2006-12-05

The arrival of 3.0

I've been leaving work at 4:30 lately, because that's the end of my 8 hours (being a contractor, time is very key in my day, and overtime is generally not encouraged unless it's needed, which I understand) and with my wife needing extra help at home, leaving at that time I can usually beat the worst of rush hour and make the drive home in about 20-25 minutes.

Today, I had lunch with a couple buddies, and since that took billable time away from my day, I decided I should try to stay later today. Called the wife at about 4:30, everything was fine at home, told her I'd be a little later.

At 5:05, she calls me to tell me her water broke. I leave work immediately, cursing the time and the traffic I know I'm about to hit. She goes to call the doctor and a friend who would watch kids 1.0 and 2.0 while we booted up 3.0.

At 5:35-ish, she calls to check on my progress. Which is minimal. She is in labor and contractions are several minutes apart. She tells me she is going to lay down and see if the contractions ease off, while calling her friend and seeing if she can come and get the kids. I drive the rest of the way home gripping my steering wheel in a rage, mentally beating the other drivers on the road into a bloody pulp (especially those who feel like they have to come to a near stop because of a cop, who has someone pulled over, not on the street on which we're driving, but on a SIDE street).

The friend comes over with her kids, sends all four of the kids to the basement to play, and refuses to leave until I get home.

Nigh unto 6:00 (for those keeping score, that's nearly an hour for a 25-minute drive), I get home, swearing up a storm (which, for me, is not usual behavior). I find that the friend is on the phone to 911, with my wife in heavy labor. The baby is coming; driving to the hospital is no longer an option. I throw my backpack across the room and begin running all over the house, grabbing a few dozen towels from the linen closet, helping the wife get undressed, trying to find things that the 911 operator is telling the friend to find. (At one point, I was asked for a thick shoelace. Not sure why, but I was incredibly frustrated to find that none of our shoes even have shoelaces! Except my own tennis shoes, which I couldn't seem to find at the time, of course.)

While friend is helping wife get through the next couple minutes, hoping the paramedics arrive quickly, I grab my wife's cell phone to call her OB. Of course, she hasn't kept it charged, and it was near empty. Enough to call, though. I get the recorded greeting, which I can't quite hear with the depleted battery and trying to run around on the emergency medical scavenger hunt, so I'm not sure what buttons to push ("If you need <something something>, press *70", etc.) until I hear what sounds like "To talk to someone immediately, press 0". I press 0. Couldn't have been less than five minutes later (which of course seemed like an eternity), someone FINALLY comes on the line. I can barely hear her, so I'm trying to tell her that we're already having the baby, fire department has been dispatched, we'll be at the hospital when we can. I think she tried asking a couple questions; to be honest, I don't know if I answered them or not; I could barely hear her anyway.

Finally, as I'm off to find a nose sucker (which we actually have and I actually knew the location of), the baby is delivered. Within a minute, the paramedics arrive and check everyone out. I find another room and break down in tears, cursing myself for staying late, cursing myself for not getting home fast enough, cursing myself for not being with my wife instead of running around the house trying to find what is needed (and generally being ineffective at that).

Anyway, wife gives friend keys to the house (bags for the kids are already packed), friend offers to lock up when she takes the kids to her place for the night, wife leaves for the hospital in the ambulance, and I follow a few minutes later.

I get to the hospital, make my way to Labor & Delivery, ask for my wife, and she's not there. But they got the message and led me to the room where they were expecting to put her. I sit there wondering how in the world I beat the ambulance to the hospital, until she arrives in the next ten minutes or so. (Turns out the ambulance driver had never been to this particular hospital, missed the exit off the highway, came back, got to the hospital, unloaded my wife, realized they were at the wrong entrance, loaded her back in the ambulance, drove around to the emergency entrance, unloaded her again... Kind of amusing, especially since there was no rush at that point.)

But I'm very thankful to be able to report that everyone is doing just fine.

2006-06-12

We missed the whole first trimester?

My wife has been really late with her cycle this year. Normally, she's pretty irregular and long anyway, but after a couple months, she decided a pregnancy test would be prudent. She ended up buying a pack of 3 and used one. Result: Negative.

A few weeks later, she was feeling a little nauseated, had some other possible-pregnancy symptoms, and still no cycle; so she used the second test. Result: Negative.

Now, she had put on quite a bit of weight over the past couple years. We figured it was probably her body telling her it was well past time to do something about that. So, we both started dieting (as I have a few pounds I could do without, as well). Her low-carb diet started with a two-week "boost" period, where everything was limited to an extreme, only to be brought back to normal more slowly later. The nausea was especially bad at this time, but she figured the diet was really stressing her body out. When the nausea persisted for the third or fourth week, I started pressuring her to call her doctor, as that's a long time to feel sick. (She's as stubborn as most men when it comes to seeing a doctor.)

So, Sunday, she decided maybe she'd try the last pregnancy test. It had been six or seven months by this point. Result: Positive.

So, at last, she made a doctor's appointment (although instead of her general practitioner, it was an obstetrician), and they did a quick ultrasound. The size of the baby surprised both her and her OB. Estimated age: 12 weeks. She's scheduled for a full ultrasound on Friday to get more definite measurements, but it seems that the first trimester has already come and gone before we even knew it.

Near as we can figure, we conceived almost immediately after she used her second pregnancy test, back in late February. At least now we know why she's been so consistently nauseated.

Addendum: A full ultrasound and measurements estimate the baby's age at 14 weeks, with a due date of mid-December.

2006-05-29

Don't forget your parka.

This weekend was my first long-distance trip in the hybrid. My good friend Spencer is having his missionary farewell sacrament meeting. A great excuse to go to Utah for a weekend. Denver to Salt Lake. Approximately 550 miles. I should be able to do that on one tank of gas.

So I'm packing clothes and such for my trip. Weather in Denver has been in the 80°s. Short sleeve shirts should be fine.

Fast-forward a bit to the trip. I didn't quite make it on a single tank. Going across Wyoming, I hit a lot of wind. Strong winds blowing from head-on to crosswise. I averaged maybe 34 MPG across Wyoming. Not horrible, but certainly nowhere close to the 50 I was boasting.

I noticed on my way that the temperature started dropping. Maybe I could've saved a little fuel if I turned off the A/C and opened a window. Unfortunately, the temperature drop was accompanied by rain, all the way to my in-laws' in Kaysville. When I got close, I decided to fuel up again, so the next morning I could make it to southern Salt Lake without any worries. I open the door and it's BITTER COLD. The gas pump wouldn't read my credit card, so I had to pay inside. A TV behind the counter is talking about the weather, announcing a SNOW ADVISORY for the foothills. WTH?! (Please note the second paragraph, above, for a further clue of why this is a problem.) Up until this point, my car was running the A/C to keep the interior of my car cool. After the air exchange getting gas, it was now running the heater.

After staying overnight at my in-laws', I got ready to drive south, watching the weather go from simply overcast, to rain, to hail, and back. And still cold. My father-in-law offered me a jacket, but I declined. I was planning on leaving for home straight from Salt Lake, and I was going to be inside anyway, right? The drive down wasn't too bad, although there was one instance where a cop car with lights on was going 35 in one lane of traffic -- and all four lanes were keeping pace behind him. ??? It's really annoying when the sight of a cop makes people slam on their brakes and suddenly go 10 MPH under the speed limit, but this was the most extreme example I've seen in a long time. Utah drivers. Sheesh.

I ended up getting to the church about 45 minutes early. I'd rather over-estimate my drive time than under-estimate. I thought the weather would have more of an effect on the commute, but perhaps the fact that it was Sunday in Utah made up for it. As I waited in the parking lot, the hail came down again. ::shakes head::

Sacrament meeting was awesome. The opening hymn was Let Us All Press On, one of my favorites. Spencer's talk was great, too. It was ::consults thesaurus:: wonderful to hear his testimony. Despite the lack of micromanifestations and an explanation of his albino East Indian appearance, it was worth the trip. And the closing hymn was God Be with You Till We Meet Again, and the organist stopped playing during the last chorus, so we sang that a capella. WAY cool.

After sacrament meeting (apparently blowing off Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society is some kind of 7th Ward tradition) was food and stuff at the Bagley home. Outside. Once again, I refer you to the paragraph above. I got to meet some of Spencer's friends, who were all pretty cool. They didn't seem at all put out by having a 33-year-old in their midst. Unfortunately, during that time, I ended up dropping my laptop on the Bagleys' tile entryway. The corner of the long-life battery that sticks out of the back for an inch or so took the full force of the impact. Fortunately, the laptop itself was undamaged. The battery case is cracked, however. It appears to be working still, but I think I'll be getting a replacement, just in case.

The drive home was better. There was a lot less wind, and it was more behind me than in front of me. I averaged about 54 MPG on the return trip. I was listening to the scriptures on the way home, sort of. To keep myself entertained, I was doing a little MST3k. I'm sure that requires a talk with the bishop. It was made worse by the fact that I had Skeletor saying "And he prays!" stuck in my head. (To preserve your sanity, don't click here -- thanks, Allison.)

I got home at midnight. The temperature was 61°, which was the warmest temperature I'd seen since first crossing the continental divide in Wyoming the day before.

I did record Spencer's talk and take pictures at the reception thing, for all posterity:
TALK mp3  warning – slow link
PICS:

2006-04-30

Ok, so I do want a 360.

So, my wife looks at the entertainment center one day and says, "I think a 360 could fit in there."

Yeah, I know, I wanted to completely replace the old Xbox, I wanted to wait for all the bugs to get worked out of the system, I wanted to wait for everything to be compatible. I wanted to wait for the first price drop, and for a lot of games to be available.

But I gave in. I took my birthday money, went to Best Buy, and bought one. And yes, the 360 fits just fine on top of the Xbox. And yes, it is a lot of fun.

And not a month later, they announce the first major hardware revision, that will make the 360 run cooler and with less power than the original. Oh well. I suppose if it's that important, my 360 could have an unfortunate "accident" and need replacing. (Best Buy product replacement plan. Sometimes it seems too good to be true.)

My son's too darn smart.

My firstborn son, 5 years old at the time, was looking through one of those "I spy" kind of books. In a large two-page picture of a messy bedroom, he had a list of things he had to find. One of the items was "four drumsticks". On the bed were a pair of actual drumsticks (the kind you use to play drums). Nearby, there was a pair of cooked chicken legs. He says, "Chicken legs are sometimes called drumsticks." I hadn't thought about that, so it impressed me.

Only a few months later, we're backing out of the garage to go to church. My now six-year-old son says, "We're going northeast." I look up at the compass, which is displaying "SW". We were backing out of the garage.

2006-04-29

Porn site? What porn site?

Part of the advantages of running your own home network is the amount of control you have over how things behave. For instance, a Linux box serves as the gateway for my entire home network to the internet. On this server, I run my own DNS.

One day, as I was checking my Hotmail account, and I thought to myself, "I wonder if someone has registered hotmale.com. It's probably some 'Am I Hot or Not' kind of thing." Well, needless to say, it wasn't. It was much more explicit. So, after closing it quickly, I started wondering if there was a way to add a list of known porn sites to my DNS server, so that it would resolve these addresses to an unreachable address, the same way it does with known ad servers now.

I googled for a porn site list, and eventually I found one that would work nicely at Internet Filter's site. The only problem is, it wasn't in a readily-consumable format for me to put into my DNS. Further searching, though, found this site (which describes using a proxy auto-config file in IE to selectively block sites). The method described there is pretty unsuitable for my purposes, but he did have a .vbs file available that would parse through Internet Filter's web site and extract the list of porn sites, exporting them to a file. I modified it slightly so that it would prepend zone " and append " {type master; file "/etc/bind/db.empty";}; to each URL, and away it went.

The only issue was, Internet Filter's site included IP addresses in its list. These don't go to the DNS to resolve, so putting them in would be pointless. With more time and patience, I could have modified Eric Phelps's script to exclude those, but I just decided to do it by hand. It's only 429,318 records to parse through, and with a regular expression, it's easy to find the IP addresses.

All that was left was to copy it to the server, translate the MS-DOS CR-LF to a Unix LF (I was surprised I could use cat -T [edit: a better way is tr -d "\015" < dos_file > unix_file, as it doesn't mess with any other non-printable characters]), and add it to my bind config.

Unfortunately, now it's not resolving any addresses. All requests time out. There are just too many sites in the list. Ah well, it was worth a shot. But I'm holding on to this, because there may be a way to use this in the future.

2006-03-09

The Halo story

So Llyr and I were commenting on the storyline to the Halo video game series. It's a pretty interesting storyline. I've played both (Xbox) games and read all three books. The books delve into the development of the characters, but as I was reading the transcripts for the game dialog, I found it reveals a lot of the history, which I missed while playing the game.

We learn from the monitors that the halos were constructed by the Forerunners to eradicate all significant biomasses in the galaxy so the Flood would starve. But who were the Forerunners?

During one battle, 343 Guilty Spark makes a comment about how he's glad that, when the halos were activated, some Forerunners survived to reproduce. Also, the monitors recognize the humans (as "reclaimers"). And, looking at the final battle in H2, it would seem that the halos are somehow coded to work with humans (Tartarus has to force Cmdr. Keys to activate Installation 05, presumably because he can't do it himself). That would seem to suggest that the Forerunners were human.

Llyr wasn't convinced of this at first, but something he said led me to put things together and prove it.

At the end of Halo 2, 343 Guilty Spark explains that the halos can be remotely activated by the Ark. When asked where that is, we cut to the Prophet of Truth and the Forerunner ship exiting slipspace at Earth. I figured the Ark must've been the Forerunner ship, but Llyr said it was Earth itself. Why this makes sense, is the Prophet of Regret goes to Earth at the beginning of Halo 2. However, he does not know that it is the humans' homeworld, which is why he shows up unprepared. There must've been some other reason for him to go to Earth, the logical explanation being he was told something important was there, something having to do with the Forerunners. And, when Truth takes off on a ship, that's where he goes, too.

So, at that point, I was willing to consider Earth as the Ark.

Then it all made sense. I started telling the story in this manner:

A long time ago, the Forerunners activated the halos to wipe out all life in the galaxy, except for Noah and his family on the Ark.

After that sunk in, Llyr put the final piece on the puzzle.

The Ark saved the humans from the Flood.

Now, I know we weren't the first to make this connection. After coming up with this, I searched Halo.Bungie.Org and found that this theory has been suggested and debated for a long time. But what I can claim is that we did come up with this ourselves, having never heard or read it before. I don't know if that makes us especially clever (for figuring it out) or especially dim (for it taking over a year since Halo 2's release to do so).

2006-03-06

Why can't they leave bad enough alone?

We just got a letter from our school district, explaining that they will be making some changes to the school schedules for next year. My son's school is not affected, so I only perused the letter out of curiosity. They said that the reason for the change is because Congress is changing Daylight Saving Time [yes, it is "Saving" and not "Savings"] to start two weeks earlier in the spring and end one week later in the fall.

What the freak?

I googled for information about DST. This page from the California Energy Commission seems to have a decent description of why DST is. Basically, it all boils down to energy conservation. Save more daylight in the evening, and people will use less energy after work.

Here's an idea. Instead of confusing the heck out of people by constantly adjusting clocks, why not simply move the standard work day back an hour? Same effect, but the clocks can stay the same. I doubt making people adjust to a 7-to-4 schedule would be any worse than making people remember "second Sunday in March, first Sunday in November".

Did the politicians even consider the impact this will have on all the clocks, watches, and COMPUTERS that have to deal with DST, that will have to be reprogrammed? Maybe it's some deranged plan to stimulate the computer economy. "Hey, that Y2k thing gave all those old programmers big jobs in '99; let's get businesses to dump more money at 'em!"

Maybe I can spend the rest of 2006 learning COBOL...

2006-01-22

What do you mean, you don't want an Xbox 360?

Yes, I play Xbox, and I enjoy it. I'm a gamer. And when the Xbox 360 was first announced, I was excited to see what it had to offer. And now that it's released, I think it's a great system, and I think I would really enjoy it.

But I'm not getting one.

And no, it's not (just) because they've been next to impossible to find. I had someone at work offer me one, in fact. He knew someone who had a premium system and a wireless controller, unopened, that he wanted to sell (I forget the details as to why). I thanked him for the offer, but turned him down.

It's a lot of money to spend on a game system. As it is, I didn't expect to have a video game system in the house at all. Why would I spend money on a piece of hardware whose sole purpose is to play games, especially when I have a computer that can not only play games, but do useful things as well. Then my father offered to buy me an Xbox. Well, it wasn't my money, so I said alright. And I do enjoy having it. So my position on having a game console has changed somewhat. But, it's still a non-insignificant amount of money, and if I'm going to spend that money, I am going to make sure it's a worthwhile expenditure.

So here are the things that are holding me back.

The first thing was my experience with my original Xbox. It's a 1.0, and I had a hardware problem with it, namely, the infamous DVD drive. After half a year, it was near unto unplayable. At that point, Microsoft hadn't done their "silent recall", so they wanted $100 to fix it. The first price drop had already occurred, and I wasn't about to pay half the cost of a new console to fix the existing one. So I lived with it for a while, until I started looking on the internet a few months later and discovered mine was not an isolated issue. But at that point, the "silent recall" was in effect. I called Microsoft, fully preparing to yell and threaten, but they immediately offered to fix it for free. And after that, it worked pretty well -- for a few more months. When it started to go again, I again went to the internet for answers, and I found a drive that could be used to replace the drive in the Xbox (with a little soldering and reflashing). I replaced it myself, and it's worked great ever since.

Anyway, I have my doubts as to how "end-user hackable" the 360 is, and, if that happens again, I'll be completely at the mercy of the service centers. (Which also means an extended warranty would be a prudent purchase, but that just adds to the price, and it means it's that much more that I have to consider spending the money.)

As it turns out, there have been reports of hardware issues with the 1.0 360 units. While there do seem to be a low number of issues for the number of units sold, and Microsoft has been fixing them as they come up, it does make me wonder what slightly longer-term issues have yet to be discovered.

The next major issue is backwards compatibility. My entertainment center is built in to the wall of the family room. Essentially, the television and its stand occupy a cubbyhole in the wall. The stand contains the surround sound unit (5-disc DVD player, component inputs, 5.1 surround sound) and the Xbox 1, and that's about all the room there is. A 360 wouldn't fit in there without removing the X1. So, putting a 360 there means no longer having an X1. There is only one other TV in the house, and that is in the master bedroom -- not a place to put the family game unit. So, as far as I'm concerned, buying a 360 replaces the X1.

Now, I have a decent number of X1 games. Many of these, I still play. Many more, my kids play. As of this writing, only about 40% of my games will function on the 360, and that number is only slightly up since the release of the console (very few of the games added in December were games I own). There are still many games that are currently played that would simply not work anymore.

On the same line is the concept of peripherals. We have a collection of controllers, wired and wireless, and several steering wheels. Also, we just got the kids a Dance Dance Revolution game for Christmas, which included two dance mats. This game just doesn't make sense to be played on anything else, so even if the software was compatible, the lack of hardware would make the game still useless. (I don't have that mech game with the huge custom controller, but I would imagine someone who did would be even more upset about this.) They could've very easily made the old controllers compatible, even with a simple converter (the X1's ports were simply USB ports with a custom shape -- the modding community has had X1-to-USB adapters available for a while now). But instead, they made the 360 require controllers to have a licensed chip in them, which none of the X1 controllers (Microsoft or third-party) do. Their reasons for doing this could be debated, but the applicable result is that all this extra hardware I have and enjoy using would be completely useless; and the DDR game I just bought for the kids would be completely unplayable.

Even the games that are on the BC list have had problems. I've seen a few reports of Halo 2 having pretty bad video problems (stretching, "ghost images" overlaying the screen). There have been some reports of video and sound issues with this and other games, as well as Xbox Live annoyances. One guy with whom I play online will get the occasional "could not load the map" message, even on the original stock maps. Why put up with this to play games that, on "lesser" hardware, work just as well or better?

There are other little things, too. The X1 Live puck is nice, as it has mute and volume controls right there, yet you can plug in any headset you want. The new controller has a stock headset with mute/volume controls, but it's hard-wired to the headset. If you plug in your own, you plug it straight into the controller, without the piece that has the mute & volume. [Granted, I wouldn't mind tackling that as my next "mod", soldering a standard headphone jack to the 360 puck.]

Yes, I'm missing out on stuff. I've heard the praises of people who have been enjoying the new games (when they can play and aren't hitting random game crashes and lockups) and the Live Marketplace (hmm, another way to spend more money) and streaming music & video across their network to their HDTV. But I'm still having fun with what I have. Right now, the benefits don't outweigh the costs. No 360 for me yet.

All that said, I do hope that the issues get all worked out, or at least become less important. When that happens, I will head out to the store, pick up an Xbox 360 Premium system off the shelf, bring it home, and replace the X1 with a shiny new 360. Just not now.