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January 19, 2006


The company where I work is currently adding tons of contractors (literally), of which I am one. Other than the fact that most of us are men between the ages of 30 and 55, we get a wide range of backgrounds and personalities and a much narrower range of nationalities. Most of us sit down and work quietly.

But there always has to be a showoff. He showed up 2 weeks ago and sits in the next row of cubicles. I don't know his name. I may have seen him once, so I might know what he looks like. But I do know that he's an expert in everything. I know this because he spends 70 to 80% of his workday talking and sharing his vast knowledge with everyone around. Yesterday he even shushed one of his teammates so that he could answer a question instead of her. It seems like all day long I hear him talking, but it's rarely related to work.

I know better than to pay attention to blowhards (and the other contractors in his row are quickly learning that too), but sometimes he's pretty comical. After meeting one of his teammates and learning that he was from Russia, he talked about his (apparently undemonstrable) knowledge of the Russian language. Ah, a language expert. Interesting.

Shortly afterward Showoff talked about his previous job, where he worked at as a contractor at a Japanese company here in the U.S.
"Did you learn some Japanese?" asked one of his coworkers.
"Oh, definitely." Hmmm.
Next morning I arrived early, and so did Coworker. It was very quiet in the office, and I heard it all. Showoff arrived. He needed to demonstrate his knowledge of Japanese, so he stepped into Coworker's office and said, "DOH-moh ah-ree-GAH-toh [I thought, Mr. Roboto?] Adam-san."
"What does that mean?" asked Coworker.
"It's 'Good morning' in Japanese," said Showoff.
Yikes. Spoken like someone who learned all his Japanese from Styx songs.
Fortunately for us all, that was his only attempt at speaking the language.
(For those who don't speak Japanese: Showoff's pronunciation and interpretation were both incorrect. "Domo arigato" is not typically pronounced as in the song, and it doesn't mean "Good morning"--it's a form of "thank you" instead.)

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:48 PM | Comments (4)

January 18, 2006

Game Picks for 2005

Originally I wrote this for another site and invited the rest of the staff to give their picks, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen, so I'll give mine here.) Every site in the world gives lists of game awards every year, so I thought I'd list my own this year. (I'm making up my own categories: this is just for fun anyway. No PC games: I don't have the hardware to play anything newer than 2003, so all my gaming lately has been on consoles. I didn't even play many of those: with school eating up all my time and work (at my former job) sapping my will to live I didn't do a whole lot of gaming, but I did play some memorable games. Without further ado:

Biggest Disappointment: Jade Empire(Xbox).

Yep, I bought the hype on this one. Jade Empire looked like it would be a winner. I preordered a game for the first time in my life, paid full price (well, using trade-in credit) and took a day off work to play. Jade Empire was a great game for the first few chapters...then I stopped playing for a few days and never came back. It isn't a bad game--I don't buy bad games--but there's just nothing that really stands out. The graphics are great, the music and sound and voice acting are impressive, and the action-based gameplay is fun. So are the nods to the traditions and conventions of kung-fu movies and culture. But the gameplay itself is the standard Bioware quest-to-defeat-evil-while-making-obvious-good-or-evil-choices, and the Bioware standard is getting stale. I tried playing again a few months ago--I really wanted to get to the John Cleese cameo--but couldn't make myself care.

Game I Bought In 2005 And Really Hope I Like: (tie) Romancing
(PS2) and Wild Arms Alter Code: F (PS2).

Just about every reviewer pans the SaGa games because they're not Final Fantasy, yet they still manage to gather a small but devoted following. Well, I like nonlinearity and games that try new things, and I like to get new RPGs for $20 (or less). I hope this one is good.

As for Wild Arms, it's a remake of the first Wild Arms game for the Playstation. Wild Arms was the first Playstation RPG I liked and finished, after being sorely disappointed by Final Fantasy VII and several others: the combination of Wild West with science fiction and one of the best soundtracks in a video game made it a winner. I hope that the remake lives up to the original.

Biggest Surprise: Lego Star Wars.

I'm not much of a Star Wars fan--Return of the Jedi was the last Star Wars movie I watched--but when I saw this I had to give it a rental. A few days later I went to the store and bought it. It's Lego. It's Star Wars. It's Lego guys with light sabers and blasters, and it's a lot of fun. My boys love it too, and I had to go buy an extra Xbox controller so they could play it together. Great game.

Game of the Year: Dragon Quest VIII (PS2)

Dragon Quest VIII is the best console game I've ever played, period, and possibly the best game I've ever played on console or PC. And I've played a lot of games. I preordered it, bought it at full price (well, using a bunch of trade-in credit) and was not disappointed. This one lived up to all the hype.

The U.S. console RPG world has been ruled by Final Fantasy, but in Japan the king is Dragon Quest. While the Final Fantasy series has changed a lot over the years, the Dragon Quest games have stayed close to their roots. Dragon Quest 8 doesn't stray. It doesn't attempt to impress you by doing radically different things or presenting an amazingly deep story. Instead, DQ8 impresses by doing the things Dragon Quest has always done, and doing them better than any other game. The story is the usual "explore the world, fight monsters and defeat the bad guy", but the game doesn't bind you so tightly to the story that you have no other action than to try to trigger another cutscene (Final Fantasy X, I'm talking about you). While it isn't as free as Morrowind, DQ8 does give you plenty of freedom to wander the world and see the sights.

And those sights are worth seeing, too. The graphics are the best I've seen on the Playstation 2: bright, colorful, and interesting. The world is wide open to explore: if you can see it, you can probably go there. My only complaint is that the world is sometimes boring: a few more secret locations and extra dungeons (like Morrowind) would make exploration more fun. The music consists of a lot of traditional Dragon Quest themes, but performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and an absolute pleasure to hear. The voice acting is right at the top too: each character has its own personality and the actors successfully carry those personalities. They all speak with British accents; it's the first game I've ever played where characters use Cockney rhyming slang. The game has the usual Dragon Quest charm with a lighthearted, fun world, although the overall story has some pretty serious moments too. Battles are quick and fun, and who can't love a game with monsters who use attacks which make your characters dance uncontrollably (with hilarious animation)? The rewards (gold and character leveling) make exploration and random battles worthwhile.

Dragon Quest VIII is a game where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Everything works together to keep you playing and smiling. It's the most fun I've had in 2 years of owning a PS2.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2006

Certification as a means of avoiding knowledge?

Spotted on comp.lang.c: "Leo" wrote,

"I just had a job phone interview. Somebody asked me a lot of C questions which I was not prepared well. To avoid such questions in the future job interview, I hope to take some kind of C certificate."

"Leo's" request caught my eye: the place I work is doing a lot of hiring, and C is a required skill. If you have an interview, you WILL be asked C questions. I hear that some interviewees take 5 minutes or more to answer simple C questions; I'd guess that these are the guys who don't get hired.

If you go to an interview and they ask you if you speak English, you can't expect to point to a piece of paper which says, "I speak English" and hope that they'll be satisfied. If you interview for a job which requires knowledge and use of C, you really should expect to demonstrate knowledge of C. Maybe some skills can be certified away, but you can't fake it with C: either you know the language or you don't.

Hmmm. It makes me wonder if there ARE certificates you can get which will deflect any requirement of proving the skills in an interview. Scary thought.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2006

Progress check

Well, 8 days into the new year. I've reviewed the first 280 or so kanji from Heisig book 1; without touching the cards for 6 or 7 weeks I still had about an 85% retention rate, and most of the others were problems with element placement. Not bad, I think.

I'm about ready to wrap up "Japanese for Everyone" lesson 6. I've spent longer on it than I'd planned, but have been taking extra time to be sure I've mastered the vocabulary and grammar. My vocabulary method has been to write new words on an index card first thing in the morning and review the rest of the day while walking places at work. I've also been listening to the audio portion of the lesson 3 or 4 times a day, and that helps things stick too.

I don't remember where I am in Pimsleur, but it's somewhere in the mid-20s of level 1. It's interesting to see what I've forgotten and what I never really learned at all--for example, all of the -sugimasu section was a loss. It's nice to review and get that again.

This week I'll be starting lesson 7 of "Japanese for Everyone", completely new territory. I know that some of it was covered at the end of Pimsleur level 3, but it's nice to be hitting new material.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2006

Back to the Computing Future

All this working with C really brings back the 80s. I started learning C in 1987 and started programming when I bought Turbo C 1.0 on release day in 1988. Those were the days.

Of course, reviewing C leads naturally to reading Let's Build a Compiler and Compilers and Compiler Generators, and that leads to assembly language and cool articles about preserving/reviving old computers and I ended up spending several hours yesterday working on my VAXstation.

Unfortunately I hadn't fired up the VAXstation in over a year and couldn't guess the system password (it wasn't the usual password I use). Fortunately a former coworker had enlightened me to the fact that you can still break into a VAX and reset the system password, so I managed to accomplish that. However, all my software licenses expired in 2004, so I need to get new ones, and naturally that has to wait until my new Encompass/DECUS membership number gets registered with openvmshobbyist.com.

Yikes. All this just to do some VAX MACRO programming. I could do it on the 3600, but it might seem antisocial to spend the entire weekend in the basement. I really need to get that thing networked.

Operating system fans, be sure to check out The Operating Systems Handbook, now freely available in PDF form. I really wanted this book 6 or 7 years ago and am really looking forward to reading it. It could be a great resume-booster.

Also, be sure to check out The Absolute Minimum Every Software Developer Absolutely, Positively Must Know About Unicode and Character Sets (No Excuses!). I wish it were about 3 times as long, but it's a great start if you know absolutely nothing about the subject (except the "fact" that "Unicode is simply a 16-bit code where each character takes 16 bits and therefore there are 65,536 possible characters"--completely untrue).

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

Japanese Odds and Ends

Last week I ordered a Japanese Monthly Shonen Jump from thejapanshop.net and it arrived on Friday. I really need to practice reading Japanese, but (as I mentioned earlier) the kanji really put a damper on that. Shonen Jump includes furigana for most of the kanji, so I can start doing some reading practice now.

For those of you who are fans, last weekend I found out that episode 6 of Lunch Queen has finally been subtitled. It's been so long that I forgot what happened in episode 5. Guess I'll watch them again.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

Happy New Year

I'd like to wish a happy, blessed and prosperous new year to all 3 of you who read this.

Wow, the weekend flew by--though not as quickly as Christmas weekend. When I was a telecommuter the weekends never flew by like they do now. Probably it's because I was always home anyway--I just spent less time in my office on the weekends.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)