Did you ever have one of those days, filled with little ups and big downs, only to realize that there's little honest-to-god solace to be found in the world wide Web?
Aside from my ongoing Halo 2 addiction, I've been enoying the hell out of X-Men Legends on Xbox. I haven't been the world's most dedicated X-Men fan for... oh about 20 years or so (I'm a big fan of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne-era Men.)
The good news is that the developers, Raven, have cleverly devised a game that should appeal to anyone who's read the comics -- no matter your favorite era. Through liberal use of playable 'flashback' missions, you might find yourself battling Sentinels in NYC circa 1989, or trying to keep Juggernaut from smashing up the X-Mansion in 1968. Playing as a Kirby-era Beast is a hoot.
The most compelling part about the game, though, is the pure visceral thrill of cutting loose with the various characters' powers. Cyclops, who's never been my favorite character, becomes a deadly scalpel in this game. His Optic Blast, at higher levels, will destroy most anything on the screen. And Storm, once fully amped, is amazing. (Almost makes me forgive Halle Berry's lame casting in the movies. Almost.) Cutting loose with Colossus is fun, too. I'd have to say my favorite character to play, though, is Nightcrawler. The 'poof'-ing 'bamph'-ing acrobat is realized perfectly. Just the way my 12-year old imagination dreamed.
I do have to say that the gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive (walk from scene to scene, fights thugs. Occasionally take on Boss. Repeat.) But you know what? Wielding Jean Gray's Physic Scream, or zipping around the screen on Iceman's Ice Tracks just never gets old. I've spent entire hours just busting up shit in empty hallways. And loving it.
Jeez. Sounds like someone's got too much discretionary income on his hands. STFU, already.
How charming. After spending the past month fighting off dozens of Trackback-spams a day.. I just receieved a Comment Spam! It's so cute.. it's like it's 2004 all over again!
Teasing gallery of curvaceous cartoon women, courtesy Dan DeCarlo:
If you've ever taken a look at Betty or Veronica in an Archie comic, it's almost certain that you've enjoyed the art of Dan DeCarlo. Dan is recognized as the single most defining artist to work on the Archie books, with over 4 decades of drawing the Riverdale gang under his belt between the 60s and 2000.
So, a few weeks back, Dave was wondering if his site had a reason to go on. Ever since, he's caught fire, with a wide-ranging set of astute observations, and some tasty literary criticism. Keep it coming, Dave! (And pardon the Van Halen reference -- I couldn't resist.)
So I spent the better part of last night putting together a little Applescript. The intent is to scrape a given Halo 2 player's stats page from Bungie.net for their 'Last Active' time (The date and time when they were last on XBox Live - useful for knowing when you should jump online and catch someone for some party-play.)
A little curl-ing, a little grep-ing and a little Applescript date manipulation (which is weak btw, in Applescript - no timezones!) and I had it working alright. I'd planned on polishing it up tonight -- Bungie returns all times in Pacific Standard Time, which annoys me, here in the heart of Ohio.
So I'm tying in a quick sidetrip to the Current Time web service at xmlrpc.com, then doing a comparison so I can give a 'x hours ago' or n minutes ago' estimate. (Why the query to a time server? Cause I want to make the script available for download, and I don't want to bother asking people to choose a timezone to do the date/time comparisons.)
Anyway, I am digressing...
So last night the script was working fine. Tonight however, my text munging was coming back all wrong. At first, I suspected that Bungie had made a configuration change to their servers. For a couple of minutes earlier tonight, hitting the stats pages unauthenticated (via .NET Passport) was yielding a different display (it was ommitting Clan Name and Last Active) than when you were signed in.
I actually got a little paranoid: did someone at Bungie.net see my curl calls in the logfiles, and suspect some scraping? Did they password-protect the Last Active date to discourage me? Puh-lease.. I made like 30 attempts last night - barely a blip on their radar, I'm sure. And plenty of other folks are scraping. (On a far larger scale, I'm sure.)
I was already researching ways to get around the authentication problem (
wget has cookie- and browser-auth switches, right?) when the problem stopped and non-auth and auth versions of the page synced up again. I think what happened is that they actually changed the displayed information for the Last Active date, and it caused a temporary behavioral blip (probably while the changes propogated out to various servers.)
And... sure enough.. they now display the timezone, PST, alongside the date. (Probably after getting a couple of 'why is this time so wrong?' complaints.) And my crude data parsing methods actually involve find the end of that line and counting backwards to extract the pieces I need. (Ghetto, I know, but my perl chops are nonexistent and I just wanted to cobble this thing together in a night. So there!)
Which all goes to point up the well-known danger of scraping data from a website for use by some format-sensitive script: it's a website. It will change frequently, and frequently without any warning. (And, to be perfectly honest, it seems to be against the site's Terms of Service (read that bit about 'Personal and Non-Commercial Use'.)
Now Bungie does provide RSS feeds of player stats. (Which is cool.) All you'd have to do is look at the first (chronologically, the last) entry's
PubDate, and you're good as gold. (btw, I'll point out that all dates in the RSS file are GMT which, while no better for me here in Columbus, at least don't come off as quite so Redmond-centric as Pacific time.)
The added benefits of getting it from the RSS? You can be sure the format won't change quite so arbitrarily (no presentation dust-ups every couple weeks) and I wouldn't feel quite so ... dirty, getting the data this way. I can't say that the TOS necessarily encourages data manipulation of RSS vs. the HTML way, but one would think that Bungie reasonably expects people to take the RSS and have fun with it. I suspect that the data-scrapers (like, the serious ones that are building full-on stats-package websites for Halo2) give them headaches. They'd certainly explain why the site feels so damn sluggish at times. I've also read that they don't bother with the RSS, cause it doesn't include as much raw data as you can get from the scraped site.
So I'd like to get the Last Active time via the RSS feed, but I'll be danged if I can figure out how to derive a given players RSS url from nothing more than their gamertag. Has anyone out there found a way to do this? (It's probably some brain-dead simple scheme, but remember - I wanted to do this in an hour!!)
Okay, I've probably taken more time writing this entry than I wanted to spend on the script itself. Carry on... (Oh, and I'll post up that Applescript once I've got the kinks worked out.)
Damn, the pickings for Russian mail-order brides must be gettin' pretty slim. I think I'd rather marry the dog.
Halo2Status.appfrom the ZIP file.
Noodling around with the Halo thing made me realize that another script that I used to feature on this site has been offline for quite a while. Muilt-placer (Or Multiplacer) is a script that enhances Illustrator's 'Place' command. (FWIW, this was probably the only truly useful piece of content ever posted on this site.)
I'm breaking from my usual policy of 'stupid stuff only' on Soldier Ant to point to Implementing a Pattern Library in the Real World: A Yahoo! Case Study. It was recently presented at the 2005 IA Summit by Matt Leacock, Erin Malone and Chanel Wheeler. (Matt and Erin are old friends and colleagues of mine.) This is a great paper and --I'm sure-- was a great presentation as well. Check it out!
A friend of mine has just started doing this and it looks like a wonderful opportunity. Alcatraz is one of those things about San Francisco that I never tired of...
Baseportal offers free and easy online database creation. (I had a really good idea for a Web-based service site tonight -- it's not this, but it's kinda close.)
Thurston Moore reminisces about mix tapes (I like that he got the very idea of doing a 'mix-tape' from Robert Christgau.) This is kind of a touching essay, because it's not written by Thurston the musician - it's more about Thurston, the music fan.
Around 1980, there was a spontaneous scene of young bands recording singles of superfast hardcore punk - Minor Threat, Negative Approach, Necros, Battalion of Saints, Adolescents, Sin 34, the Meatmen, Urban Waste, Void, Crucifucks, Youth Brigade, the Mob, Gang Green. I was fanatical and bought them all as soon as they came out. I was just a dishwasher at a SoHo restaurant - not exactly raking in the dough - but I needed these sides!
Is Charlie out there? Is he listening? Can he possibly believe that there was a second (never-aired) commercial that Ellen Feiss did for Apple? Believe it, Charlie. Check out that yellow belt.
More California reminiscing.. Here's a nice little movie of driving north on 280 that basically recreates the drive I took every day for 5 years. (Okay, after about the 3d year, 280 wasn't as common as braving the HOV-lane on 101 with my carpool-buddy Jim.) As much as I hated spending 2-3 hours in a car every day, you gotta admit that 280 is one beautiful highway to spend it on. (Found via Matt Haughey.)
This is all rather silly, and it's old old news. But if you haven't heard it, it's good for a laugh.
So the rumor goes that Paul McCartney has been dead for more than 30 years. Killed in a motorcycle accident (while distracted by the site of Lovely Rita Meter Maid) he was decapitated (and disfigured badly as well -- nobody was really sure if he was from the house of [Paul].) Conveniently, a man named William Campbell was available to take his place: Campbell has just finished first in a Beatles lookalike contest.
So there you have it. Paul is dead. I buried Paul.
(And if any of this were even remotely true, then I'm officially nominating this Campbell character for the 'New Job Rampup Award' for all time for learning to play bass left-handed, writing some of the finest songs of the 20th century (okay - so even if he just performed them -- even if he just pantomimed them -- it would still be an amazing performance.)
Like I said, this story is older than me (it really is) but it's fun to revisit from time to time.
Way back in 2002 I posted about Tim Easton and two classic songs: his old signature song, "Bitters Past", and my candidate for his new sig: "Carry Me." Fortunately for us, Tim has posted some great live performances of both songs, as well as some others. Go Grab 'Em.
(Thanks to the always-inspiring Donewaiting.)
Was the Black Plague a result of bio-chemical warfare?
In Brandenburg (Germany) there appeared in 1559 horrible men of whom at first fifteen and later on twelve were seen ... the others (had) fearful faces and long scythes, with which they cut at the oats, so that the swish could be heard at a great distance, but the oats remained standing ... The visit of the strange men to the oat fields was followed immediately by a severe outbreak of the Plague in Brandenburg.And the activity wasn't limited to Germany:
Similar men dressed in black were reported in Hungary ... there appeared so many black riders that the opinion was prevalent that the Turks were making a secret raid, but who rapidly disappeared again, and thereupon a raging plague broke out in the neighborhood.
Strange men dressed in black, "demons" and other terrifying figures were observed in other European communities. The frightening creatures were often observed carrying long "brooms," "scythes," or "swords" that were used to "sweep" or "knock at" the doors of people's homes. The inhabitants of those homes fell ill with plague afterwards. It is from these reports that people created the popular image of "Death" as a skeleton or demoncarrying a scythe. The scythe came to symbolize the act of Death mowing down people like stalks of grain ..
So how long has Jorn Barger been back? Last I knew, he was on walkabout somewhere in the Southwest... Anyone?
Hey! New Halo Maps! Coming Soon! With a sneak peak available right now. This is way cool -- to me, Containment kinda looks like a Coagulation-scale map (but maybe with some of the pedestrian-traffic boredom eliminated.) And just the other night I was playing the H2 campaign game, and thinking to myself: "Wouldn't it be cool to do multiplayer in Old Mombasa? I got my wish -- 'Turf' (pictured) looks like it'll be a blast.
And in other exciting Halo 2 news, a good friend of mine just got onto Live for the first time tonight. (You know who you are.) Evening frag-fests will never be the same again.
So during a casual conversation with my wife this afternoon, I realized that grok may be the quintessential 'nerd tell' of all time: anyone who uses it probably works in the technology industry, and I've never heard it used casually in the culture at large. (Unlike, say, 'parse' which I've heard creep into the common lingo here and there.) Grok is like our nerdy Masonic handshake.
More than 3 years ago, when I was still living in San Francisco, I almost became obsessed with X10 home automation. Almost, I said: which means that I thought about it for months on end, talked about it incessantly, and never actually did anything about it. Aside from buying 2 second-hand Audreys, which were to be the thin-clients that accessed my kickass http-enabled X10 interface.
Cut to 3 years later, and I've finally sold the Audreys. Chalk the whole project up to lack of time, lack of interest, lack of... whatever. (The good news is that they held their value pretty well. The 2 + some accessories went for about 190 bucks combined on Ebay, which is actually more than I gave for them in 2002. Yay, laws of dwindling-supply-and-continued-demand!)
But I have revived my interest in home automation. Which seems so much more appropriate now that I own my own home, instead of renting a shoebox in the Inner Sunset. (Really, why would one automate actions in an apartment so small that you could almost reach any light switch while sitting on the couch?!) So I used my Ebay proceeds to get Indigo, an X10 controller and a couple of lamp modules.
I actually got the slightly-beefier Control Package from funforgeeks.com, and was pleased with the transaction - nice site, quick fulfillment, and even a little handwritten thank-you from head geek 'Norm.' Thanks, Norm!
My first simple project is to create a pretty simple X10 action set: I want a couple of lights to act natural when we're away from home for the night. So far, the setup has been pretty easy, and I've got a little blue test-lamp (from Wishbone, in my old 'hood, appropriately enough) dimming, undimming, powering off and on. Fun stuff.
Baby steps. Next stop - whole home domination. I'll keep y'uns posted.
I spent an hour on I-70 tonight, coming back to Columbus from Zanesville (my hometown.) Driving alone is, for me, an amazing experience - probably the closest I come in my life to a meditative state. Some things occurred to me, and I want to write them down so they aren't lost come morning.
I was in Zanesville to visit my brother Brian, who's leaving for Alaska tomorrow. Brian spent six years near Fairbanks, at Eielson AFB and now, some... geez.. 12 or 13 years later? he's going back again, this time as a civilian contractor. I'm pretty used to saying goodbye to Brian. He moves around a lot. (In our wedding program, we noted the home-cities of all the members of our wedding party. Brian we listed as 'Aimless Drifter.')
I know he'll have a great summer up North, and I'm glad I got a couple hours' face-time in with him before he leaves. Brian is one of those special people in my life that I have absolutely no anxieties about. Or around. My relationship with him is good, no matter the time or distance between us.
On the drive home, I listened to an old cassette tape that I've carried around in my car. Kevin Johnson and the Linemen. The tape was a gift from my friends Sandra and Mikol. Johnson is actually the brother of another friend of ours, Kelly, from grad school. I liked the music -- rootsy americana. Some tasteful mandolin, pretty straightforward songwriting. A couple songs reminded me of Dwight Yoakum (which is a high compliment, in case you're not familiar with Dwight's oeuvre.) My only complaint was the production. It was a little too.. easy. I like my roots-rock with grit under its nails, and the Linemen went down a little too smoothly. I'm curious enough to look up some of their newer titles, though.
But the music's not the point... The damn thing is, I've carried that tape for almost 10 years now. And tonight was the first time I've listened to it. Let me repeat that, for those who weren't paying attention: I am the kind of man that can fully intend to listen to a cassette tape (a gift, mind you -- Sandra was so proud when she presented it to me, and said 'I knew when I heard it, it was Brycey-music!') For 10 years. And still never get around to following up on his good intentions.
Okay. Revelation number 1: I've got problems with follow-through.
Listening to the music, driving along, missing my wife and the dogs (and kinda driving too fast so I can get home to let them out for bedtime pees - the dogs, not the wife), I start to think about Mikol, and Sandra, and other friends. Brian, my other brother Brent. Valerie, Shawn, Nate, Gary, Brandon, Rob, Ron, Bradley, Amy and Dawna. And on. And on.
Then I realize that these are people.. friends.. that I think about, and sometimes talk about several times a day with my wife. These are the people of my anecdotes, my stories, my jokes and my memories.
But I might not talk to them more than once or twice a year.
Revelation number 2: My follow-through problems extend into my personal relationships.
You see, I have this dirty little secret. Only it's not so dirty, and it's not so little. And now, it's not even a secret. In fact, I think alot of us have this problem. I'm more comfortable alone and inside my own thoughts than anywhere else in the world. And - for whatever reason - I always stop just short of fully committing to the friendships in my life.
A good friend left Columbus today, moving back to California. Another one just gave notice -- it's off to Seattle for her. Will we remain friends? I hope we will. But I always find an easy excuse to beg off (moving away, or changing jobs, or -- that old standby -- "drifting apart.") Life today presents too many easy excuses to not be a good friend. And I'm all too eager to accept those excuses.
Revelation number 3: I don't have as much integrity as I'd like to believe.
In the last few years, my life has become my wife and our dogs. With a little bit left over for her family, and then a littler-yet bit for my own. I was talking with a (new) friend at lunch yesterday about inlaws. For us, at least, the old stereotypes just don't ring true. We actually enjoy spending time with our inlaws. Perhaps moreso than with our own families.
Don't get me wrong. I love my family. I love my Mom so much it hurts. My Dad has been my hero for longer than Spiderman. (Folks, that's a looong time.) But, as my friend pointed out, when they talk to me, they're talking to the bookish boy I was. And the awkward teenager. And the deeply-depressed new college grad. And the self-doubting, but self-sufficient, man I've become.
That's a lot of history to fit into every exchange. It has a way of coloring conversations, adding imagined subtexts where maybe none really exist. I've been trying real hard lately to not get cranky with my Mom. Cause I realize, it's never been her I've been cranky with. It's all those years of me that I see reflecting from her eyes.
Revelation number 4: I have this weird belief that I can't be 'known.' (It's so Jerry Springer -- "You don't know me!" my cocky inner white-trash self yells at the taunting crowd that is my life..)
So we come to it. Is this why I can't sustain deep, rich long-term friendships? Is this why I've found it easier, more convenient, to periodically reinvest in new friends? (I tend to have about a 4-year cycle. I refresh friends like I refresh desktop Macs.)
If you're reading this and you're shocked -- "Hey! I've been friends with that asshole for 10 years! Or I thought I was.." then know this: I'm generalizing a bit here. To make a point.
Revelation number 5: I get close to friends only to the point that the relationship gets interesting. Then I back away. Cool down. Stay cordial, but definitely stop investing.
I think I know why this is, but that is a revelation that I'll keep to myself. What I'll offer instead is this: a promise.
I'm kinda getting tired of writing lame stuff on this site. Stuff utterly disconnected from the world of shit that matters. I mean, really. pre-historic Atomic warfare theories? Who cares? My promise (or my threat, depending on how you feel about it) is this: I intend to use this site to reveal a little more about myself. And more importantly, in the coming weeks, I want to write some more about friends that I've known in my life. People who've inspired me, or lifted me up when I've needed it.
I promise not to get too schmaltzy, and -- for the most part -- I won't name names. Okay, maybe first names. But that won't matter, cause I'm only gonna focus on the positive. Yeah, every friendship has its ups and downs. (And you'd all probably prefer to hear the downs, no?) But these will be ups-only. Take them as mini-tributes to the people who've shaped my life. You might find yourself in the list. (If you don't ? Don't worry about it -- I still love you, man.)
Postscript: Just to be clear, I will continue to write about stupid stuff as well, cause I like stupid stuff. And dick jokes. I love those.
Also, just so you know, I was tryin' real hard to find 4 more revelations, cause I wanted to title this post 'Revelation Number Nine' ("Turn me on, dead man.") but then I realized that's a long way to go for such little payoff. And I also didn't want to risk coaxing the endtimes nutjobs over to the site. So be thankful.
Niem Trang's wonderful Dragon Hands.