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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in garzahd's LiveJournal:

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Monday, June 19th, 2017
8:55 am
Life, Death, and Videogames
(because what other things matter, right?)

The past month has been probably the most stressful of my career.

At work last spring, I got promoted into a small but important development team. In the confluence of events that followed in the last 3 months, the 4-person team included a guy who left the company, a guy who died of a sudden and rare illness, a guy who went on a 5 week leave of absence, and me.

It has been really jarring, going from most junior to most senior member of a team in such a short time. We have some interns and fresh blood to help handle the workload, but it's still really stressful. Dad always liked to quote the book The House of God, "Show me a student that only triples my work, and I will kiss their feet." To be fair, our students are learning quickly and I am happy to have them around, but I still feel like none of my own work is progressing at a pace I would like.

Also this concept of death is unlike anything I have experienced. It's always been a somewhat-expected thing from an aging relative. A sad experience, to be sure, but the co-worker who died was about my age, and that's been... disturbing. Humans are resilient, and I rarely feel great stress or anxiety at the news that someone young is going to the hospital, because, well, modern medicine is pretty good, right? They'll make it through, right?


There are a couple sources I use for videogame recommendations, and one of them mentioned "What Remains of Edith Finch". To make a long story short, it's been exactly what I needed.

The game has been described as a "walking simulator", which is sort of a pejorative term for a game that involves walking through an environment but not really being actively challenged in the process. There are no people shooting at you, the puzzles (if any) are pretty straightforward, and it's mostly about being immersed in a (hopefully interesting) story.

And yeah, it has been interesting. Let me sum up. You play as Edith Finch, a 17-year-old girl who is returning to the house she grew up in, as the only living relative after a 6 year absence. Over the course of the ~3 hour game, you learn that her mom believed the family to be "cursed" (and you were pulled away from the house at age 11 because your mother thought your life was in danger), but the great-grandmother had a strong need to memorialize the death of a relative. Instead of boxing away all the possessions of a dearly departed relative, she would preserve their room as a "museum" of sorts, and add new rooms to the house to support a new addition to the family.

Over the course of the game you explore this museum of rooms. In each room is a journal of some sort, where in addition to reading some of the last words of each family member, you jump in, Myst-like, and have a first-person experience of some of the events prior to their end. You'd think this would be morbid, but it's actually really fascinating. The game does a great job of highlighting the good parts of a person's life, even though you know what is coming. Each story has a very different flavor to it. The atmospheric storytelling carries the story very effectively.

At the end of the day, the lesson is sort of about the nature of what a funeral is. It brings us all together for mourning, but that's not the point. The point is the love and respect that we have (and share) about our lost ones. The point is that part where everyone takes turns standing up in the front to say a few good words. The point is the positive impression we leave on the lives of those all around us.
Monday, February 11th, 2013
1:24 am
Thursday, October 27th, 2011
4:27 pm
Heroes of Might and Magic 6
I decided to pay for this game after acquiring a pirated copy. The multiplayer of HOMM5 was pretty neat; I got into the competitive scene for a short while and did pretty well, so maybe the multiplayer in HOMM6 will also be pretty fun.

Unfortunately, Amazon decided to punish me for my insolence of attempting to pay for a legitimate copy.

To be fair, my last amazon purchase was in March; since then, I have a new mailing address in a new city, a new credit card, and a new computer with a new IP address. Some subset of that was enough to trigger Amazon's fraud alarm and postpone my intended purchase by about 36 hours.

Review and first impressions...Collapse )
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
3:57 pm
Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
11:05 am
So far, in the month of September I have managed to triple my number of airplane flights for the year.

Lesson learned from too much time in airports: I am significantly below par in my ownership of nifty electronic gadgets. Seemed like everyone had something from the set of {smartphone, ipad, kindle, nook, blackberry}. Some people had two. At least my dumb-phone was sufficient for coping with disasters.

For Labor Day weekend, for the sake of honoring tradition, most of the weekend was spent at camp in Green Lake. The flare lighting to commemorate the end of the summer was a highlight, as always. An unexpected highlight was seeing my cousin's 27-month-old daughter, Ada Jo, who has an astounding vocabulary for one so young. She definitely fit the proverb of "once you get them to start talking, you can't get them to shut up." Favorite exchange of the weekend:
- "Ada Jo, let's get out of the lake and get dressed again."
- "No thank you, I like being naked."

On Labor Sunday, some rain and storms diminished the enthusiasm for sticking around and continuing to read grrm's Dance With Dragons, so instead we went back to my parents' place for the remainder of the weekend. This allowed some more time to ensure that my niece Evie will remember her uncle :-) And as always, real food was a pleasure. Even got to diagnose a fried motherboard - after all, that's what a son is good for :-p

Overall a nice, leisurely, non-rushed weekend.

Completely unlike this past weekend.

Which was spent in Seattle, helping run headquarters for the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt. On the way there, the maintenance people in Philadelphia didn't want our plane looking at them in that tone of voice, so they unloaded us from our nearly-departed plane and had us wait around an hour so that they could find another one. Frustrating, but at least the timing was agreeable with Drew and Jason's trip from SF to SEA, and I was able to bum a ride with them to campus.

At campus, last minute freaking out was in full swing. I was employed stuffing envelopes with round-one puzzles, and came close to being drafted into being videotaped as a villain for the event, but Deanna/Mike wisely voted for banking some sleep, which was going to be in short supply for the rest of the weekend.

The event itself, the next morning, was sufficiently awesome to justify a posting on its own. (plus, stalling for a day gives me time to find out more about how other people thought we did in running the event.)

After puzzhunt closing, it rapidly became evident that a 10:20pm return flight into a redeye left me a lot less wiggle room than I was expecting. After a frantic series of phone calls, I got to hang out with ketsugami and harinezumi at Blue C Sushi for only about an hour before needing to worry about catching the plane back.

At the airport, they bumped me from my planned USairways redeye (via Charlotte) and on to an Alaskan Air redeye (via Boston). This added about 45 minutes to the trip, and I didn't get back to Rockville until nearly 11am.

(I made the woefully incorrect decision, while on the plane, to accept a bag of pretzels after noise from the snack cart woke me up. It ended up not really being pretzels but some sort of mix of unidentified salty food that made sleep seriously difficult despite being dead tired.)

Overall sleep count: 6h friday night, 4h saturday night, 2h sunday night. BLEH. Then 10h monday night.
Monday, August 1st, 2011
12:51 pm
The previous years I attended Otakon were (I think) 2001, 2005, and 2006.

Deciding to attend this year was half out of obligation - if it was worth a 5 hour drive from Pittsburgh several years ago, it must still be worth a 1 hour drive now, right?

Well, maybe. Traffic on the way there was stupid DC rush-hour traffic that more than doubled the driving time. There was also the downside of not really having a local social network that cares about anime. And, while stacking 8 people in a hotel room is clearly absurd, the lingering memory of calling dibs on sleeping in the closet still makes me smile.

The convention has continued to grow; the registration total numbered over 31,000 this year. As usual, the high school and college demographics were strongly represented. It made me feel old but not so old as to swear it off for good.

Events attended:
- AMV contest. Videos were all reasonable quality but none outstanding enough to merit a google search after the fact. I think I was the only person in the room that voted for Princess Tutu.
- Fan parodies. Included a half-hour of very good AMV-Hell-esque clips ("AMV Salad" is what they called it) plus some passable FMA fandubs. Would have stayed longer but was relying on the Baltimore Light Rail system, which turns into a pumpkin at midnight.
- Japanese commercials panel. This was advertised as containing some psychological analysis about why they're all so screwed up, but in fact it was just some dredges from YouTube. While funny, they remained nonsensical.
- Durarara. This show was done by some of the people who did Baccano, and they have a lot of really really obvious common threads. Still very pulp-fiction-ish, very random, and even the intro is done in the same way with rapid character transitions and pausing to put their names up. Overall a positive experience, but expected it to be even more amazing given the size of the crowd that attended.
- Full Metal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos. This was the first USA showing of this movie, which has apparently only been out in Japan for a month. Very solid movie, liked it a lot, definitely a highlight of the weekend. Good action scenes, fits fairly well in the FMA universe, except for requiring a lot of backstory on the newly invented community of Milos. Watching a movie in a crowd of 2500 makes the experience somewhat more profound. Each character making a cameo from the original series drew substantial cheers from the audience. The Japanese director was onsite for Q&A after the movie (with translator in tow), which was kind of cool. Some of the director's commentary contained spoilers for the second season of FMA, which I probably should catch up on anyhow, but the film itself was very tolerant of viewers being at almost any point in the progression.
- Every Otakon I make a point to do a lap around the dealers room even though I don't really intend to buy much of anything. Obtained many flyers for other anime conventions. AnimeUSA is a metro-ride away and happens in November. Even more local, in Rockville, there is an "internet culture" convention in September, which kind of scares me actually. I am not sure if I am sufficiently ... what's the word? proud? crazy? l33t? uh, never mind.
- Breaking from my usual tradition, I stopped by Artists Alley for a couple hours, which was time well spent. Much of it was beautiful, and since they're essentially all amateurs trying to make a name for themselves, it's very inexpensive. Obtained a small poster.
- Newly discovered use for the video game room: as a place to stand in line for Video Room 1. The room has a sufficiently massive capacity that it's a waste of time to sit in line; there'll be enough room for a seat anyway. Also got to play some Portal 2 co-op, which was enjoyable.
Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
11:15 am
4th of July
In an uncharacteristic spurt of patriotism, I decided to check out festivities in downtown DC for the 4th of July.

Arrived downtown at about 3:30, spent about 3 hours on a single floor of the Natural History museum, mostly checking out the mineral and plate tectonics exhibits. Then went to wander the National Mall.

The sheer variety of people was fairly impressive, though there was still enough room to navigate comfortably. Identified 5 languages being spoken by people around me, and a sixth with a hint. The Mall had some sort of cultural festival going on for most of the day. By evening, most of the booths/presentations were no longer going on, but they still had a wide selection of overpriced food. Obtained some Thai curry that was actually decent.

As 8:00 approached, I made my way to the Capitol building for their free public concert. This was only a partial success, since people had begun acquiring the good seats five hours before. I got a seat under a tree that did not offer an especially good view of the east-facing stage, but the acoustics were still good and I could see the jumbo-vision. Matthew Morrison and Kelli O'Hara did a nice rendition of Tonight from West Side Story that made it worth the price of admission. The other songs were neither here nor there but made for interesting people-watching as 10-year-olds tried to dance to banjo music. "It's a sing-a-long, but has no lyrics, so good luck with that." -- Steve Martin

My tree also made for an unhelpful spot for firework-viewing. Judging that it would take about a half hour to cross the mall, at 8:45 I left the concert in search of a prime viewing location. I ended up making it all the way to the fence blocking off the Washington Monument, which was about as close as I could legally get. There were about four rows of people standing at the fence, I was in the third. Behind those four rows were a ton of people sitting in the road. As the fireworks started, the sitting people started loudly bitching at us to sit down. The hundreds of people standing at the fence didn't look moved by this, so in response to their calls of "Down in front!", I started calling out "Up in back!" and got a couple people to follow suit. I managed to not get punched for doing this.

The fireworks presentation was 17 minutes and pretty good. If they had arranged for some solid music choreography to go with them, it really could have made the top 3. Still probably made the top 10 though.

The only real disaster of the evening was the return trip. I walked about four blocks to the Federal Triangle metro station, which is geared for handling a three-figure quantity of travelers during rush hour, not a five-figure quantity that was dumped from the entire National Mall. The crowd was very substantial, very tightly packed, and there weren't quite enough policemen to cut down on the pushing and shoving. It took about an hour between arriving at the station and obtaining a seat in a homeward-bound train. If I had to do this again, I think starting at the Judiciary Square station would be more successful - a longer walk to get there, but you're already on the train when the 2 massive crowds hit.
Friday, June 17th, 2011
11:07 am
Math problem
I have a non-planar graph with 33 nodes and 83 edges.

I would like to represent it on a sheet of paper as almost-planar; that is, minimizing the number of edge crossings. Or equivalently, remove a minimal subset of edges such that the result is planar and I can sketch in the removed edges in a different color (or something).

Are there any algorithms/tools that would do this? The links I'm finding so far just give me a yes/no answer about planarity. One will even rearrange the nodes for me to prove that it's planar but just returns a simple "no" if it fails.

Run time is not a serious concern, though a run time of 2^83 would clearly be a bad idea.
Friday, June 3rd, 2011
8:21 pm
How I ended up in DC
So, I'm now working in Rockville, MD, for a company called Emmes that does computer work for medical research.
The long story...Collapse )
Friday, April 22nd, 2011
11:07 am
Portal 2
Finished the single player campaign on Wednesday, in roughly one 12-hour binge broken up by two parts fooding and one part HBO/AGOT ep 1.

The good:

- Humor level is good. Keeps you grinning a lot of the time.

- Story is interesting. Even though every other character in the world is a robot. Or perhaps I just like Wheatley's english accent too much.

- Voice acting generally well done. Occasionally, when an NPC commanded me to do something, I would sit around and wait 3-4 minutes just to cycle through the nagging voiceovers, because it takes that long before they run out of material. And some of it is pretty funny.

- New puzzle elements are fascinating and used to interesting effect:
-- Orange goo, which coats a surface to makes you run fast enough to achieve decent altitude when assisted by a ramp or portal.
-- Blue goo, which is bouncy.
-- White goo, which changes "black" non-portal surfaces into allowing portals.
-- Lasers, which are self-explanatory, but refractable.
-- Funnels, which are basically aerial conveyor belts.
-- Light bridges, which are sort of portable walkways, and can be used in a pinch to block LOS on command.
-- Vacuum tubes were previewed but are only present in cinematics.
-- Electric bouncy ball puzzles are gone (which is probably a good thing).

- Puzzles are generally designed with a lot more margin for error. A lot of puzzles in portal 1 (and to an extreme degree in user-created maps) had very precise timing; if you were just a tiny bit off on when you should have jumped, you'd miss your ledge, fall painfully, and have to do it all over. In contrast, Portal 2 is a bit more idiotproof in that respect. Some portal surfaces look larger than they actually are, because they will internally "pull" your targeted spot a few pixels so that the jump will line up properly. Overall reduction in the frustration level, fine by me.

- Evidence of significant testing. Portal 1 had a lot of places where you could ninja your way past an obstacle with non-standard tactics. Example: Room 14 in portal 1, the normal way, which takes about a minute, or the ninja way, which takes 8 seconds. Although I respect ninjas, the software developer in me cringes when I see something like this possible.

The bad:

- Puzzles are generally pretty easy, even when you get to the "hard" levels.

- Completely linear. I liked how Portal 1 unlocked "hard mode" puzzles after you had progressed past a certain point, because it gave you both choices and challenge. Not present in Portal 2.

- Apparently a ton of dev work went into the artistic futuristic cityscapes. Because of the plot events of Portal 1, let's just say the Aperture Science Facility has a few more windows than it used to. Outside these windows are beautifully crafted cityscapes that don't matter in the slightest because you can't reach them or interact with them without hurtling out the window to your death. Channel that creative energy for the fun stuff!

- Load times after almost every room. Not substantial in duration, but definitely substantial in quantity.
Saturday, October 2nd, 2010
8:31 pm
Thursday, July 8th, 2010
8:05 pm
Grad school
Just got word that I've been accepted to grad school at the College of St. Rose in Albany, for a degree in high school mathematics education. Sort of a change of pace, but lately I've been getting more enjoyment out of quasi-teaching jobs than from quasi-programming jobs.

The first sentence of my application essay was, "First, the object of the game is to win."

It remains to be seen whether I actually have, or not.
Saturday, April 24th, 2010
5:11 pm
You have gained a new title
Ding Life Master.

Farvel Strat C, we hardly knew ye.

But also, an excuse to post more baby picsCollapse )
Thursday, April 22nd, 2010
9:41 pm
You have gained a new title
I am now an uncle.

Genevieve Garner was born at 8:36 this evening.

Current Mood: happy
Sunday, April 4th, 2010
11:57 pm
Happy Easter
Various cool things, in no particular order:

- The MIT puzzlehunt folks took a mere ~2.5 months to get off their asses and post the solutions to their massive set of puzzles from the January hunt. Overall, happy to see them, but I call bullshit on some of their cluing methodology. "You want me to what? Identify an obscure fictional character by a 10-by-10-pixel portrait? *cough*"
- WoW news: Lich King 10-man down. Whee. 25-man progress recently bumped from 9/12 to 10/12, but likely to stay there at least a month or so. Not sure if that means I'm done with WoW now. Again. In any event, the new expansion Cataclysm has really not sparked my curiousity at all.
- Bridge games continue mostly uneventfully. My new "guilty pleasure" has been the "Robot Race Best Hand" tournaments on BBO. In this format, you enter as an individual, and play with 3 AI players at the table (which are surprisingly competent, in general). Hands are rotated so that you always get the highest HCP total at the table. You are given 25 minutes to play as many hands as possible, scored at Total Points, and not duplicated across the field. It's mostly about speed; bypass the uninteresting hands as fast as possible so that your "best hand" has lots of chances for a juicy result. However, the pleasure is "guilty" because it teaches a number of bad habits, like bidding game opposite any sign of life, and passing out 14-counts because partscores are worthless. But it sure is fun.
- Finally won a game of Spelunky, which is an addicting hybrid of Nethack and Lode Runner. The world needs more sandbox-y games like this. Not necessarily RPGs, just games where a random mashup of features can make something delightfully new, like the Civ series. Gold star for making failure almost as entertaining as success.
- Disciples 3 came out; it's a sequel to a series of turn-based strategy games that I enjoyed. However, despite having 8 years for developers to refine the formula, the end result is that you're playing essentially the same game, except with an added hexgrid, a terrible AI, and substantial memory leaks. Meh.
- This summer I will likely be teaching the same class as last summer: basic computer skills to low-income teenagers. Best part - I don't have to make up the curriculum as I go along.
- After the summer, I am strongly considering pursuing a masters degree in education. Not necessarily because of the summer course, but also because I seem to be seriously sucking at coding my way through job interviews.
- The new BSG prequel series, Caprica, is excellent. Sadly, it just entered the off-season, but the half-season so far is all available online. Also watching V but reserving judgment on its quality until I see a couple more eps.
Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
2:03 pm
Boston x2
Interesting events going on in Boston last weekend and next weekend.

Last weekend was an individual bridge tournament, which is something of a dying breed, so I was intrigued enough to head over for the day. The only previous individual I did was at the bridge camp in Maryland, some 7-ish years ago, which was pretty crazy. The movement here, for 25 tables, was actually pretty ordinary: West down 2, East up 2, South up 1, boards down 1. Thanks to 13 being a prime number, this allowed for 13 rounds with no skips and no duplication of partners.

I ended up with a 51% and 55% in the two sessions, which didn't place me in the overalls, but the latter was a section top, so I got more points than many of those who DID place in the overalls. Life Master draws nearer.

Next weekend is the MIT Mystery Hunt, and several of the old Microsoft crew are calling in remotely to help with the puzzles, so I'll be there on-site to do some puzzling for myself. Exact duration of expected stay remains up in the air, but the 2.5 hour drive is close enough for me to play it by ear.
Saturday, December 26th, 2009
4:56 pm
Merry Christmas
Tis the season for family activities. One of our perennial favorites is decorating cookies (with pics)Collapse )

For some reason I had a terrible time coming up with good ideas for my Christmas list, but my insightful sisters and mother came up with several good ones, including Ticket to Ride Märklin, Dragon Age, and a cozy electric blanket for my bed. (In retrospect, acquiring Dragon Age on bittorrent about two weeks prior was probably a foolish idea, but hey, at least I get the DLC now.)

More interesting were the gifts I got to give to others, including a trip to Hawaii from the three kids to our parents for their 35th anniversary, and Britannia for my brother-in-law who enjoys history.
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
10:27 am
My mother has had knee replacement surgery this past weekend.

I am not really familiar with the anatomical details - nor do I care to learn - but I can see that it hurts like hell and I'm trying to do my part to be a calming presence and a helping hand around the house. She can still move around with a walker, and is required to do so as part of her ongoing physical therapy, but most of her planned activities for the next 8 weeks involve a lot of book-reading.

I've started weekly bridge games again, partnered with the father of my childhood babysitter. We've been going to church together for awhile, or at least whenever I've been living in the upstate NY area. Sort of a curious arrangement, and he is a new-ish player, but we're having a good time. First two games were a 36% and 55%, the latter giving 56 cents of black. Call it progress or luck or whatever, but I might actually make Life Master before they hike up the requirements for doing so.

My game of choice has lately been Aion. I was favorably impressed during their beta week during the beginning of September, so I am now playing an Elyos sorcerer on the Triniel server. The game seems to have combined the PvE of WoW 5-mans, the PvP of Warhammer Online sieges, and the graphics of asian MMOs to make a very interesting game. The more I play it, the more I think it will be high time to put WoW to rest after Arthas dies.

In WoW news, we're sort of at a stupid juncture where hard modes are too hard and easy modes are too easy, so morale is a little low. In general, it seems that the hard-mode design philosophy of WoW is rather flawed. In the old system, only a small percentage of the player base got to do the end-game content because it was too hard. In the new system, there's easy-mode for the masses, and hard-mode for the people that want to go the extra mile.

The problem is, the danger of missing out on said content was one of the biggest motivating factors for going that extra mile to see the cool final boss. These days, when you have the choice between easy and hard, and in our case graduating from easy to hard, too many cards are on the table and the thrill of anticipation is gone. We know exactly what's coming next, and it's not all that compelling.
Saturday, August 15th, 2009
6:19 pm
Newspaper article
My 6-week summer class wrapped up yesterday.

Today the Albany newspaper had a pretty large story they wrote after talking to the kids and watching our closing ceremony. The story was on the front page of the second section of the paper.

Next week I'm headed out to Cooperstown, NY, to be a summer camp counselor for a week.
Monday, July 6th, 2009
5:58 pm
I have a job for the summer.

The job is teaching kids age 14-15, who are in some sort of poverty situation, how to take apart a computer, put it back together, and run a few common programs. (Word and Powerpoint are the main targets; others include HTML, Excel, and maybe playing around with a Java compiler.) If they pass the course, they get to take home the computer they've spent the summer tinkering with.

Day 1 was today, and it went reasonably well. Took off a computer case, did some show and tell, but the kids were mostly in smile-and-nod mode. Tomorrow's activity is going to be "trade a hard drive with your neighbor and see who can get the computer working again first".

The software side of things has been rather complicated by the tech department of the school at which the class is being held. Over the weekend, they took the liberty of installing their standard HD image on our lab. Which would have been all well and good if (1) they actually gave us login credentials after the fact; or (2) they chose an operating system didn't suck as much as Vista. Especially given that these computers were donated for a reason: they're 1 ghz machines with 512 megs of RAM that have absolutely no business touching Vista with a ten foot pole.

In other news, some WoW bureaucracy gave me an excuse to start raiding again, roughly six weeks after I first asked the guild to have me start raiding again. Roughly three days later, first kill of Yogg25. Huzzah. Then summer vacation hits, a few people leave, and suddenly we can't fill the raid anymore. *facepalm*. I suppose it might be argued that this is "fourth of july vacation", which means we might catch up to normal pace faster than expected.
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