Thursday, August 27, 2015

Switching contexts

WARNING!  There's some technical stuff in this one.  Skim over anything that makes you too cross-eyed.

My first computer was a Commodore 64.  I got it in the 6th grade, and it was a fantastic computer, I didn't do much programming on it (I was only 11 years old at the time), but I did play a ton of games with it.  It became my de facto gaming machine, graduating from the coarse user experience of the Atari 2600 (which I also played the heck out of, and may it rest in peace).

When the power supply for the Commodore 64 eventually burned out, I graduated to the Commodore 128.  Again, I did very little programming on it, and in fact spent most of my time booting into 64 mode in order to play games.  This was a wonderful feature for me, as I didn't have to learn very many new operations.

My mom got an Apple IIc at some point in my junior high or high school career, but I didn't warm to it too much -- too different from the Commodore line, and I was pretty loyal to my current context.  Mom eventually got a Vendex Headstart II, which was the computer I used up until my junior year of college.  It had a word processor, which was the most important thing to me since I needed to type papers.  Nevermind the fact that I couldn't type properly.  :-)

My junior year of college was a turning point for me, as I got an IBM PS/2 25 SX running Windows 3.1.  From that point on, I was a PC/Windows guy.  I spent the next 20 years doing software development in that technology stack, being mostly successful along the way.

Two years ago, I joined a company that doesn't do Windows/PC development, and the default work station was a MacBookPro.  It took me a while, but I managed to get a pretty fair handle on the new paradigm.  I suppose an old dog can learn new tricks when forced to.  I liked the machine so much that when it came time to replace my personal computer, I went with a small MacBookPro instead of a Windows PC.  This marked the first time I ever bought an Apple computer for myself.

Despite this new-found adoration of Apple, I've been trying to keep tabs on the Windows world.  Some really good things are happening in the company.  I installed a release candidate of Windows 10 on my personal MacBookPro (using VirtualBox) and ran it quite successfully.  I was very pleased with the changes they made, dumping most of the annoying Windows 8 features and pulling some of the best things about Windows 7 forward (including the Start button).

Two days ago, I took the plunge; I created a BootCamp partition and installed Windows 10 on my personal MBP.  The installation went flawlessly.  Dual-booting has been a breeze.  I've been really pleased with the experience so far.

There are, of course, some struggles.  Strangely, they aren't in anything to do with the software.  Instead, they have to do with the small context switching that's required when going between the operating systems.

Key bindings are the worst.  For example: in OSX, you press command+tab to toggle through open applications.  On Windows, you should use alt+tab.  They're right next to each other on the keyboard, and I constantly press the wrong combination (aside: Windows 10 handles this quite gracefully; OSX does not).  The command versus alt/ctrl context switch is rough.

A minor context switch has to do with the trackpad.  On OSX, you can tap the surface to click.  On Windows 10, you have to click the trackpad to click.  It's a subtle difference, but my fingers tend to ache a bit if I have to click the trackpad too much.

The good news is that even though I'm struggling a little, it doesn't have anything to do with either OS -- it's a PEBKAC issue.  If you've been considering trying Windows 10, I encourage you to do so (especially if you're on Windows 8).  I won't try to convince anyone from the OSX crowd.  They're pretty loyal to their current context...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday morning scattershooting

I haven't listened to The Ticket (KTCK) regularly in over two years.  The reason for this is quite simple: just over two years ago, I started working from home at a job where I spend almost 100% of my time working with someone else on the other end of a video conference, sharing a screen and talking a bunch.  Given that the shows that most interest me come on during drive times, those opportunities to listen were suddenly gone.  The only reason I bring it up is because every time I use the term "scattershooting," I feel like I should give credit to Junior Miller from the morning show there for popularizing the term.  "Friday Morning Scattershooting" was one of my favorite segments.

To be clear, I used the term "scattershooting" long before hearing it on the radio.  I had to.  I knew there was a single word or phrase that could succinctly describe my tendency to talk about whatever random topic popped into my head in fairly rapid succession regardless of whether or not people within earshot responded (which, by the way, they typically do, although it's mostly with "is this guy nuts?" looks).

So this morning I'm actually scattershooting on the topic of scattershooting... Is that too meta for a Sunday morning?  I suspect the answer is "no," given the general connotations with religious ceremonies and observances reserved for sometime on the weekend.

When I did an image search for "scattershooting," I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite search engine didn't quite know what to make of the term.  Have a look at visual snippet of the result.

Yes, I do believe that is a picture of a fake pile of poo you can wear as a hat in the third row, just below and to the left of a contentedly chubby and cherub-faced Haley Joel Osment.

To verify this wasn't a fluke, I did the search again using my not-quite-favorite-but-really-trying-hard search engine.  Several of the same images came up, but the new entry that most interested me was this (used without permission, all rights reserved by current copyright owners):

In my head, I immediately heard these two characters speaking these two lines.  They still make me smile!  NARF!!

"Scattershot" itself has multiple meanings, ranging from the mundane to the absolutely captivating.  Immediately after the definition, my favorite search engine gave me the following link.  Scattershot is the name of an incredibly entertaining Autobot in the Transformers universe.  For those of you that aren't aware, I'm involved in a weekly Transformers role-playing game based primarily off of the RoleMaster RPG rules.  This is a game that had been running for three or four years before I was invited, and this coming week will be right at my one-year anniversary mark.

It's been a really interesting adventure, as I was only familiar with the property through the cartoons from the 80s.  Transformers as toys were always too complicated for me.  I was a pretty impatient kid and not the most dexterous guy around either.  There were comics as well, and several other animated series beyond the original.  Relatively recently, the franchise was reborn in the vision of Michael Bay.  I found the first movie to be pretty entertaining, but they quickly degenerated to the degree that I never saw the last installment.  I sincerely hope they don't make another.

Speaking of last installments, I did finally see the final Hobbit movie.  I wish I'd used better judgement there as well.  After the end of the second movie, I thought it would be a bad idea to continue.  I've decided to treat that trilogy as a kind of alternate history.  The Lord of the Rings seemed canonical enough to me to fully enjoy, but the three Hobbit movies are hardly worth the effort.

Tanya and I saw two movies that are worth the effort this past weekend.  My friend LonAnne's oldest son Thomas has decided to make movies for a living.  To that end, his high school senior project was a production of The Man Who Loved Flowers, a short story by Stephen King.  He and his friend Josh also made The Last Day Ever over this summer from the ground up.  They were both pretty fantastic, and I hope they do well at the festivals the movies are sent to this year.  They'll both be going to the Santa Fe University of Art and Design to study their craft more.

And speaking of going off to college, here's the final scattershooting topic for the day.  Both of my sons will be in high school starting tomorrow.  In less than four years, I will lose the ability to compel them to spend time with me.  On most levels, I'm really excited to see what they make of themselves.  I've tried and will continue to try to teach them to be skeptical and curious, to question and figure out, and to work hard at things even though they aren't necessarily interested in them.  I'm finding this latter lesson to be the hardest to teach, by far.

On a very small level, there's an irrational fear that neither of them will remember to call me, much less visit me.  I think I understand why my parents didn't warn me about this feeling though.  I suspect that they are scared pretty shitless of that possibility themselves, and don't want to upset the balance one way or the other.

Kids, call your parents this weekend, and every weekend you're able.  It may not seem like much to you, but it is a large part of the world to them.  And visit when you can.  Phone calls are nice, but hugs are nicer.

That's it for Sunday morning scattershooting.  Tune in next week when I return to something a little more focused, like cutting the cord with cable!  Or a deeper look at the movie Inception.  Or both.  Gah, still scattershooting, apparently... ;-)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On this, the day after my birthday...

Yesterday marked the 43rd anniversary of the day my mother claims I was born.  I, of course, don't have a clear memory of the event, so I have to take her word for it.  When I questioned her about it, she seemed kind of confused, but then reminded me that I had a birth certificate signed by a medical doctor and filed with the State of Texas.  Apparently she thinks I put faith and trust in "official documentation."  I'm telling you, people: pics, or it didn't happen!

At this point, I'm willing to embrace the symbolism that August 15th embodies for me.  It is, in fact, the day I celebrate my birthday, and a bunch of people took a bit of time out of their other activities to wish me good will.  It meant a lot to me.  I'm very thankful that I've got a circle of virtual friends that I get to talk to, regardless of location, at least a couple of times a year.  Technology is a wonderful thing!

And it truly was a wonderful day.  My wife made me nutella pancakes for breakfast, and followed that up with homemade lemon bars for dessert after a dinner of poached salmon, sticky rice and arugula salad with balsamic dressing.  She also got me 19 books for my birthday -- every book on my kindle wish list cleared out all at once.   Combine that with a visit from Tanya and Marco (along with another book and some highly-sought-after Miyazaki blu-rays), texts from the boys (received at almost the same instant, probably prompted by their mother ;) ) and other friends, a phone call from my mom, and my sister posting half a dozen funny greeting-style cards on Facebook talking about how awesome a brother I am, and I'm left with a lasting sense of well-being.

I can't recall having birthday warm-n-fuzzy hangover before, but I've got it now.

One other thing I like to do at this time of year is introspect and project.  I take a look back on what I've done the past year and see what general things I'd like to do this year.  I haven't done the latter yet, but the former is quite a bucket list.  A lot of it has already been covered in this blog via other posts, so I won't regurgitate it here.  Suffice to say that this year has been one filled with wonder, activity, joy, laughter, and colored by only a little sadness.  I've learned a lot about who I am and experienced things I hadn't expected.  It's been a fantastic year!

So... thank you: to all of you with whom I have the privilege of sharing a ride on this planet-styled spaceship.  Special thanks to those of you that put up with my regular interactions.  Super special thanks to those of you that interact back in such a way that the edges of my mouth crease up.  I appreciate the effort.  I hope that you get some giggles in return.

Also, in case you didn't realize: Jennifer Lawrence and Ben Affleck have this same anniversary at the same time every year.  Ben and I are actually exactly the same age.  It's entirely possible that he and I are twins, separated at birth by the government/aliens to ensure that we don't dominate mankind with our collective charisma.  As I said, pics or it didn't happen (or did, in this case)...