Michelle and I have been having a lot of fun playing this game lately. It's a must play if you're a word game fan of any stripe, and even if you don't generally enjoy board games (especially if you find them too slow).

What makes this one unique is that it all happens in real time. My lovely wife is a real shark at this and every other word game we've played, but we both end up having a lot more fun with this than most others we've tried.

Two thumbs up.

Is it just me...

Or has the number of new programming languages been increasing exponentially of late?

I don't just mean the number of new languages being invented, because that's always been the case, but the number which are actually garnering a fair bit of tech buzz?

In the last few months, I've heard a LOT about Clojure, Scala, Factor, and most recently Google's Go.

I can't help but wonder if maybe we should stop inventing new programming languages and paradigms, and maybe focus on using the ones we have already more effectively and creatively.

Then again, maybe I'm just getting old :)

Twitter is not Facebook, let's keep it that way.

I've been enjoying Twitter for quite a while now.

Despite all the blather out there about it being a self indulgent waste of time, I think it's become pretty clear to anyone open minded enough to actually wake up and smell the coffee that it's a communications medium like any other, but one that lends itself to the dynamic, fast paced nature of the modern world we live in. I personally find Twitter useful on a number of levels, but first and foremost as a tool for the dispersal of technical information to interested parties.

For instance I follow Guillaume Laforge, one of the designers of the Groovy programming language to see what's up with new releases of his software, what he's up to, etc. I'm also following a number of members of the Windows PowerShell development team at Microsoft to get the inside scoop on that awesome tool.

I also follow Amanda Palmer, lead vocalist for The Dresden Dolls, several authors, and a smattering of friends who've also been turned on to Twitter, as well as some feeds around hobbies and interests of mine - the Corel Painter community has an incredibly vibrant Twitter presence.

My point here is that Twitter may have originally been about what people are eating for lunch today, or that the train is late in coming and they're stuck next to a guy who smells on the platform, but like most things it has evolved and become something much more than the designers originally intended.

There is this rather useful convention in the Twitter world called hash tags - things like #powershell or #groovy or #redsox - these let people with particular interests 'tune in' on related tweets whether or not they're already following a person.

In the last week however I've begun to see a trend I really do not like. Tags like #spymaster are being used by people playing games that use Twitter and your followers as the medium.

This clutters up my Twitter feed, but more to the point, makes Twitter much less usable and interesting for those who don't have and/or don't want to need fancy clients that can filter out certain tags so they won't be bothered by them.

I like Facebook, it's been a fantastic way for me to get back in touch with a bunch of people I am really psyched to be in contact with again, but as anyone with a lot of Facebook friends and not a lot of time knows, the silly games and apps can get quite chatty and really annoying awfully quick.

I'm not saying anyone's doing anything wrong here - some of the apps are fun and a couple are even useful or enlightening, but when you log in and see 120 Little Green Plant requests, 50 Snowball requests, 40 Mixed Drink requests, and 300 'Other' requests, it gets real old, real fast :)

So that's my take on the matter. Let's keep Twitter as much signal as we can, lest the noise overtake us and leave us drowning in its wake.

So, I landed in China Town!

It has been forever and a day since I posted here. I apologize for the fade, my 4 or 5 readers must be thinking I'd joined the silent masses of bloggers who can't overcome the inertia and fail to post ever again...


As I described in my last post, January was not the best of months for me, and neither was February for that matter. After the layoff, I launched into the job search with zeal and quickly remembered (It's like riding the bike :) the familiar rhythms of the horse and pony show that is any job search.

There was definitely work to be had out there, but much of it was well outside the city, only barely accessible via a bus line that dropped me into the middle of a very pedestrian unfriendly industrial park. Eek. I interviewed a lot, and even had a close call at MIT but in the end analysis they had further cuts and couldn't hire for the job for another month or so which put me out of the running - I have a hungry mortgage to feed after all :)

In the end, a recruiter from a company I'd never heard of before - The Trizetto Group called and said they were very interested.

They're a Windows shop, which initially made me shy away from the idea, but they do a LOT of Perl for their core process automation stuff which I'm reasonably fluent in, and it would be an opportunity for a total technology reboot - not something one gets a lot of chances to do in one's career. So I interviewed there a couple of times and it worked out.

In a lot of ways, it's been really great. They're right across from the Chinatown gate in the picture above, so I can just hop on the bus outside my door for a short ride to Sullivan Station T, then another reasonably short subway ride to the Chinatown stop on the Orange Line. I've been enjoying the chance to explore Chinatown more fully. Where else can you stop off at the market next door before work and grab a can of white fungus drink, or some dried cuttlefish snack? (Why you would want to is a different matter altogether, though I do enjoy the cuttlefish :)

The work has been exciting and challenging as well. I was really, REALLY out of touch with the modern Windows environment. My last real experience working in depth with it was back in the Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 98 era and it has come a long, LONG way since then.

The hours have been long at times (I joined toward the end of a release cycle and it's a major crunch) but I've been learning a ton about Installshield, .Net, ASP.Net, Powershell, the registry, and in general the vagaries of working in the Windows environment.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should ditch the comfort of their Linux or Mac environments. Heck, if I had my druthers I'd be hacking on one of those for a living.

In my opinion, many geeks (and I was very much guilty of this) have institutionalized the hatred of all things Microsoft, and in so doing have had their heads in the sand for so long that they've failed to notice a truly powerful environment evolving out of the muck.

I'll get off my soapbox now. I guess that's about it - life is generally pretty good. There are times when I wish I could be spending time with my lovely wife or my friends, but I'd rather deal with that than the alternative!

Hopefully I'll have something of substance to say again soon. Stay tuned!

A Short, Sharp Shock

One morning a few weeks back I was told to get in early to meet about an upcoming release that was happening...

Unfortunately, we were in for a big surprise.

Three of my co-workers and I were laid off that morning, along with 23 other unlucky souls from different parts of the lab.

In some sense I can understand the necessity for this kind of overt deception - there are certainly a non trivial number of people who would not react well to "Hey, be sure to be in by X time, because we're doing lay offs and we don't want your tardiness to clog up the gears!", but I can't help but feel there has to be a better way.

For some reason this one was a bit harder than most for me to accept, because I loved working at the Broad and had no desire to leave. I don't harbor any ill will against anyone over it - everyone was just doing their jobs, and in truth save for my misgivings about leading lambs to the slaughter like that, I think everyone handled the whole process with a great deal of professionalism, which is all anyone can ask.

I had the pleasure of working with a bunch of incredibly bright, talented, friendly people for 4 years. In high tech that's a pretty good run actually!

So, I'm doing the job search thing again. I chose to eschew the job placement seminars and such they'd set up for us - I know how to polish my resume and how to interview, and to my mind that 2 or three days was much better spent trying to find a soft place for myself to land while the incredible shrinking job market vaporized before my eyes.

I've been very lucky, things are actually going very well thus far - I've had 2 first round interviews and one 2nd round, with another set for today, and two more first round interviews set for tomorrow.

So, we'll see where all of this leads me.

I can't say enough about how amazing my wife has been through all of this - I'm a very lucky guy indeed :)

Rock Band 2 Special Edition Box - Awesome :)

My wife was kind enough to indulge my penchant for video games this evening by helping me unpack and set up the Rock Band 2 Special Edition box.

It's quite a production! Lots of parts and a bit of part a slot b assembly, but the totally picture based instructions were clear and the instruments were very well constructed. Each part that needed to be inserted into another gave a satisfying click when it was seated properly, and everything had a very rugged feel - no chintzy plastic pieces or flimsy parts.

The tutorials are excellent and get the player up to speed with his/her instrument very quickly.

I quickly settled into playing the bass track with the guitar - there were many fewer notes so the songs were much easier to handle.

My wife tried the drum set, and looking at her track as we played the songs I was struck by how much harder her end of things was. She also mentioned a couple of times how sensitive the drums were to being hit exactly on center.

So next time I'll try the drums and she'll give the bass guitar a shot :)

Anyway, I am very very impressed. As a fan of Harmoinix from way back (I own Frequency for the PS2) it's a lot of fun to watch them evolve the genre.

Looking forward to having some time to practice some more, and maybe try out the microphone!


[ Note: Adorable Golden retriever picture behind the cut. ]

We are dog sitting for one of my wife's co-workers this weekend. He's a big lovable Golden named Buddy, and I am totally smitten :)

Buddy Visit

As anyone who knows me can attest, I was owned by a Golden for years back in my pre college days, and I've been wanting another one ever since.

Happily, my wife is also an easy mark for such a big adorable fluff ball, so I might have a shot at it :)

Time to go take our after dinner walk.

Something for nothing when you don't WANT IT is still damn annoying.

Dear Sun;

When you tell me I hava Java (TM) updates available on my work Windows machine, I gleefully say sure why not and click through the installer, because generally Sun provided updates to my installed JDK don't do anything evil, and with security and all it's a good idea to stay up to date.

HOWEVER - trying to shoehorn OpenOffice into the mix is downright annoying, and I resent it.

I don't have anything at all against OpenOffice. In fact, it's a Class A piece of open source software and is damn impressive for what it is, what it does, and how much it costs ($0).

However, I and many other users have exactly zero use for OpenOffice because we have the arguably more powerful Microsoft Office suite already installed on our machines.

I take no issue with having a little checkbox that says "Hey, want to get OpenOffice along with Java?" because at least I can check that off if I want, or not. But having your Java update installer constantly display ads for OpenOffice, and having it give me no choice in the matter as to whether or not I want the ferschlugging OpenOffice installer is just wrong.

The software sells itself, Sun, there's no reason to try to sneak it under the radar of unsuspecting users just because you want to be able to claim more seats. Last time you tried this with Netbeans, and look at how well that turned out!

So, get a clue people, really. Truth in advertising, let me do what I mean and don't try to install software that I need whether I realize it or not, it just pisses me off.

Grumph, enough ranting for now :)

DEAD is dead!

I had a rather 'meta' moment today after reading another article bemoaning the death of the PC as a gaming platform (An assertion of at best dubious nature).

Taking a step back, I realized that just about every single instance of someone wailing "X is DEAD!" turned out to either be patently untrue or at least a severely twisted view of the facts at hand.
"The desktop is dead. The web *IS* the platform!"
"PC gaming is dead. Next gen consoles rule supreme!"
"Disco is dead!"
"God is dead!"
"Paul is (a) dead(man)!"
"Table top role playing is dead!"

You get the idea. Clearly, we need to re-examine our conceptions around exactly what it means for something to be dead.

"This blog is DEAD!"

Ahem. Maybe not :)

The Xbox 360 has landed!

I have suffered as much pain and heaped as much hatred in Redmond's general direction as the next battle hardened veteran geek, but man, this console is home entertainment done right.

Out of box hook up couldn't possibly be any easier. Plug the power brick into the wall and the Xbox360, plug the HDMI cable into your TV, plug the ethernet cable into your network and away you go. It's that simple.

Network setup was beyond trivial - the unit set itself up properly despite my somewhat complex home network configuration (I have a Linksys and a Buffalo wifi router both running WDS, one doing NAT duties for the house) and was talking to Xbox Live and downloading updates immediately.

I bought the Elite model, with the 120GB HD, so it comes with 'auto download' turned on. I rather like this (Some would find it annoying I'm sure) as it means that my console is pre-seeded with all the latest demos so I can play all the hot new games to get an idea of what they're like before buying.

And wow, the picture quality with this thing and a nice HD set is impressive. I'm finding that video from the XB360 looks much better than HD video from cable (I'm guessing this is a result of the compression I keep hearing that cable companies like Comcast use.). I only have Bioshock and Mass Effect thus far, and that they look amazing probably goes without saying given the hype around them before and after their release.

Another aspect of the XB360 experience I'm rather fond of are 'zones' - your choices are Recreational, Family, Pro, and Underground. This means that folks like me who are exceedingly unlikely to spend 22 hours straight playing Halo to hone their attack skills aren't pitted against people who haven't seen the sun in the last few years.

I was also surprised to see the depth and breadth of decidedly casual games in the 'arcade' section, for people who eschew shooters and the 'temple of twitch' style of gaming.  Old board gaming standards like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Lost Cities are notable in their presence, as well as a bunch of arcade classics I was pleased to see being introduced to new generations of gamers (Like Gauntlet and Joust.  Blue Valkyrie needs food badly! :)

Anyway, my gamer tag is 'forthewyn' in case anyone else out there has an Xbox and cares to add me to their friend list.