Sunday, December 16, 2012

Harry Potter and the Outdated Piece Of Shit Technology With Management Support

We were having this discussion Friday, which is kind of sad. There is a politically favored technology in house that sucks ass, and we feel a great deal of motivation and satisfaction in demonstrating how our little team can blow it and the army of devs working with it out of the water using SQL Server and a bit of knowledge and expertise. For example, some doofus will spend 3 days trying to extract the answer to a question from this sorry Paleolithic system with its BASIC code, and then out of desperation they turn to us, and ta-da, answer in seconds.

However this is always followed by the profoundly demotivational realization that basically the political situation is here to stay. We more or less get told to go back into our boxes. It is kind of a shame and I wonder how many places there are around the world where this is how it goes. Generally my way of dealing with it is trying to keep building my own knowledge and expertise so as not to get left behind or complacent, and our little team keeps trying to do good things, maybe just to amuse each other at this point. But like I say, it's quite demoralizing sometimes.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ground Kontrol Arcade, a Great Place for Video Games and a Bad Place for Comedy

Occasionally I get to travel for my job. I like that it's occasional, but on the other hand I would hate to never get a chance to travel. I've had jobs where I went nowhere both figuratively and literally. In this case, we're upgrading to SQL Server 2012 (from 2005), so some training was in order. Fortunately one of the cities where training was taking place was Portland, OR, a place I've wanted to visit ever since I learned that the Dream Of The 90s Is Alive In Portland via Portlandia, a show I have a strange relationship with. What I mean by that is though it is a comedy and funny and it's supposed to be making fun of Portland and its residents and what absurd liberal hippies they are, in my case it makes Portland look like a really great place to live, possibly like Bloomington, but bigger. Everything that's supposed to be one of Portland's foibles is actually endearing to me. Even the dumpster divers are kind of charming. So I had to check it out now that I had the chance.

I knew I had to see Powell's, the multi-level bookstore the size of a city block (plus a science and technology building across the street), and I did. I went there twice, even, and may post about it more later. A friend of mine, Bloominglabs' Jenett T., told me about a place called Ground Kontrol Arcade. It turns out Ground Kontrol is an 80s style arcade, full of 80s games, mostly classic 79-84 era games. There are mostly pinball games upstairs, but I'm not too into that.

For the most part I think the 80s really sucked: Cold War paranoia, that doddering old fool Reagan, really bad drum sounds and dated production, and I had really out-of-control acne. I did love the video games, though, so when I found out about this place, I had to go. I had some fool idea that I'd hang out for just 2 hours or so and have dinner after, like 2 hours would be enough at what would probably be my one and only chance to re-live the glory of Flynn's Arcade in the movie Tron.

I got there about 7, which was cool because that's when they switched to being 21 and over, and yes they serve beer and a couple goofily named arcade themed cocktails (e.g., Vodka Tronic). I had a local beer (Black Butte Porter) and made change. Having a pocket full of quarters when you are over 40 ordinarily would be a damned weighing down your pants in a lopsided way nuisance, but this night it felt great. I started out with Dig Dug and made the rounds, spending more time with Frogger, Tempest, and Asteroids than with the other games, and spending considerable time playing 1986's Rampage, the game where you play a monster destroying cities in the Chicagoland area. In 1986, I was starting college and video games had gone off the radar. I missed Rampage altogether, so it was new to me and I liked it a lot.

A couple observations:

  • Burger Time, while whimsical, is so slow it's painful.
  • For a game from 1979, Asteroids holds up. One thing I'd forgotten was how satisfying the rumble is when you turn on the thrust. In general, like other good games from the era, it makes the most of the technology available.
  • I miss vector graphics (Tempest, Asteroids, Star Wars). The really sharp bright lines are missing in emulators like MAME. Sometimes emulation just doesn't cut it.
  • These games were hazardous after all. I hurt my shoulder with some overzealous joystick work.

I should also mention the sink in the bathroom is outlined with a glowing line, like it's Tron's restroom.

My plan to stay for 2 hours went out the window pretty quickly. Screw it, I could (and did) pick up something at Burger King on the way home. Hours passed, then I heard an announcement from a woman who turned out to be an emcee for an open mic comedy thing they were doing. They don't have a stage, so she was standing in the middle of a few tables near the bar where people drink local beers and eat nachos and other video game arcade bar food. It seemed a very awkward setting for a stand-up performance.

I wasn't exactly there for comedy, and by the crowd's reaction neither was anybody else. Of course, it didn't help that the comic was doing jokes about elderly relatives dying (Too soon! Even if grandma is 90.). She was followed by a guy who did some 'I'm reading a journal entry' conceptual thing who went over about as well, who in turn was followed by a loud 'wacky' guy with a hipster mustache who at least tailored his material to the venue, starting off with a rant about 'Burger Time' which I was receptive to. Apparently they also hold 'Rock Band Karaoke' nights, which I imagine are a bit more fitting and go over well.

Eventually I did go home and eat cheap fast food. Just like the old days and all that. It was a very fun place, highly recommended to anybody wanting to indulge in a couple of hours of nostalgic quarter-wasting.

Oh yeah. The link. Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

ROX 20th Anniversary show and general 90s nostalgia

Last night I went to the ROX 20th Anniversary Show at The Comedy Attic (Bloomington's comedy club known nationally as one of Todd Glass' 3 favorite comedy clubs, alongside Helium in Philadelphia and some other place). This was a proper reunion show as J (who lives in Montana now), B (who lives in New Orleans now), and XY (married to B and thus also in New Orleans) were all there. It was not like one of those 80's era Beach Boys show where Brian Wilson was not performing with them.

J & B on the ROX was a big part of my introduction to Bloomington when I moved here in Fall of '94 (I missed seasons 1 and 2, so of course I will be ordering the DVD set of Season 1). On Tuesday nights, the thing to do was to tune in to local community cable access station CATS (BCAT at the time IIRC) for the latest episode of ROX, introduced with the ominous Carmina Burana theme. The last ROX-related event I attended was the Season 3 (I think) premiere party at The Bluebird in the Fall of '94 (Episode title: 'Movin' On Down').

Though there was an undercurrent of anarchy to the show, it was no comically inept Wayne's World operation. Over the course of the show Editor B developed some really great editing chops, the cast were interesting, smart and fun people, and the show got some deserved national attention. For those of us in Bloomington, it was hyper-local programming years before youTube let anybody put on a show.

It was very much a part of the 90s, capturing what for lack of a better term we'll call the 'Slacker' ethic of the time. J&B and friends opted out of chasing the corporate jobs and big money to stay in what is a really great town (I live here, so I'm biased, but I wanted to live here the whole time I was working in Indy due to the less abundant job market here) and pursue various creative projects (the show, bands, and so on). The thing is, the show holds up twenty years later. During last night's show I sat with a couple considerably younger than I (Dan aka @majtom2grndctrl and his wife Whitney) who discovered the show in the late 90's and early 00's, and are big fans. The clips were very funny and outside of the '92 election clip featuring 'Fuck Tha Police' as background music there weren't really a lot of period-specific references outside of peoples' hair.

The event started off with me reliving a less positive aspect of my 90s life, going to a show by myself (my wife was at home w/ my daughter but said 'you should go') and being kind of awkward and not talking to anybody. Fortunately by the end of the night I had run into and talked to the aforementioned Dan and Whitney as well as a lot of people I knew from the time and from my own hyper-local creative outlet of the time, community radio station WFHB (still going strong). I did a show there from 1am-3am Mon night with my sister. I doubt more than 10 people ever heard it, but we had fun with it.

The format was an introductory rhyme by B followed by a series of clips and commentary by J and B and Terry Hornsby aka T Black. The clips were very funny and there were a lot of laughs, so the Comedy Attic was a fitting venue.

Along with the laughs there was (on my part) some nostalgia for the period. Bloomington in the 90s was a fun place to be, much more fun than the consulting company I went to in suburban Philadelphia in '96 and left after a few months. I'm not sure why I went with that at all, it really couldn't have been more sterile and different than the fun, creative and tight-knit community of Bloomington - I chalk it up to the minimal job opportunities at the time, an ongoing not insignificant issue of living in Bloomington, although in the Bloomington 'if what you want isn't here make it happen yourself' spirit, there have been interesting startups sprouting up in recent years. I wasn't good at living on a Ramen budget and was not as resistant to parental and societal pressures to make some money after getting 2 degrees as J&B and friend were. Anyhow after returning to Bloomington I got together with my wife who was considerably more socially a part of what was going on, and we had a lot of fun and being young (in our 20s) didn't hurt. So though things are good now and you can't go back in time and the usual cliches, it was fun to remember the period and of course to catch up with some people from the time.

Monday, June 04, 2012

'Passion' revisited: Do what you like, not what you love.

Some time ago I wrote about overuse and abuse of the word 'passionate'. For a while on the show 'The Crocodile Hunter', Steve Irwin (RIP) would say 'I am passionate about sharks', and I bought that, but when somebody says they are passionate about about the day job, I get the sense there's sort of a fake smile of desperation thing going on. It reminds me of when David Brent in the U.K. office gives that presentation complete with beat box musical accompaniment, trying hard to present himself as something other than a schlub caught in a pretty ordinary and unfulfilling job.

It's also kind of abusive to young people. There are all kinds of hideously irresponsible platitudes thrown about like 'do what you love, and the money will come', when the world and especially the Internet is full of people doing what they love without the money coming. Yes, it's bad to force kids into limited choices like 'you can be a doctor, a lawyer, or a loser', but a little bit of sense and reality is in order, at least as kids get older. If a 4 year old kid wants to be a wizard or a basketball player or have the power to transmogrify into animals when she grows up, then go for it, kid. I wanted to be a World War I fighter pilot, and the war had been over for over 50 years when I was born. I get horribly ill flying in small planes, so it's all for the best in the end.

By this time the reader has concluded I am a miserable negative fuck, and is making a mental note to try to determine my true identity for an HR blacklist, but the reader has it all wrong. While I have in true internet over-sharing fashion stated that I am pretty uninspired by IT, on the flip side it is actually a job where I do get to use my brain sometimes and solve problems, and I do get to learn new things. Things have to get done, and I can do them, and whooptee-doo, it's Miller Time. After going through a period of wanting to get the hell out and looking around at alternative options, I have decided it's quite OK. But I'm not 'passionate' about it, and I think it would be irresponsible and even unethical to bounce around from career day to career day acting like a phony trying to convince kids that working in IT is like a rap video every day with the girls and the cars and the champagne and the hot tubs.

I recently ran across an article that discussed this topic: 'Do What You Love' Is Bad Advice. One thing that was really noteworthy about this article is that not only is it worthwhile to read the comments, the comments are perhaps more interesting than the article itself. There are quite a few artists and creative types agreeing that the 'do what you love and the money will come' thing is the worst kind of bullshit and led them astray. Some are even getting degrees in accounting, which I think is going too far to the other extreme - it makes me think of the final minutes in 'Requiem For a Dream' when Jennifer Connelly is doing that 'ass to ass' thing, Jared Leto has just lost an arm, and Marlon Wayans is in a jail cell screaming. It doesn't have to be that bad, which is kind of the point. Getting on a track where you can pay the bills but don't hate life is not such a bad thing, especially if the job in question is not life-consuming and frees you up to spend time doing stuff you actually do love to do.