besides just the battery argument, the other big problem with the iPhone losing battery power is that it leaves you without a phone. When your DS dies, you curse a bit and move on. When your phone dies and you’re not near a charger you could be in trouble.

The iPhone does have some advantages as a gaming platform – unlike your DS, you will carry your iPhone with you everywhere you go. My wife and I have actually cut off our land line and just use our iPhones exclusively now (the only people, we noticed, who called us on our land line were our parents and telemarketers, and we can just have our parents call our new number). Playing with your DS in public as an adult could make you look silly – using your iPhone looks completely normal. Plus, the Nintendo DS is a platform whose development is expensive and exlcusive – you have to invest in pricey development kids, and your game has to be manufactured on physical cartidges. Anyone who can afford a Mac, a $99 fee, and can set their own price can develop for the iPhone. iPhone games tend to cost $10 at the most, DS games tend to cost $20 at the least (usually at least $30 new).

But the real irony is how the DS is starting to head the other way in applications. A game was released over Christmas Personal Trainer: Cooking. It’s literally a “game” where you play along and cook. My wife has told me she’s going to get me that game so I’ll cook something other than Hamburger Helper, the IKEA furniture of cooking. There’s games that teach you how to speak foreign languages like Spanish. There’s a game that’s designed to help you quit smoking.

All of these “games” fall under the category of applications where you’re doing something which can be aided by a computing platform, and in some cases a portable one. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to have your Spanish coach be portable, but since normal people don’t want to be in front of a PC after their work day is done, it makes sense to place these programs on a different device.

But if you have an app which would be best on a portable device then where do you put it? The iPhone is attractive for a lot of people but it doesn’t cover all of the people without an iPhone. The PDA market is dead. The rest of the smartphone market is fragmented amongst Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Android, etc.

To say nothing of the fact that most people don’t have smartphones and putting out a game for normal phones, even with Java, is a nightmare. John Carmack, in a QuakeCon keynote, relayed his experiences getting DOOM RPG onto phones. He had to write it in two languages, Java and BREW. He had to make a “High” and “Low” version of each (for the different capabilities in cell phones). And then he had to hand it to EA’s mobile division where they made 40+ different iterations for all the different cell phones out there. Write once run anywhere my ass.

But 100 million people own a DS. If you could convince 15% of them to buy your app then you’ll sell more copies than if you convinced every iPhone owner in the world to buy your app. Of course, that’s just number of copies – if you account for manufacturing and distribution costs you might come ahead charing $5 for your app and keeping 70% of that (which is your cut, Apple takes the other 30% which given that they’re facilitating the whole process, is pretty fair) and not losing any money on “copies” you don’t sell.

The iPhone is a great device, and a great gaming platform. It’s just not the be-all, end-all that analysts say it is. Still, it’s great.

Except for that time that the Google Maps application sent me to Grand Prarie by mistake. But that’s another story…

July 27, 2008

The greatest blogger on earth is Joel Spolsky. He has an article he wrote recently called Martian Headsets. In a very roundabout analogy way, he explains why the fact that Internet Explorer 8 is going to be standards compliant is both a good and terrible thing and why Microsoft is screwed no matter what they do. Now, it’s not like Microsoft deserves sympathy for the mess they’re in because they created it.

To recap: versions of IE up to and including IE6 are not only non-standards compliant but they were downright hostile to standards and now if IE8 actually does wind up being standards compliant it will break every page out there that’s been coded to account for IE6’s quirks. Developers actually call it “quirks mode” and IE7 went a little ways to fix this but IE8 is actually going to try and implement the standards fully. Depending on who you listen to, IE6 (often called out because it went the longest time without an update) either did not meet standards because standards were too loosely defined or too difficult to follow (it’s all in the article above).

There’s one bit in the article though that I think really needs to be pointed out

Jon Postel should be honored for his enormous contributions to the invention of the Internet, and there is really no reason to fault him for the infamous robustness principle. 1981 is prehistoric. If you had told Postel that there would be 90 million untrained people, not engineers, creating web sites, and they would be doing all kinds of awful things, and some kind of misguided charity would have caused the early browser makers to accept these errors and display the page anyway, he would have understood that this is the wrong principle, and that, actually, the web standards idealists are right, and the way the web “should have” been built would be to have very, very strict standards and every web browser should be positively obnoxious about pointing them all out to you and web developers that couldn’t figure out how to be “conservative in what they emit” should not be allowed to author pages that appear anywhere until they get their act together.

But, of course, if that had happened, maybe the web would never have taken off like it did, and maybe instead, we’d all be using a gigantic Lotus Notes network operated by AT&T. Shudder.

Basically there are all kinds of stuff that you shouldn’t be allowed to do in a standards-compliant webpage in a standards-compliant web browser. You cannot follow certain kinds of tags with certain other kinds of tags, it’s illegal. It doesn’t really make sense that it’s illegal, since the basic effect is the same, but it’s still illegal.

But if web browsers enforced everything, would the web really have become as popular as it is?

MySpace is a site to go to if you want your eyes to bleed. The guys there have constructed their code in such a way that it’s fantastically easy to make a web page, and damn near impossible to make a web page that looks good. Years ago (think 1996) there was a site called GeoCities which did something similar, without the social networking capabilities. Web site hosting was expensive and out of most people’s grasp, and they sure didn’t know how to use HTML. GeoCities would let you create a webpage, get it online, and also had a tool to edit the HTML for you. Sure, you had about 2MB to work with and sure, the URL was half a mile long, but you could do it. And the web became littered with tens of thousands of sites that essentially consisted of pictures of their cats, a couple of animated “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” gifs, and every tag trick in the HTML 2.0 book, with at least one blinking text tag which became useless when IE decided not to implement it.

Most of the people who made GeoCities sites either abandoned the concept of making their own pages (and maybe moved on to making YouTube videos or something) or they went forward and maybe pursued a career in technology. The new generation of people who want to make a spiffy web page and don’t know how have moved on to MySpace. Namely, High School teenagers.

Now I may come across as a snob here but really I’m giving MySpace some faint praise. It’s not like MySpace is the first site to try this – it wasn’t even the first site trying at the same time that it got started and running. It was just the first one to nail what people need – an easy way to create content, and an audience.

Same thing goes for YouTube – people don’t remember (even though it was maybe 2006 when this all happened) but YouTube was one of a number of video site competitors. And if you’re like me and you mainly just watch the videos, they were all the same. So why did YouTube succeed? Easy, they made it dead simple to upload a video and share it. No one else quite got this. Not even Google, who had their own competing video hosting site and wound up buying YouTube.

And it’s not like video sites were a new concept or anything – there had been sites for years that hosted online videos, but they all suffered from the same problems, namely the technology involved. You had to embed the videos on your site, or make them streamable. Most video players, like RealPlayer or Windows Media Player or QuickTime could be embedded but which one did you go with? If you went with any of the three you wound up locking out people who didn’t have the one you picked. If you went with Windows Media Player, which has the greatest install base, then you locked out the Macintosh and Linux users. If you went with QuickTime you locked out people who were purposely keeping Apple off of their systems. If you went with RealPlayer you locked out everyone who didn’t purposely go out and download that player. And since Real Media did so many shitty things for so many years with their player and how it would operate many people, myself included, just boycott the thing out of sheer spite.

And then every once in a while the program you wrote the embedded video player support for in your website would change and decide to not work with your page unless you updated the tags in your document – but doing so would then break the support for anyone who didn’t upgrade. You could just tell everyone going to your site to just upgrade to the latest player but a large percentage of your audience would just say to hell with it and move on.

This all changed when Macromedia (now part of Adobe) added the ability for Flash to play video content. Initially I thought it was a dumb idea – why would anyone want to play a video in a Flash document? I also figured for sure it would be abused – great, now all those sites out there who annoy you with Flash-only content will throw videos in your face. But it turned out to be brilliant – now instead of worrying about the ten different kinds of video codecs and who has what player, now you just had to worry about who had Flash. And 93% of web users have Flash (out of desktop users, not phones or anything). So while Google Video was trying to implement and enforce an open source standard based on VLC on their users, YouTube would literally take just about any sort of video file on Earth and just play it. They solved the technical issues involved with video on the Internet, and because they solved the problem YouTube became easy, and that made them popular. YouTube didn’t win by having the best ad campaign or spending a lot of money convincing people, they won because they were the best in a field suddenly ripe with competitors.

Of course the other problem with video sites on the Internet was bandwidth. YouTube ran advertisements from day one but no one believed for a second that they were making enough money with them to cover their bandwidth costs – especially since they were literally doubling their bandwidth usage every month. Everyone wanted to know what their business plan was. As it turns out their business plan was “get purchased by someone bigger” and that’s exactly what happened. But that’s another story.

There’s a reason the web took off – because it became easy to make a web page. If making a web page was difficult – and if the initial web browsers of the day had enforced this – then the web might not have taken off. It’s not like this was the first thing to appear on the Internet – email and newsgroups go back further than the web, along with IRC, FTP, etc. For that matter, if Microsoft hadn’t made Internet Explorer a built-in feature of Windows, would the web have taken off as quickly as it did? Suddenly you had no excuse not to be online – there was a web browser built into your system. Netscape sued Microsoft for bundling IE with Windows 98, and it’s not like Microsoft really did them any favors there, but even as recently as 1997 Wired Magazine was prognosticating that the Web Browser would go the way of the Dodo in favor of “push” technology. “Push”, as it was configured back then, never really took off (the idea that instead of you seeking out content it would come to you) but in a modified form it exists today – RSS feeds, instant messages, podcasts, etc.

So why doesn’t the Macintosh take over the world? Especially since, as so many of its fans decree, it’s so much better? Simple really – it’s not easy to run one. There’s one place you can get one – Apple – and if you don’t like their offerings or their prices, then tough. Want to run a PC with Windows? You have hundreds of manufacturers in an ecosystem of computer hardware makers to choose from. Back when Apple started making computers, every manufacturer did their own thing, no one ran programs from anyone else, and the market was very fragmented. Apple still runs their operation the same way today. So while Steve Jobs can make rooms full of people in turtleneck sweaters cluck like chickens at the sight of a new iPhone, Apple can’t get past a single-digit market share.

Their #1 success story, the iPod, only sells and works as well as it does because it runs what people want it to run, namely the scores of MP3 files they’ve amassed over the years. The Macintosh, by comparison, doesn’t run what people want it to run, namely all of the Windows programs they own, and all of the games they’d like to play. If the iPod had, from day one, only run AAC files then no one would have purchased it. They would have just gone on to the next iPod-like player that would. In fact, the iPod never really picked up steam, sales-wise, until the third generation which officially supported Windows. Sure, you could do it before if your PC had FireWire (few did in 2001) and if you were willing to try and run one of the reverse-engineered programs people were releasing, but until Apple officially made the thing support Windows, it didn’t go anywhere. And today probably 70% or more of iPod owners run Windows, which Apple treats as a second-class citizen with regard to iTunes. The Macintosh is selling better nowadays, but it’s likely to have nothing to do with the witty “Mac vs. PC” ad campaigns – it’s likely due to the fact that now the Macintosh runs on an Intel processor, which means you now run Windows on your Macintosh, either through dual booting (which Apple officially supports, via Boot Camp) or through a program called Parallells which allows you to boot Windows at the same time as Mac OS X. So in other words, the Macintosh is becoming more popular now because it gives people what they want – the ability to run their existing Windows programs and games.

Anyway the point of this whole long diatribe which took way too long to write is that there’s usually really good reasons that things take off and it’s not just because someone can advertise better than someone else. The Internet took off because it made it easy to get information out to the massess, especially when you could guarantee that they’d be running a web browser. MySpace made it even easier to have a website when you don’t know how to make one. Video sites were always a lost cause until Flash took away the technical barriers to entry, YouTube took away the content posting barriers, and Google took away the bandwidth concerns. The Macintosh has always been a bit player until Apple took away the barriers to running Windows and the programs everyone already owns.

We want to believe in conspiracy theories. It’s fun. But IE wasn’t standards noncompliant because Microsoft wanted to fuck the web, it was noncompliant because standards are really hard to nail down and Microsoft just screwed them up. YouTube isn’t the #1 video site online because they advertised, they’re #1 because they made it easy for people to put videos online – they figured that out before anyone else. The reason someone wins in a technical field is just because they figure out the barrier to entry and the elminate it.

Since my short and stupid posts tend to garner a lot of people liking them, here’s another. Moe blogs about her kid. I don’t have kids, so you get to hear about my cats.

We have two Tonkinese sister cats, Liza and Sandy. We’ve had them since about 2001 or so. They’re pretty different, personality-wise, so it makes for an interesting contrast. Liza (“my” cat) is fat and skittish, doesn’t run around a whole lot, and whines a lot more than her sister. Sandy (my “Wife’s” cat) runs around a lot, is a lot more adventurous, and (ironically) tends to like food a lot more.

Our house is two stories tall and when you get to the top of the staircase there’s this taller than waist-height “wall” (I’m sure there’s a better term for this) that runs parallel to it on the second floor, forming a bit of a “hallway” leading to our bedroom. Sandy likes to jump up and perch on the wall for various reasons: she’s a dorky creature of habit, it makes it easier for her to get close to eye level with us, and her sister won’t go up there so it’s a great way to get away from her when she’s being chased.

For some reason a few weeks ago she screwed up and went straight over the wall. She landed on her butt and went tumbling down the stairs. She seemed fine, but a day or so later we noticed she was chasing her tail. A lot. At first we just figured she was just being a dork again but then we noticed her tail was twitching a lot. We sprayed Bitter Apple on her tail but it wasn’t effective, seeing as how a couple of days later she had literally knawed off all the fur on the tip of her tail. We took her to the vet who believes it’s a pinched nerve in her butt from the fall and gave us some medicine to rub in her ear (way easier than making her take a pill).

In any event, the entire point of telling you that story was so that I could show you this – I was explaining to a coworker what happened and they weren’t getting what I was saying, so I illustrated it for them on the whiteboard.

She didn’t really go tumbleweeding down the stairs, that was just funnier to draw. She’s getting better and other than the now-subsiding biting habit she’s fine like before.

But in the meantime I’ve taken to calling her “bonetail”

Earlier this week Slashdot ran a story on obsolete technical skills, and it inspired me to share my personal level of insanity with the group. So, if you like weird posts this one is for you. If not, tune in… whenever the hell I finish the other posts I have unfinished right now.

Back when I was a kid, I grew up in a modest town of about 50,000 people. Too big to be a small town, not big enough to get on most maps. Our phone book was about one inch thick. Small towns had phone books that were essentially glorified pamphlets, about 1/4″ thick, and even then they shared it with all the neighboring towns. I knew people from small towns who thought phone numbers were four digits long, since the first three digits were always the same (and the then-optional area code was the same for probably a hundred miles).

When my family would go on trips we would visit “big cities” like Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Memphis, etc. and in the hotel rooms I would notice that the phone books were always really thick. Like 4-5″ thick. And sometimes, that was just the yellow pages, the white pages were an entirely different book, itself 3″ at least. And they always had these awesome pictures on the front of the local skyline instead of the giant public domain “fingers do the walking” logo that would grace the phone book back home.

So consequently I made the connection early on in my mind that living in a huge city meant you were a success. And living in a huge city meant a huge phone book. Therefore, having a huge phone book in your home meant you were a success. A tenuous connection, but even then I had big dreams of moving to a “big city” later in life and one of these days I would have a big phone book in my house because hey, that’s what big successful people living in big successful cities do.

Years and years pass. I grow up, go through High School, go to College, graduate, get married, and eventually my Wife and I move to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. We get good paying jobs and rent then eventually buy a house. Initially the phone books that would appear on our porch would be the same standard one-inch affairs I grew up with because we live in the suburbs and they only cover the suburbs, but then one day a bag with two phone books, a 3-inch white pages and a 5-inch yellow pages, shows up on our front porch. These phone books cover the entire Metroplex. They have amazing photos of the Dallas skyline, with Reunion Tower on them (under a stuck-on ad for some ambulance chaser, but that peels off easily enough).

I’m elated. After all these years, I’ve finally made it! I’m finally in a good job making good money and living in a big city and hey, like all big successful people living in big cities, I have a pair of bigass phone books. I’ve arrived! Every time I look at these phone books I’ll remember how I’m in a big city.

So I put these phone books next to the phone and the first thing my Wife says was “Just throw those things away. We have the Internet now.”

I ignore the order and I keep the phone books under the phone cradle for a few years, exchanging them out when a new one comes in. I never tell my Wife the insanely silly “but I’ve always wanted a big phone book” bit because I’m not in the mood to get laughed at (though, apparently, I don’t mind that people reading my blog will laugh at me). I get to keep them in place with the razor thin “well what if we want to look up a phone number when the power’s off or our Internet is down?” excuse.

But then one day I’m cleaning the house and I’m trying to reduce some clutter and it occurs to me that in two years I’ve never opened these things, ever, and they’re just collecting dust and the odds of the power going out or the Internet going down at the same time as my cell phone battery dying and me having to have some obscure phone number are vanishingly small. Oh, and in the years since we moved out here we’ve switched to Vonage so we couldn’t even use the phone in a power outage anyway. And I now have Internet access on my phone (hell my wife has a Treo) so if we needed to look up a number there’s better ways. And the inconvenience of a computer in another room is moot since I put Ubuntu on an old laptop and keep it in the kitchen, hooked up wirelessly to our router.

So I tossed the phone books into the recycle bin (literally) and do so for every other phone book that comes in. At some point I figure they’ll stop putting them on my doorstep, and people will stop advertising in them. They’ll go the way of the pay phone and TV Guide’s printed listings.

Now I’ll just have to contend with dialing ten digits to call someone or remembering ten different area codes to be my reminder of how I’m in a big city. That’ll work.

There’s always been this conspiracy theory that Microsoft purposely made crappy operating systems over the years because then they could always sell us upgrades and patches. Besides being just way off base (we don’t pay for patches, for starters), it’s always had this one flaw – by the theory’s own admission, one day Microsoft would actually get it right and then they’d be screwed. It’s like the flaw in Al Bundy’s Bigger Idiot Theory: eventually you find the biggest idiot (and he called her Peg).

So, while I don’t think that was really Microsoft’s plan, one aspect of it has seemingly come true – they finally got the operating system right with Windows XP.

Windows XP was the first Windows consumer operating system from Microsoft that didn’t require a daily reboot. It was the first Windows that felt truly stable. Blue screens of death were more a function of driver conflict than random occurences (Windows 95 actually had a bug wherein the OS would crash 48.5 days into a session, no matter what happened). Even the most skeptical Windows users were convinced by SP2.

XP worked so well that Microsoft would not release another major operating system for over five years. This was a change from their usual procedure of every two to three years. One operating system, Windows ME (Millenium Edition) was a marketing stopgap release between Windows 98 and Windows XP – someone literally just decided at Microsoft that they needed a new operating system to sell and so they wound up delivering probably the least stable operating system in their history. This probably had something to do with the change in scheduling,

Windows XP being so popular and stable had one side effect – it made it much harder to be a Microsoft critic. No longer did you have Windows to kick around any more, at least with regards to stability. Security was still a concern and over five years, security patches were always a concern – in fact, installing the original Windows XP (no service packs) while connected to the Internet will result in a system infected by worms. However, a fully-patched copy of XP is the best operating system Microsoft has ever released.

Earlier this year, Microsoft delivered the XP followup, Windows Vista. The reviews on it are decidedly mixed. While it offers many new features, uses 3D acceleration for the desktop, and finally adopts a limited user account user model (technically XP had this but it was a joke), it comes at a performance hit and requires more resources like processing and RAM. It has DirectX 10, which is good news for gamers – except that few cards support it and almost no games need it yet (and those that do only use it for marginal effect).

So relatively few have upgraded to Vista. I know of people who have and have had no problems. I also know of people who’ve pitched it out entirely out of frustration. Myself, I used to dual-boot between XP and a Vista RC but I just bulldozed it when the RC expired. It is, overall, a nicer operating system than XP but I just haven’t felt the need to shell out the money for the Ultimate version (I’d have to get that one), especially when XP does everything I want it to.

It doesn’t help that even Microsoft has issues with Vista – the first version of Visual Studio 2005 SP1 wouldn’t work on Vista, and neither did the Zune software, both from Microsoft. Major vendors had problems making drivers for the OS – Nvidia was shipping cards with “Windows Vista Ready” stickers on the boxes while at the same time the drivers were causing major issues for users. Many people had older, unsupported peripherals whose manufacturer decided not to come out with a Vista driver for – they would prefer the customer buy a new device, one that they haven’t discontinued. Myself, if I were running Vista today, I would dual boot with XP for those times when you really need to use something that Vista won’t do. I think it would be different if my computer was completely for personal or entertainment use, but as it stands now I use it to make part of my living, so it’s more important that it use an OS that works, instead of a flashy one which might not work.

So many people prefer XP right now that many are rolling back. Dell is offering it six months into 2008. Microsoft is about to roll out XP SP3, something they had previously stated they would never do. Actually, they had to unveil SP2c, a service pack whose lone function over SP2 was that it allows for more product keys than SP2 did – implying that XP is still selling well.

One of the problems Microsoft has developed over the years is that they’ve pretty much tapped the entire market. Nowadays everyone has a PC already and so most people have a Microsoft OS already. I paid for XP back in 2001 and they haven’t seen another penny from me since on operating systems. If I were the type to buy my PC’s premade from Dell then every time I would buy a new PC, I’d also be buying a new OS license, at some price. If the Dell PC came with Vista, then I’d be buying a Vista license with the PC, but overall the amount of money that goes to Microsoft is unchanged (since Dell likely buys these things in the same bulk quantities/prices that they did with XP).

No, what Microsoft wants is for people like me who run XP (or people who bought a Dell PC in the last few years with XP) to go buy a Vista upgrade. This way, they get the money from the initial OS sale, as well as the money from the upgrade. Their stock price hasn’t budged in years since, while they always have been and always will be selling operating systems, they’re not selling more operating systems except for when people just buy more PC’s. So they want people to upgrade to Vista, but when people refuse and just stay on XP, it screws this plan up.

But really no one thinks that it’s the biggest problem in the world that everyone just prefers to stay on XP. Everyone will upgrade, eventually. There have always been stragglers. There are people to this day that refuse to upgrade to Windows XP and continue to run Windows 2000 (and are only now running into the issue of programs locking out 2000 for artificial reasons). I knew someone who ran Windows 98 until about 2005 – he would spend the LAN Party BSOD’ing and reinstalling his OS while the rest of us played.

Now, the real humor comes from people who somehow view the Vista disdain as an opportunity.

Yes, the Macintosh is a good system, especially now that it’s essentially a PC running an Apple OS. Double especially now that it can dual-boot Windows. But people aren’t going to switch to it. Yes, some will but not in a mass number. At some point you hit this tipping point and you really need to have a PC running Windows. You could run a Macintosh with its 10.5 “Leopard” operating system and use Safari or Firefox instead of IE for web browsing, and iLife or whatever Apple calls its Office competitor for word processing and email and so forth and it will work OK. But at some point you will need to run some Windows program that Parallels won’t run or a game or something and then you’ll have to boot into Windows to do it – at which point you might as well have saved some money and bought a Dell laptop anyway. Dell is still more cost effective (albeit marginally so these days) and offers more choice.

But really the Macintosh is just a symptom of the bigger problem – the bigger problem is the clued-out perception that computing is interchangeable. That you could go to your parents’ house and swap out their PC for one running Ubuntu and they wouldn’t notice. After all, they’d still have web, email, and office applications. What do they care, right?

They’d care. As soon as they get the idea to download or purchase some software from Wal-Mart they’d care. As soon as they buy the $50 scam HP printer from Target and it won’t work on Linux until they do a herculean amount of Googling and have to set up a root password to print off an email, they’d care. Linux zealots have been prognosticating the “year of Linux on the desktop!” for a decade now and they’ve gotten nowhere. Their rallying cry of “Ubuntu is getting better! Give it some more time!” goes hand in hand with “Vista has had a year, forget it, it’s too late! Move on!”

I go to Slashdot from time to time and it’s such a piece of shit site. The stores that make it to the main page are about as incendiary as they come. Just last week came a story titled Microsoft Disses Windows to Sell More Windows, poking fun at how Microsoft has to point out flaws in “older operating systems” (XP, in this case) to sell Vista. This from the community that produces a new Ubuntu every six months. And praises Apple for coming out with a marginal upgrade every 1.5-2 years and charging $129 for it.

The funniest thing about Slashdot is the posters to the forum threads attached to the stories. I’d love to see a venn diagram of them. You see a lot of people posting stuff like “Death to Micro$oft!” “Windows Sucks!” “Linux for Life!” “.NET Sucks!”, etc. Then you see a number of people saying “Why can’t I get a job?” “Why won’t anyone hire my Linux/PHP skills?” “Why do companies insist on running Microshaft software?!” I wonder how many of these people are the same people. Yes of course no one’s going to hire you – you spent all your time learning a bunch of free stuff that the marketplace isn’t interested in. Yes, Google runs almost 100% on Linux, but companies that do are few and far between. Yes, over half of the web servers in use in the world run on Apache and the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) but when you whittle it down to the Fortune 500 companies (the people who tend to employ others) it’s 80% Windows and IIS.

Apple actually makes their own web browser, called Safari. They unveiled it on the Macintosh in 2003. Earlier this year, they released a Windows port to coincide with the fact that the iPhone runs Safari and they need web developers on Windows to use it to develop apps. Within the first 24 hours, over 100 security vulnerabilities were found. While some of these vulnerabilities were a side-effect of how Windows handles issues (i.e., they didn’t exist on the Macintosh port), many of them were simply inherent to the browser itself (i.e., they were found to exist on the Macintosh port). Four of them were quite severe. Part of the reason they were found so quickly is because the software tools needed to discover them exist on Windows and not on the Macintosh (a side effect of the hacker community existing mainly on Windows), but part of the reason is because there’s just several orders of magnitude more users on Windows than on Macintosh. The security vulnerabilities languished undiscovered for four years simply because not enough Macintosh users were looking for them. To their credit, Apple released a patch for the most critical ones within 48 hours, and a flurry of patches since then.

If I were Microsoft, I’d be saying “It’s not so damn easy, is it?”

Apple has been experiencing similar problems across the board. They released Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” in October and many Macintosh users have experienced issues. Some have seen slowdowns, others have noticed less stability. A number of people have rolled back the upgrade. The whole affair sounds suspiciously like the XP versus Vista debacle. Apple shifted resources from this upgrade to the iPhone project, which was a lot more difficult than they had envisioned, and it shows.

It’s not so damn easy, is it?

Linux zealots proclaim conversions. They want people who are fed up with Windows to convert to Linux. They want people to convert from an operating system designed for the masses to an operating system designed for hardcore techies. This goes back to that interchangeable computing garbage. The notion that companies can take their existing codebase and products and throw them away to migrate to an operating system which will run nothing they’ve ever created and was instead written and concieved by a group of individuals, most of whom have never met in real life. Ever notice how Linux doesn’t do much if anything innovative? Ubuntu runs a lot like Windows, because they copied Windows. Microsoft has rooms full of people coming up with stuff like the Ribbon UI in Office 2007. The Open Source movement has people connected online trying to write a competitive web browser.

The Open Source and Linux movements have done good things but they lose sight of one simple fact (or are in denial): money makes things happen. More specifically, money makes things happen faster, and in the technology field this is vital. Let’s take a look at the Open Source Software (OSS) Movement’s big success stories:

Linux: A successful example of OSS working well. However, consider how slowly it has evolved. It was unveiled in 1991 and is still unusable for the average user to this day. My wife’s grandfather can figure out Windows 98, an OS that’s closing in on a decade now. But putting that aside, consider that Linux was born out of a group of individuals looking to clone UNIX, which was written by a commercial entity. In fact, that group of individuals (The GNU movement) was unable to complete anything until a plucky Swedish college kid wrote them a Kernel and finished the thing off. And consider that most of the innovations in Linux nowadays come from companies like IBM, Red Hat, and Canonical (the Ubuntu corporation). People with financial motivations, in other words.

Apache: Another success, and pretty much an organic one. I can’t really take anything away from them on this one. Same thing goes for MySQL. PHP is a poor man’s ASP clone (and not even ASP.NET, mere ASP) but hey, it’s free.

Firefox: An increasingly popular web browser, but it was based off of the Netscape 5 codebase (Netscape 5 was never formally released, it was essentially the maturation of the 4.x line). So, code written for commercial reasons. And this is after many years of a loose net of people working on it. Firefox is a good browser but it wouldn’t exist were it not for the commercial desires of another company. And it’s not even 100% standards compliant (that award will likey go to Opera 9.5).

OpenOffice: A solid product, but it suffers both from the fact that it, too, was originally derived from a commercial codebase (a German company which was swallowed up ages ago by Sun Microsystems) and the fact that it only offers a fraction of the features of Microsoft Office. Office products are in this difficult spot in that literally everyone in the world needs to use them and they have very diverse needs. True, the average user only ever employs 10% of Office’s features, but that 10% is different for everyone. Many a person has attempted to migrate themselves or their secretary to OpenOffice only to learn that some obscure feature that Office had is missing and is a complete deal breaker. Microsoft Office has pretty much hit feature saturation point and it took it twenty years or more to do so. OpenOffice has been out for five years. Not so damn easy is it?

Not that I’m 100% a Microsoft apologist, I call them out on the rug when they need to be. Like the bizarre decisions surrounding the Zune. Or the licensing policies for Vista. But they’re not stupid, or even necessarily evil. Yes, they have made some shady ethical business decisions in the past and I’m not excusing that. However, some of the things people blast them for are simple business decisions. Yes, of course they’re going to charge money for their operating system and software – they’re in this to make money. Yes, they’re going to cut Dell a volume discount – why not? Dell’s offering Linux PC’s now so it’s not like Microsoft’s not “allowing” them to do so or something. A lot of the people who blast Microsoft for the business decisions they make either have never worked in the business world or are in denial about how it works. If Apple had Microsoft’s power, they’d be worse. Apple hates buttons on mice for crying out loud and doesn’t trust you to change your own iPod battery.

But the people who think the world need to migrate away from Microsoft have it all wrong. Apple can’t make a secure web browser and the OSS movement can’t make anything happen without financially motivated people, which they’re against (look at how they’ve turned on Red Hat for doing just this). Moving entirely to a less mature option (and both are less mature in terms of experience with a critical mass of users) would be a huge step backwards. I’m not saying that other options can’t exist – I run Linux myself and hope to own a Macintosh one day – but this notion that one all-encompassing entity needs to be removed and replaced by another all-encompassing entity, just one you like better, is naive.

And this is why the world is seriously not going to move away from Microsoft technologies – because the real world is staffed by intelligent people who get this.

On the first day of QuakeCon this year, I booted up my PC and was greeted with a nice message saying that I had made too many changes to my system and that I would have to reactivate Windows XP.

Now, other than being a little bit annoying, this didn’t concern me, both because I knew that this is a perfectly legitimately licensed copy of Windows XP, one that I paid full retail for back in 2001, but also because I’ve had to do this before and never had an issue. It was still annoying though, given that I had actually just installed and activated this system less than a week prior. My hard drives started giving me issues, plus they were now-ancient IDE technology, so I upgraded to a nice 500GB SATA2 drive.

The problem was that my mouse and keyboard wouldn’t work. I couldn’t click “OK” to start with the procedure. It was due to them being a USB keyboard and mouse and being now plugged into different ports. I couldn’t put them back in the original port though since originally they were in a hub that I did not bring with me. I started cursing Microsoft and envisioning not being able to play anything during QuakeCon. I realized those poor bastards who have to reload their operating systems at QuakeCon (never fails that at least one is using a 46″ HDTV for a Monitor, too) aren’t so pathetic after all. I started asking random strangers if they had a PS/2 keyboard or mouse and found out that the concept is mostly extinct.

But fortunately XP had kept pressing on and eventually figured out I had a USB keyboard and mouse and let me have them back. So, now on to the activation.

Which failed. Because I had just done it a week prior. Now I had to call a phone number, type in numbers, answer questions, and get a new number to type in. All while on the BYOC floor at QuakeCon with no reasonable way to hear anything on a cell phone of any importance.

I had three days to do it though so I skipped it and did it the following morning when there were fewer people there. I’m just glad I knew you could type in the numbers – the phone call tells you to say them aloud, which is fine when it works but when it doesn’t you’re speaking to someone in Bangalore and with loud gaming and yelling going on, the odds of that working are pretty slim.

But whatever, circumstances aside I haven’t had too many issues with activation. It’s available 24/7 and I’m not worried about Microsoft going out of business tomorrow and leaving me and XP high and dry.

Sometimes though you don’t have that luxury. At the same event, it was noticed that for some reason, despite having Internet access, gamers couldn’t get into Steam. Some people had luck at certian ungodly hours but most people couldn’t ever get in, myself included. It was almost as if QuakeCon was being specifically blocked. All the more ironic given the fact that id and Valve announced a Steam partnership and handed out keys to activate the original Quake game, and that Valve themselves were there showing off Left 4 Dead.

But at least Steam is around and kicking. Valve is signing up big publishers and developers to put games on the service, and it’s becoming a viable alternative to retail. Compare that to Triton, a competing service which not only went out of business, but gave absolutely no notice to its customers or publishers/developers who signed on board. Triton’s only real high profile game was Prey and 3D Realms/2K responded swiftly by mailing out physical copies of the game to all Triton purchasers, as well as putting the game on Steam.

A game was recently released for the PC called BioShock. It’s a single player FPS from Ken Levine, reminiscent of the Half-Life series (it’s a “spiritual successor” to System Shock 2) and powered by Unreal Engine 3. It seemed to have it all for a single player experience, an interesting premise (the Objectivist dystopia ala Ayn Rand), top of the line graphics (the first really significant UE3-powered game on the PC) a community evangelist that was already well known within the scene, and an underdog, underappreciated designer in Ken Levine.

But then the copy protection issues started to surface. DRM company SecuROM’s newest copy protection was applied to the retail versions of the game. I ignored this initially since I was already familiar with SecuROM as a CD/DVD-ROM protection technology and also because I was planning to buy the game on Steam. But as it turns out, this new technology had nothing to do with disc protection and was also applied to the Steam versions of the game.

The initial version of the game had a total of two activations allowed. This meant it could be installed at most twice. In theory, if you uninstalled the game you got one of the activations back – but this is counter to how most games work. Most people when they’re blowing their hard drive away just do so and don’t worry about uninstalling anything first – that’s a waste of time.

Problem was, the uninstall-and-get-an-activation-back part wasn’t working, and it bit some reviewers in the butt. To get things squared away, reviewers called 2K Games and were told to call SecuROM. SecuROM told them to call 2K Games. Hilarity ensued. It didn’t help that SecuROM is made by Sony, who themselves got in a ton of hot water a year or so ago over including a rootkit on audio CD’s to both prevent people from ripping the discs to MP3 and also spy on their listening habits (a rootkit permanently modifies your operating system)

To make things worse, people playing the game on the Xbox 360 didn’t have to worry about this. PC users were effectively being “punished” for the sins of piracy (which a lot of PC users are admittedly guilty 0f). Respectable journalists were going so far as to tell PC users that they were perfectly justified in downloading cracked versions of the executable if they had actually purchased the game.

Now, I had two concerns about this technology. First, I was concerned about being accused of pirating a game that I did actually purchase due to an overzealous antipiracy scheme. 2K somewhat alleviated that by expanding the activation limit to 5 across 5 “different” PC’s and stating that no matter what, people who had purchased the game would always be able to play it. We’ll see how this works over time, but overall the theory is good.

The second concern I had was this – what happens when/if either or both of 2K or SecuROM goes out of business? I won’t be able to call up SecuROM 20 years from now if they’re out of business and I can’t activate. Ken Levine went on record to state that, at some point in the future when BioShock‘s sales have leveled off, the copy protection will be lifted. That pretty much addresses my second concern (but like before: we’ll see).

It occurs to me though – all of my Steam games are tied to my Steam account. If Valve goes the way of Triton, then all those games will be impossible to play. I don’t really see that happening of course but it could.

But then again, if Microsoft went away then I couldn’t activate Windows XP and I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I don’t see that happening either, but only because I know Microsoft isn’t going anywhere. Even if they did everything wrong they’d still have decades of life left in them.

It’s just sort of disturbing to realize how much of my normal life is regulated by the continued existence of companies. I love TiVo to death but if they went out of business then I’m the owner of two now-worthless boxes. My ability to get my car to work relies on the gas infrastructure not collapsing. My ability to post this blog relies on Blogger not folding (they’re owned by Google, fat chance).

Of course Xbox 360 owners don’t have the most reliable consoles either and 20 years from now the odds of any particular Xbox 360 still working at all or whatever the super-successor from Microsoft is being able to play it is slim, so maybe the PC users aren’t so screwed after all.

I finally got an iPod last month. It’s something of a fitting irony that as soon as I get one, no one talks about the iPod anymore and it’s all about the iPhone. Oh well, whatever.

I got the 80GB model because, other than just being an iPod, the most important thing to me was storage space. Of course, Apple does like every other vendor of hard drives and advertises it as 80GB but it’s only 80GB in base ten numbering, but every operating system worth its salt countd bytes in base two, so it winds up having a formatted capacity of 74GB. Which is fine, except that I still had too much music in MP3 form.

The first thing I did was to go through and properly tag my collection. I’ve always been pretty good about this but apparently not good enough. I got my Wife a red 8GB iPod Nano for her birthday back in April (it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve been whining about wanting an iPod for years now and first one I buy is not for me). In dealing with iTunes on her system, I learned several things. Namely, iTunes runs solely off of tag information for everything. That folder structure you’ve been maintaining for years now? That’s nice, but it doesn’t mean squat unless the stuff is tagged properly. That “folder.jpg” file you’ve kept in the folder for the album cover art? Doesn’t mean squat – iTunes goes off of what album art is embedded inside of the MP3 file. Also, you need to use the “Album Artist” field so that the one song on the album with a different artist (i.e., Snoop Dogg featuring Xhibit) still winds up in the same “album” with the rest of the entries. I had to re-adjust my practices a bit. Fortunately I found a program, MP3tag, which seems to do everything I need it to.

For my own technology-snobbish reasons, I actually went to the Apple Store in Plano to get the thing. The irony of passing many Costco, Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s and Wal-Mart stores that all sell iPods was not lost on me. I don’t really have any concrete reasons other than the fact that I figured, if you’re going to buy an Apple product, go to an Apple Store. Why not, right? I originally wanted a white model, but I had halfway convinced myself to get the black one. It did look a lot slicker in photographs but when I actually got to the store, where there are several tethered-by-a-steel-rope models to play with, the black ones were much dirtier, and the screens just didn’t look as good, even at maximum brightness. Plus, iPods are supposed to be white. So I went with white. I also picked up a good clear sturdy plastic case.

So once I got home I did one last pass on my MP3 collection with regards to proper tagging and then proceeded to back it up. It took 19 DVD-R’s to do so, and I had actually started the process a few days prior (making 19 Nero documents and then burning them later). Then, I went through and pruned the collection – I removed any artists I wasn’t really that interested in. I removed any albums that I didn’t think made sense on my iPod. For example, I cut out the Nirvana boxed set since it’s neat as a completionist’s entry, but not as something to actually listen to. I cut most of Prince’s albums because, well, most of it is crap – but I kept the greatest hits albums because he does do some great stuff now and again. I trimmed the collection down to about 63GB.

Then I fired up iTunes. Or rather, first I went and downloaded iTunes. It used to be that it was included on a disc with the iPod – now they literally just tell you to go download it. Not that it’s a big deal, just that with a $350 investment, a 20¢ disc is an odd way to cut costs. It also used to be that the most expensive iPod also included a dock, but now it just comes with the same cable as all the others – of course the most expensive iPod used to cost about $50 more, so I guess it evens out (since Apple’s Universal Dock is about $40).

So then I imported my music collection into iTunes. The main reason I did the DVD-R backup was because I’ve read a post or two where iTunes wiped out someone’s music collection this way. I had better luck as iTunes didn’t wipe me out and took about 30-45 minutes to import my collection.

Then I synced the iPod. I had actually been playing with it a bit while I was waiting for discs to burn and for iTunes to finish importing songs. I bought this thing on a Friday evening while my Wife was out running an event until 2 in the morning. I don’t remember when I started the syncing but basically it didn’t finish before I went to bed three hours later. By my estimates it took about four hours over USB2 to send all the music over. I didn’t get to actually check it out until the next morning.

So I hit eject. Only it didn’t work. iTunes told me that something else had a handle on the iPod. I just figured it couldn’t handle that much music being sent over at once. I resorted to disconnecting it anyway and doing a soft reset. It worked fine after that. I eventually figured out that Winamp has a default plugin now that is designed to “grab” an iPod when it’s plugged in, so as long as I don’t have Winamp running when I want to eject, I’m good.

There were still more quirks to overcome. The “Artists” menu was cluttered with every one-off artist from every soundtrack or various artists album I’ve ever owned. I eventually figured out the Compilation flag which keeps these artists out of the Artists list and in the Compilations list. Then I looked at the Artists menu and I saw “Adolph Hitler” – turns out I had missed the South Park Christmas Album.

I’ve also started to do some more proactive things to trim my collection down further – all the better to store new music and podcasts on. For example, I’ve removed any redundant songs from greatest hits compilations – you know, the ones where all the songs are old except for the two new ones? I’ve deleted all the previously released songs. I think without this, I would have Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” like 20 times on there. If I want to listen to a boxed set, I construct a playlist of the running order of the set – the old songs and the ones specific to the boxed set.

At present, I have about 14,000 songs on the iPod. I’m not sure if that includes the podcasts or not but anyway, I more recently went through and downsampled anything above 192kbps down to 192kbps. In the time since I initially loaded up the thing my collection grew to 70GB but now I have it back down to 65GB. Soon I’ll need to just suck it up and start removing stuff I don’t listen to in favor of things I do listen to. I actually downsampled everything to 128kbps and got things down to 52GB but everything just sounded too awful (though ironically I do have several 128kbps files that sound great) so I went and rolled back (after doing a second backup/restore onto DVD-R’s)

I always figured I would never use the iPod for video but for grins I fired up the trailer to The Simpsons Movie and dangit, I actually like the video capabilities of this thing. So I fired up a video converter and now I keep the ocassional DivX -> QuickTime movie on there. One of the first things my Wife did when I got her the Nano was to cash in some of her credit card reward points on a boom box that takes the iPod as input – so now we can use either of our iPods in that boom box and listen to our music on the go. The other thing we got her for her birthday was her family and I got her a new car stereo system to replace the dying one – this new one has an 1/8″ jack so she can listen to her Nano in the car. It also has an iPod-specific cable but at $50 for the cable and $30 to install it, we drew the line there.

I have a friend who hates the iPod. Actually, he hates Apple. He hates Apple with the passion of, well, the passion of how a Linux zealot hates Microsoft. I still haven’t told him yet that I own an iPod, mainly because I just don’t want to hear about it. My friend likely just hates Apple because they’re run by liberal turtleneck-wearing hippie Democrats in California. It does make me think about why I went with it. At one point in time you could make the argument that iPod was overpriced, and it still is expensive, but now they’re in-line with other players. The 30GB iPod and the 30GB Microsoft Zune cost the same. The Creative Zen tops out at 60GB and the Archos line of players is mainly about video, which like I said is secondary on my list of concerns. The Sandisk Sansa line is an up-and-comer, but they’re flash only and have nowhere near the capacity I need.

The iPod’s interface, features and marketing are tough to beat – to say nothing about the ecosystem of peripherals and accessories. Ironically, this is exactly the reasoning behind Windows’ dominance – you could switch to Linux or Macintosh but so many things – from games to scanners – can’t come with you. And if you think about it, it makes sense why the iPod is so popular. Apple makes computers and some people do buy them but so much of your content – that is, your programs, documents, games, etc. – can’t come along. The Macintosh is incompatible with most of your existing content (Boot Camp and virtualization notwithstanding). The iPod, however, by virtue of the fact that it can play MP3’s, is compatible with your existing content. This is why iPod has 75% of the MP3 player market, and Macintosh has 5% of the PC market.

Anywho, just thought I’d share.

OK, I’m going to switch gears for a minute and make a different kind of post.

Just recently, I changed jobs. The job I held before I had for four years. The one before that, for about fifteen months. Before that was darkness (aka College).

The job change in question was a long time coming. I switched positions in the organization two years ago and started working from home (since the company decided to close the office in favor of telecommuting). At first it was great – no commute, no office politics, new position and I liked the work. But then I started getting handed assignments that I didn’t like, like traveling all over to install software or srcripting a survey in a proprietary language. Between these, my company’s fondness for offshoring, constant reorganizations and the fact that they announced my position was becoming a business analyst that didn’t code anymore, I decided it was time to move on. I started a new position a few weeks ago.

The job search, in earnest, took about three months. Not too bad, but it reminded me of why it took so long to move on – I fucking hate the job search process

Interviews – I hate interviewing. For starters, when you haven’t interviewed in a while, you suck at it, so you blow the first couple of interviews. Plus it never fails that you’re really good at Area A in development but they keep asking you questions about Area B and so you feel like a know-nothing idiot when it’s done.

I know I should be grateful, and I am mostly, but at one point I was interviewing every day of the week, which got old quick. I got so tired of explaining to yet another person my life’s history to that point. My degree in college is functionally unrelated to my career and my GPA wasn’t the most awesome, so that’s fun to explain to everyone, too. Nevermind that I’ve been out of college for seven years now, I still have to explain why I majored in Geography and still can’t find my way to the airport I drove to the week before.

Every once in a blue moon over the last four years of my job I would get a random recruiter phone call and the job sounded good enough to at least go talk to them. They’d get to the question “so why are you looking for a new job?” and I’d say “I’m not – you called me” and I’d never hear from them again. Maybe this was me being passive aggressive, I dunno.

My wife has a friend and he has told us that he has never interviewed for a job and then not received an offer. That’s a pretty impressive statistic and you believe it coming from him – but with all due respect, he doesn’t have to go through the technical interviews programmers have to go through. He doesn’t have to write code on a whiteboard in a suit for four hours. He doesn’t have to explain how much the Empire State Building weighs (and yes, I did actually get that question once – I assume we both read the same article). He doesn’t have to explain five different ways that his code is right because the interviewer keeps fucking with him.

Recruiters – I make this complaint in general, not in specific. The job right now I got through a recruiter. In fact, in this last round, I only interviewed twice that wasn’t through a recruiter.

That being said, there are recruiters who are awesome and do their job and make their money and perform a useful role. Then there are the other ones. The ones who know absolutely nothing about the tech field they’re working in. In a meeting with one, I had to explain to her what all the different technologies mean (I didn’t mind, she was pretty receptive about it). Worse are the ones who think they know what they’re talking about, but don’t. Like the ones who see mostly C# on my resume and then assume I couldn’t do a VB.NET job (C# and VB.NET are the two main functionally-identical languages in .NET). Not that I wouldn’t prefer it, that I couldn’t do it. And then they say “do you know anyone who could do it?” – oh, I see, you want me do to your job for you and get someone else a job in the process?

Something else I also figured out really quickly is that if a hundred different recruiters pitch you the same job, there’s something bad wrong with the job probably. There’s got to be some reason why turnover is huge and the company in question has resorted to calling every recruiter in the area (and some not in the area) and say “have at it”.

Recruiters generally want to meet with you before pitching you to people and that’s fine and all so long as they understand that you still have a regular job and you can meet them after work. Some don’t – I would imagine that a good chunk of their clients are unemployed and will jump at the chance to drive to Downtown Dallas and meet them at 10:30 AM. Worse still are the ones who aren’t in your area – at least you don’t have to go meet them in person but I just don’t think I’d be comfortable with getting employment from a third party in Alaska.

Monster.com – now, I’m not really complaining about Monster because this time around Monster indirectly got me the job. For various reasons, this time around I just let the recruiters call me and went from there – I didn’t get to the point where I needed to start applying for jobs directly. Monster has this thing where when you sign on, update your resume, and log off, you’re bumped to the top of some “hey they logged on” list – theory being, you’re looking for a new job. After a couple of months of looking I finally did this one day and the following day I got – I kid you not – 35 emails and 20 phone calls. This was on a Thursday – I pretty much didn’t get any work done until the following week.

That’s not my complaint about Monster. Actually, I guess my complaint isn’t about Monster at all. My complaint is when people ignore what I’ve said on Monster. I listed my profile as the Dallas, TX area, no travel, no relocating, and no straight contracts (i.e., a “three months and then you’re done” sort of position). What happened? Lots of calls about straight contracts. Calls about relocations and positions with lots of travel. “But what if it’s all in the state of Tex…” NO TRAVEL. My wife had a 100% travel position for a while – never again do I get in a position like that if I can manage it. Truth is, I don’t mind some travel – it’s kinda neat to get away for a couple of days and it wouldn’t be the end of the world (my last job had me travelling 4-5 times a year, tops), but if you call me after reading my “NO TRAVEL” portion and pitch me a job that sends me all over the country, I’m going to say “no thanks” and hang up.

Job Applications – Some places you go to interview, usually the ones where it’s a direct hire position, want you to fill out a job application before you actually talk to them. This, to me, is probably the single most annoying thing about the job search process.

First, it never fails that I forget to think “oh hey this is a direct hire position, maybe I should bring a ‘cheat sheet’ in case they make me fill out an application”. Instead, it usually comes a surprise. Then they make you fill out your life story, and make you feel pretty rotten in the process. They want you to go back X years in your job history. Dude, it’s on my fucking resume, why don’t you just look there. Yeah, I know you need it for your records – how about you save us both some time and make me fill this out when we’re closer to a job offer? (that’s another thing – what’s up with these jobs that require like ten interviews to get the position – getting in at the Pentagon is easier!) You have to explain any gap longer than thirty days. They want names, addresses, phone numbers, direct reports, etc. It’s especially annoying when they’re asking for the name and phone number of the boss you don’t want to clue into the fact that you’re looking for work and don’t give you a “please don’t contact them” checkbox. I always put in the name and phone number of a coworker who’s in on the gag so they can divert them if need be.

Then they ask for your educational history in the same way. Like I remember offhand the address and phone number of my High School. Oh good, they ask for GPA and Major. Then they ask for any convictions you have. Some ask for that, of which I have none, but some even ask you if you’ve had any tickets for moving violations. Well hell, I don’t know – I had a ticket some years back for an expired registration sticker – is that a moving violation? I was moving the car when the cop spotted me. And heck if I remember if that was in the last seven years or not.

Sometimes they ask if you drink or use tobacco. Erm, define “use”. I have the occasional social drink and yeah, I’ve smoked a cigar in the last decade probably. Does that count? My wife worked at a place that simply would not hire tobacco users and would fire you if they found out you were a smoker. Not smoking on the property, smoking at all ever period. Company line was that smokers needed fewer work breaks and were cheaper on insurance costs. I think the company just liked that it was a legal way to discriminate (same company had few if any black people). So damned if I want to get fired because I had a Swisher Sweet four years ago and forgot about it.

The absolute worst is when they have you sign the back. It never fails that there’s some clause right above the signature spot that says “we have the right to contact…. your employer…” erm – no? Please don’t? If possible, I turn the thing in without signing it. Maybe this has cost me jobs before, I dunno.

Now that I’ve put some of my gripes out there, here’s some actual stories, some from this latest “round” of interviews, some from others

Too-good-to-be-true – one recruiter called me up and pitched me a job that, while it was far away, was offering 2.5x what I made in my previous job (current job at the time). While that sounds awesome and all, it was so much more money that it set off my bullshit detector. It didn’t help that he was pitching the job to me like it was a used car. When I finally got him to tell me the name, it rang a bell and I gave him some “I’ll think about it” line and called my friend. Yup, true enough, the same person had pestered him two years prior, even threatening to come out to meet him at his workplace. I learned from someone else in the time since that the company in question was horrible to work for and generally worked people to death then had nice rounds of layoffs. I eventually programmed the recruiter in my phone under the name “IGNORE”

No we won’t tell you – one recruiter called me up, and every time it wasn’t just one guy on the phone, it was always him and his partner. They pitched me some job that was a little further than I’d like to drive but I figured it was worth being submitted to. That is, until they wouldn’t tell me the name. I get that when you first have contact with a recruiter they don’t want to tell you the client’s name because they don’t want you to go behind their backs and go directly to the client and cut them out of the loop (consequently if they have an exclusive arrangement with the client, they’ll tell you right off the bat). But my policy is that I must know the name of the client before I let you submit me. Part of this is because there are certain companies I don’t want to work for for various reasons (like I’ve known people who have worked there and they’ve warned me to stay away) and sometimes I’ve been submitted there before so it’s a waste of everyone’s time to resubmit me. But this one recruiter-pair literally wouldn’t tell me until after they submitted me. When I wouldn’t budge on the matter, they offered to take me to lunch to sweet-talk me, but I refused. Generally, this is a sign that the company in question is so notorious that no one will work with them.

Not too fair – a couple of years ago I interviewed for a large mortgage broker headquartered in the area. Their location was a large, sprawling, multi-building campus. All was well and good until I got there and saw the “JOB FAIR” banner. There were tons of people there, all vying to be cogs in the mortgage broker machine. My first thought was “I’ve been scammed”. Kinda like when someone sets up a “job interview” for you and it winds up being a large seminar trying to sell you on Amway or something. I had to park a mile away from the place. Hopeful that perhaps I wasn’t part of the “Job Fair”, I went to the building on the campus without the “Job Fair” banner. I asked for the Such-and-such building I was supposed to be reporting to for the interview – the woman pointed to the building with the banner. Every conversation I had went like this

“I’m here for an interview with So-and-so at the Such-and-such building.”

“Are you here for the Job Fair”

“I don’t know if I’m here for the Job Fair, all I know is I’m here for an interview with So-and-so at the Such-and-such building.”

And then the person would just point me to someone for the Job Fair. Apparently they were doing interviews at the Job Fair. I had to repeat this routine like 3-4 times and as soon as I finally got to someone who knew what was going on (while I prepared the “there’s been a misunderstanding fuck you bye” speech in my head) they finally said “Oh, you’re supposed to go to the fourth floor” and there I had the actual interview.

We don’t know either – I once had an interview at a company that made trucks (we’ll just leave it at that). They had a “hire for life” mentality, and mentioned that the only reason they had a position open for interviewing at all was because someone had retired – their retirement party was the week before. Nice, considering my gig at the time saw programmers as an exportable resource. Only problem was – they had no idea what I’d be doing when I got there. Their policy was to hire first, then figure out what the person does later. So that part where you interview them to see if you even want the gig? Yeah that was impossible. I might be working in VB.NET. Or VB6. They didn’t know for sure. Oh, I might have to travel to Europe for six months on hire. Or not. They didn’t really know for sure. I wasn’t sad when they never called back.

Oh and the reason I mention it was a trucking-related company was that this was another one of those fill-out-a-job-application companies. They didn’t make me do it first, I did it at the end of the interview. It included a question asking for my CB Handle. I guess they hired truckers as well?

I hope you’re not evil – This one was not an interview per se but it was with a recruiter. Job sounded great, but then she said “the only thing is the company is… well, they’re… Christian, so they want someone with good morals and values.” I asked, “So, what does that mean? What does it matter if they’re a Christian company?” She responds “Well, I don’t think they start off every day with a prayer like Interstate Batteries but they just want someone with good…. morals and values”.

I’m not sure what they expected me to say. “Oh sorry, I have no morals or values. Hell, you should be scared to be in the room with me.” I never heard more on the position but it just struck me as odd that they were bracing me for the overt Christianity of this company (which is just fine with me, I sort of have a separation of work and church stance). I wouldn’t have ended the interview or anything, but it was just weird.

Please wait – When I was trying to move to the Metroplex like four years ago I interviewed at this one place on the Tollway and at one point towards what I thought was the end they said “OK we’ll be right back”… and I sat there for like 45 minutes in this dead silent conference room in this dead silent office doing nothing. Then one of them came back and said “OK, we’ll call you back for your next interview”

That wasn’t the weird part – the weird part is I did that standard thing where you wait a bit and you call back to see if you got the job (or in this case, the next interview). Which if you have to call them either means they’re slow or you didn’t get the gig. So the receptionist says “oh he’s busy now, would you like to leave him a message?” so I do. And I call back in a few hours. Same story, only I don’t leave a message. I do the same for the next few days. I leave him another message or two. I’m on the road headed to another interview (for the job I accepted and kept for four years) when another recruiter calls and pitches me this place and I tell him I’ve already interviewed there. I eventually quit calling the place and I never did hear back from them.

Now, I know what happened – they went in the back and maybe they were busy or maybe they discussed me, I don’t know. Maybe they just passed on hiring me or maybe the position fell through or whatever, which was fine. But why avoid my calls? Why not call me back when I’ve taken the time to call you first? If I don’t have the job just tell me and I’ll leave you alone. Why avoid me? I mean, it did eventually work – I eventually just quit calling and so they avoided any conflict. But jeeze, grow some sack and tell me no already.

Carry the one – One recruiter called me up and pitched me a gig with a company that sounded fun (that’s another thing – every job is pitched to you as a “fun place to work”. Every single one) until it came out that they required a 50-hour work week. Thanks but no thanks, all other things being equal, I’ll take the job that only requires 40 hours per week.

But they weren’t done yet – you got paid in some sort of sliding scale overtime sort of deal. So like, if your salary was $X that was what you got paid for your typical 40-hour work week. Divide the salary by the number of weeks/hours in a year and that was the amount per-hour you’d be paid for those extra 10 hours a week.

So… why not just pay me 120% of $X? As in, if the job paid $10,000 a year for a 40-hour week (an unrealistic but simple number) why not just say “oh the job pays $12,000 per year but you have to work 50 hours a week”. Why in the hell are you making me do the math on this one? Is it because the 50-hour-a-week thing is such a turnoff for everyone that you’re trying to make it sound like I get a bonus for it? Or are you trying to trick me into thinking I’ll get paid more than I will?

I think they were targeting the desperate-to-get-a-job types. That or they were just handed a shitty job to pitch. Like the one local firm I kept getting pitched that had a suit-and-tie policy. Sorry, all other things being equal I’m taking the job that lets me wear something normal to work.

Contracting Insanity – this one is not mine, but it’s my favorite interview story ever. It was a Slashdot comment.

All is well now, I got an awesome job through a great recruiter at a good pay rate mere minutes from my house (30 of them). Truth be told, I like these horror stories, I just hate going through them.