Archive for December, 2010

Beyond the standards

Monday, December 27th, 2010

If you do any sort of unix shell script-y-ness, you know all about STDIN, STDOUT, and STDERR. If you are a semi-advanced and above user, you know their numeric equivalents (0,1,2) and how they show up, or are implied, in some commands (ls -la 2> Well it turns out there are defined slots for file descriptors 3-9 3-19, mostly left adrift on the sea of lost inside knowledge. Learning about them, it’s the first I have heard of how any process spawned by exec automatically inherits fd5, so you should avoid using it.

It definitely provides a possible explanation of why an external program being run with stdout and stderr redirected can still print a progress message on-screen.

UPDATE: Advanced Unix Programming by Marc J Rochkind says there are 20 fd’s available.

By our failings exposed

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Oftentimes, how something fails can tell you a lot about how it was put together. This holds especially true in software. Legion are the security holes that were found because an innocuous error provided attackers with valuable information about the design.

Sometimes the information exposed is just interesting, but without practical value. In the World of Warcraft, I’ve run into more than a few of these types of errors. The most recent one left me in a sort of limbo state. As part of the new expansion, you take part in an epic battle that includes several ‘phased’ zones that are only enter-able via automation, during cut-scenes. One of these zones is the epic final battle between the Naga and the lord of the water realm they seek to take over. You get zoned into the area after a cut-scene boat-ride, and have a couple of minutes where you can control your character as you follow the automated NPCs around a major battle scene. Hundreds, if not thousands of NPC’s can be seen fighting around you. Eventually another cut-scene starts up, the Naga kill their man and swim into his realm. It looks really nifty. Somehow I ended up stuck in the zone after I should have phased out to the next segment, which is where things got interesting.

All around me, the battle is still raging in the distance, eventually circling around to the point in the timeline where the player gets phased in, but since I wasn’t standing in the magic spot it placed me in, I could control the camera and move around, even during parts that I thought were pre-rendered. What I think this means is that somewhere in the Blizzard datacenter, there are machines (Ok, probably virtual slices of machines) that do nothing but fight this one battle over and over, 24×7, 365 days a year, regardless of if anyone is in them. From a little experimenting with the hostile NPCs, it looks like a practically fully functional zone; the NPCs are unkillable, but suffer and give damage that looks to be properly tracked, up to the 0-point at which some special rule probably kicks in and doesn’t ‘kill’ the mob even when it would hit 0 HP. If I ever get stuck in the zone again (you can get out, FYI, by letting one of those mobs kill you. when you swim back to your body, you get zoned into the post-final-battle version of the zone), I’m going to try attacking one of the talking mobs during what would be a cut-scene for anyone else. Ideally, I’ll do this with a second box running through the zone in normal mode. If only I had an infinite supply of 80’s ready to run through the zone.

During the post-launch rush, I’m sure the zone gets lots of usage, but I have to wonder how well they planned out utilization vs processing-cost a year from now, when visitors could be days or weeks apart. Will they still be spending the same amount of processing power putting on a play to an empty house, or does the zone have enough smarts built in to suspend itself once empty? It makes me wonder how much ‘effort’ is wasted on zones that are practically dead now, like the two racial starting zones from Burning Crusade….

Serious Pie blech

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

I don’t get my co-workers obsession with Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie. It strikes me, like a lot of what I call “Seattle’s nouveau riche cuisine” (all the Microsoft millionaires feel somehow obligated to upscale their food choices), as something more akin to a dare than a dining experience. I personally can’t stand the place. It’s not that the food is bad per-se, just so not my style that I feel like I’m wasting my life choking down something I’m not interested in eating, just to prove something? There’s not a single style of pie with pepperoni, only one with a sausage, and lots of expensive mushroom and veggie options, if you are into that sort of thing. The potato pie is the best one, but there’s never enough of that one to go around. Even when someone else is picking u the check, I just don’t feel like it’s worth my time to go with.

It’s just five bucks more…

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

I don’t understand the economic decisions some people make, when it comes to entertainment. Twice now, I’ve gotten free front-row-center tickets to concerts because no one had purchased a single ticket in the front row. They only cost $5 more than the regular seats; if it’s a band you’re willing to pay $20 for, why not pay $25 to be in the front row?

Then again, I wouldn’t pay anything to see a band I’ve never heard of before, but I will spend a couple hours of my life checking them out if the tix are free. =p

Sucks so far – getting better

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Well, color me underwhelmed by Cataclysm so far. These first sets of underwater quests are annoying as all get out. Since you are swimming 100% of the time, you can’t ever eat/drink to replenish health and mana. Combine with several quests that assume you have dozens of people helping you fight off wave after wave of no-exp/no-money mobs, but still a durability hit every time they kill you, and I’m feeling like it was a big waste of money so far. I’m hopeful that once I get beyond this stupid opening area, the game will be more playable and enjoyable. Sadly, I worry that like most of the recent changes to WoW, without a full-time guild, most of the content will be unavailable to a solo player like me. No real surprise there.

UPDATE: OK, looks like you can eat/drink underwater, you just have to be ‘sitting’ on the ocean floor. Annoyingly inconsistently, you can’t summon your underwater mount unless you are swimming. Sheesh, make up your minds =p And flying in original zones is cheaper than I thought it was going to be. I still hate how the seaweed (or sometimes ragged sails from sunken ships) block the view if you are a camera-all-the-way-out kinda player like me.

Comcast fails again

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Comcast was unprepared for the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm midnight release, it would seem. By 12:15, my internet had gone down, and it sounds like I wasn’t alone. I was on hold for support 30 mins, still in the support queue, when it came back up. Played another half hour before it went down again. This time their automated system at least acknowledged the outage. Looking at the forums, it looks like they weren’t the only ISP to crash under the load.

Unexpected Kintec costs

Monday, December 6th, 2010

When I decided to buy into the Kinect craze, mostly so I can play the Zumba game and impress my mom next time she wants me to come with her to a Zumba session, I knew there’d be a price to pay. The first cost was to my stopped up head; I had to re-arrange my living room to use the length of the room for viewing, instead of the width, which meant reconfiguring both AV and networking systems, which meant kicking up a lot of dust and cat fur, achoo.

There were the half-dozen reboots of the Tivo before it re-recognized the external drive, but no lost data so allswell there. Unfortunately, I noticed the right channel going out on my amp since everything got moved around, and sure enough, it’s something wrong with that component, not a simple bad cable to be replaced.

I suspect that as with most modern toys, replacement will be cheaper than repair. Seems like a waste, but thank goodness we have good, free, e-cycling options in Seattle.

Judy Garland Christmas at Open Circle Theater

Monday, December 6th, 2010

A hopefully yearly tradition at Open Circle Theater, an ensemble cast recreates the infamous 1969 Judy Garland Christmas special. This year they offered a special pre-show-show with drinks and snacks, with “Judy” wandering through in full-on-drunken-stupor-character. There were quite a few people at the Breakfast with Judy pre-event, enough so that by the time “Judy” came in, everyone had broken up into little clique-circles and mostly ignored her, which kind of annoyed me, all the more so since I wasn’t in any of those cliques and was feeling somewhat bored waiting for things to start happening. The food was tasty =)

When the full show started, it was to an over-full house. Having never seen the TV show itself, I was often befuddled by some of the happenings on stage. After the played version, the second half of the show was watching the original video, with commentary by our “Judy”. Suddenly lots of jokes from the first half were layers of funny more so than they’d been on their own. “You thought we made that part up?”

Jumping the gun

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Wired has announced the google ebooks store, and google has a link to download the app, but iTunes must not have gotten the message they were going live today; it fails any request with “not available in the U.S.” error message. lol

The android app is downloadable already. So far it’s nothing special; you use the browser to look for books, it does support background downloading. On the one book I tested so far, Tom Robbins – Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, the title pages are not in color, and are displayed as tiny thumbnail sized images in a sea of white.

I was kind of hoping there was some obvious way to add your own books and take advantage of the sync feature, but if there is, I haven’t found it yet. The google help page for the app has a link to the forums, except the forum they send you to doesn’t exist yet. Maybe it’s the time I spent in the music biz, but I’m always unimpressed by such significant issues with release synchronization. It’s like they don’t even have a checklist of things to make sure got setup correctly by go-live-date.

UPDATE: A couple hours later (9am Pacific) and the iphone app is available now too.

Must work into conversation someday…

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Supposed Afrikaans insult “Jou mammie naai vir bakstene om jou sissie se hoerhuis te bou Vieslik!”, your mother engages in prostitution in order to raise funds for building materials necessary to construct a brothel from which your sister will operate.