Sunday, December 09, 2007

Latest going ons

Where do I begin? I've had a lot of great ideas for blog entries these past few months but finding the time to enter them has been difficult to say the least. So I guess we'll start with the thing that has been eating up the majority of my time: work.

Two months ago things were going swimmingly well and then out of the blue came what is known in the industry as a strategic restructuring, a layoff. In this case it was about 25% of the workforce and despite my best hopes otherwise, several of my very good friends and colleagues were included in the cut. After all the sacrifices I'd made to get to this company and after all the 60-hour-plus work weeks, I'd begun to question whether it was still the right place for me.

Despite some tempting propositions from area recruiters who had heard the news of the mass layoffs, I decided to stay put and see if the situation would improve. Even with the loss of resources, I felt we still had the best collection of Ruby/Rails talent in the area. Within a month's time we were able to make a new post to our collective technology-oriented blog, one which happened to pertain to a project I was working on. So provided that things continue to go well and I am able to make viable contributions to our code-base, I see no reason not to stay put for the time being.

As to what takes up the next largest portion of my time, that would have to be WoW. A lot has happened since I last posted on the topic. In early June I took my then main character, a druid, over to Shu'Halo so I could game with a buddy of mine. But his interest in the game began to wane as did my interest in playing a Moonkin which is essentially a caster that can't really cast that well. This became only more obvious when I finally hit level 70 and I kept getting passed over to do instance runs in favor of mages.

As such, I decided to do a bit of research and came to the conclusion that if I really wanted to do pure DPS and have the benefit of crowd control and an aggro-dump, then I'd need to roll a mage myself. It also helped that a buddy of mine from work had a low-level warlock that he was interested in leveling. For me the change was not only in character class but also in play style. Whereas I had leveled my druid on a PvE server, this character would live on a high pop PvP server.

After dedicating several months of on-and-off play to her, my Dranei mage just recently hit level 63 and ought to be level 70 within a few weeks. By then my parents will be in town as they're visiting me for the holidays so my time online will be pretty much scotched until the new year. Hopefully in the future I will be able to juggle my time between work and WoW more effectively so that I can blog about events in my life closer to real-time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Trip to California

Day 1
Despite the early departure time from Washington, D.C. we arrived in San Diego fairly awake and ready to get on with our vacation. First time was Milton's, a wonderful Kosher deli and restaurant located in Del Mar. Over the past few years it has become my unofficial welcoming pad, the first place I stop at to address the hunger pangs a six hour flight induces.

Between my previous visit in December and now, my parents got what I thought they never would: a dog! And not just any dog mind you but a huge hulking Leon Berger mix. We immediately went for a walk on the beach so as we could all get to know each other better. Walking such a dog was a bit of a challenge at first. He kept wanting to walk directly in front of me thus forcing me to hold the leash to my left side. It's safe to say that after about 20 minutes of this anybody would feel some fatigue in their shoulders as a result.

Evening came quickly and with it, an incredible meal at Gregorio's, a local Italian restaurant situated in the Neiman's complex of shops. Since I hadn't seen my buddy Jeff in so long, I invited him to join us. Being the amazing agent that he is, he kept us enthralled with stories of heroism in the escalating real estate wars that are gripping this country. Afterwards Jeff gave us a brief tour of Carlsbad in his exquisitely maintained Lexus LS400, pointing out the best places in town to invest in for real estate.

Day 2
I hadn't been to the Wild Animal Park in several years so I was glad to see what changes, if any, this visit to the park would hold. Surprisingly enough, there were some big changes. The electrified tram which was a hallmark of the park was no longer there and had been replaced with a gas-guzzling tractor which pulled passenger carts behind it. The new setup wasn't altogether bad but was just different than what I'd been used to in the previous 20 years of visiting.

That night we went to one of Carlsbad's newest 'chic' restaurants. Honestly, when I walked in I thought I'd been teleported from my sleepy home town to some new dig in Midtown. My Grandpa Gene treated us to a fantastic dinner and several bottles of Mark West Pinot Noir, an excellent accoutrement to any meal.

Day 3
Our third day saw us jumping in the car in the morning for a trip south to Balboa Park near downtown San Diego. Having just seen the Wild Animal Park the previous day, we were not interested in the Zoo but instead the Museum of Man. I hadn't been there in decades at the very least and was looking forward to seeing what was in store.

Built in an old Spanish colonial style, the museum resembles many of the missions scattered throughout California. On display inside were mummies of various cultures throughout history, human evolution over the past 7 million years and a collection of life-sized replicas of Mayan stonework. Reaching several stories high, this latter exhibit was by far the most impressive.

Being only early afternoon and with no particular place in mind to go, we decided to take a leisurely drive up the coast. Starting in Torrey Pines and heading north on the 101, this is by far one of my favorite drives to do in San Diego and is rivaled only by a jaunt through the windy roads of Rancho Santa Fe.

Upon returning to Carlsbad we picked up my friend Greg for some drinks at Coyote's, a popular local watering hole. Afterwards, not wanting to return home without something to show for it, we made a quick stop by Greg's house to pick pomegranates, avocados and any other fruit that looked ripe enough to eat.

Day 4
We started out the day at the Carlsbad Outlets for a bit of shopping. This was followed by a requisite trip to In-n-Out burger where I fully enjoyed a cheeseburger, chocolate shake and fries. I'm not sure what it is about how they make their burgers, but In-n-Out's burgers are truly some of the best in the world.

One of the primary reasons we went to San Diego was for my ten-year high school reunion. Hosted downtown at the Bristol Hotel, it was only a 30-minute drive from Carlsbad. We arrived soon after it started and within minutes, ran into an old friend of mine named Derek. From there it was a whirlwind of mini-reunions as I met up with people I hadn't seen, nor heard from, in ten years.

By the end of the evening, I had reconnected with at least twenty folks that I had fond memories of from high school. In some ways it was rather cliché in that the jocks seemed to have ended up with the bleach blond bimbos and hadn't done much else with their lives. In contrast, my fellow nerds were all fairly successful or well on their way to it.

All in all, the evening went very well and though I had hoped to see a few more souls it was a great time nonetheless. It leaves me looking forward to the next ten year reunion.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Democracy spans the years from 1969 to 1974 and tells the tale of two Germanies, East and West, locked together in idealogical battle for the soul of their country. Willy Brandt, newly elected Chancellor of democratic West Germany in 1969, had proclaimed a bold new plan in dealing with its implacable foe, communist East Germany. Rather than ignore their neighbor, as had been done since the demarcation following WWII, Brandt's government would engage them, a policy which came to be known as Ostpolitik.

The East Germans were of course apprehensive of this move but fortunately for them their spy service, the Stasi, was among the best in the world. They had managed to place an agent right where they needed it: in Brandt's staff. A spy by the name of Günter Guillaume, he arrived in West Germany in 1956 with orders to penetrate the political system. He rose through the ranks of the Social Democratic party eventually becoming Brandt's personal assistant.

Answering to two masters, Günter began to feel increasingly torn as his relationship with the Chancellor grew. He wanted to satisfy his Stasi bosses yet was inextricably drawn to Brandt's charisma and forthrightness. Through Günter's reports, it became clear to the East German leadership that this was not some ploy but a genuine effort at rapprochement and that truly frightened them.

The play does not make clear who was responsible although Stasi involvement was suspected. In either case, the result was the same. West Germany security services were tipped off to a spy in Brandt's office and from there the operation quickly unraveled. Brandt became a pariah in the public's eye and was forced to resign in 1974. Günter was arrested and sentenced to 13 years though he was sent back to the East through a prisoner exchange in 1981.

Following the upheaval which came to be known as the Guillaume Affair, each of the characters in the play laments on their role. Helmut Schmidt, heretofore Minister of Finances, nervously accepts the Chancellorship. Longtime rival and fellow Social Democrat Herbert Wehner washes his hands of the whole matter. Guillame is grief-stricken at having betrayed his friend and wishes that he could somehow make it right. Brandt himself recedes into the pages of history though he makes a brief reappearance during German reunification in 1990 when people look back and wonder if his policy of Ostpolitik is partly to thank for the ostentatious occasion.

More than just a play about a visionary leader and the spy within his own ranks, it is also a lesson for those who crave power only to have it unexpectedly pushed onto them. For more than thirty years, the Social Democrats could claim the mantle of defeat but upon winning the majority in 1969, they suddenly had to deal with all the problems of governing. Principles gave way to compromises while character flaws became national scandals.

Playing through August 12th at the renowned Olney Theater, Democracy tells the story of human beings, replete with all their imperfections, muddling their way through very dark and dangerous times. The quick interplay and political intrigue between characters will keep you spell-bound for the two hours and forty minutes runtime.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

Returning after a near 10-year hiatus, J. Michael Straczynski once again opens the doors to the Babylon 5 universe which first made its appearance in 1993 and became a weekly show. Through all the difficulties, such as actors walking off the job and network executives pulling the plug, the show soldiered on and eventually garnered a large and loyal fan base. Yet from the beginning, Straczynski made it clear that the show was not meant to last more than five years and so in 1998, we said a tearful goodbye.

Taking place 10 years after the events of the last episode of Babylon 5, The Lost Tales is actually two stories in one. The first concerns a demon-like creature which has taken possession of a crew member. Devoid of action, the story instead relies completely on dialogue and features Commander Lochley and a priest who is called in to exercise the demon. The interplay between the characters was a poignant reminder of a show far ahead of its time, one which used technology where necessary to enhance a story but never forgot what made a good story in the first place.

The second episode centers on President Sheridan, leader of the Interstellar Alliance. His leisurely journey to Babylon 5 for the 10-year anniversary celebration of the founding of that alliance is interrupted when Galen, a technomage from his past, gives him an awful choice: either kill a boy who has entrusted his life to Sheridan or watch Earth be destroyed by that boy's future fleet of warships.

In addition to the two episodes, there are also interviews with Boxleitner, Scoggins and Straczynski himself. Memorials to deceased actors Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs, who played Citizen G'Kar and Doctor Franklin respectively, are touching and reveal just how well the cast got along with each other.

My only complaint would have to be a technical one. During the second episode when Galen is talking to Sheridan in his dream, a boom mike suddenly appears at the top of the screen and stays for about five seconds before disappearing. Seeing the fourth wall so egregiously broken was a bit shocking, especially given Straczynski's penchant for perfection.

Overall, I would say that casual fans of the show probably won't get much out of this DVD. But for those who would consider themselves hard core, myself included, it's like stepping into a pool and finding the water warm and inviting. I just hope we get more than a toe-dipping with the next installment.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Summer of George

"This is gonna be my time. Time to taste the fruits and let the juices drip down my chin. I proclaim this: The Summer of George!"
-- George Costanza from Seinfeld
And so it began Friday night with the guys and I celebrating our own "Summer of George". We started out at Whitlow's with games of pool and foosball. Beer was ordered by the pitcher and for the better part of two hours we talked about all the things you'd expect to hear from a bunch of guys after a full week's work. Eventually we moved onto Mr. Day's just a few blocks up the road. Featuring a dance floor and an upper balcony running along the inside, we quickly got our drinks and staked out a claim with a good view of the action below. Being my first time there, I was impressed with the mix of people and made it a point to return.

Saturday was a real blast. To allow for any possible hangovers from the night before, we booked our reservations at Top Golf at 2pm. This is a driving range which features golf balls with RFID tags that can be tracked thus allowing for head-to-head competition depending on distance, accuracy or both. My first game was horrid but by the second and third rounds I was consistently hitting it about 100 yards.

Wanting to relax after several hours at the driving range, we headed over to the Bonefish Grill for some good food and wine. Around 7 o'clock we found our way over to the theater to watch Live Free or Die Hard. It was a great movie with lots of hard-hitting action though I was disappointed that it was set in D.C. yet very little of it was actually shot there. It took a keen eye but I actually recognized several L.A. landmarks.

Despite being pretty tired at this point, I was convinced to go to Sweetwater Tavern. Beer and light appetizers proved to be good for wrapping up the day. After two days of hanging out with these guys, I knew that the Summer of George had gotten off to a good start.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Trip to Boston

Day 1
Our flight took off from Reagan at about 10:30 am and aside from some minor turbulence the flight was fairy smooth. Upon arrival at Boston's Logan International Airport, we immediately set about finding a shuttle that would take us to the nearest T station, which is how the subway here is referred to. As it turned out, the blue line would be our savior by delivering us to the green line via Government Center whereupon we would take that line for one stop before transferring to the red line at Park and heading out to Kendall/MIT where our hotel was located.

Looking at a map of the T, I was struck by how similar it was to Washington D.C.'s own hub-and-spoke Metro system. That's about where the similarities end though. Built just before New York started laying their own subway tracks, it's the oldest underground mass transit system in the country. Like the Big Apple's use of uptown or downtown to refer to train direction, all cars on the T are either 'inbound' or 'outbound'. Also like the New York subway, the stations that serve as transfer points are fairly complex to navigate thus demonstrating their iterative construction over the eleven plus decades the system has been in service. As well, some of the lines, such as the green line, share a fair portion of their tracks with street traffic meaning that both light rail (street cars) and heavy rail (subway) trains share the tracks making for a hodge podge of train types that can show up at any given platform.

Our first stop in Boston was the Samuel Adams brewery. Located just off the Stony Brook stop on the orange line, it is not, contrary to popular belief, run by descendants of the revolutionary himself. In fact, it was started in 1985 by a member of the Koch (pronounced 'cook') family which had made a name for itself in brewing during the 19th century. The tour itself was fairly informal and included a brief history of the brewery, a highlight of the four main ingredients of Samuel Adams beer (hops, barley, water and yeast) and finally a sampling of three different types of this native brew. Our tour was lucky enough to get a taste of their Boston Lager, Summer Ale and Märzen, the latter being unique to this brewery and not available to the general public.

Day 2
The morning started off at Boston Common, a public park of 44 acres set aside by the original Puritan founders. Our tour started from this central location and followed what's called the Freedom Trail, a path laid out nearly 50 years ago that traces Boston's historic moments. The tour guide himself was an older fellow dressed in the style of the late 1700s, tricorne hat and all, and emulating a minor player from the period who was friends with the biggest names of the revolution. Flair and knowledge combined to produce a tour that was both entertaining and enlightening. Though the guided portion ended at Fanuiel hall, we decided to continue on across the Charles river, stopping by the Bunker Hill monument and finally ending at the USS Constitution.

Walking the full length of the Freedom Trail didn't leave any time for a mid-afternon nap so immediately upon arriving back at our hotel in Kendall, we had to get ready to meet up with family that lived in the area. We rendezvoused at a place in Beacon Hill called Fig's which is known for its gourmet pizza. My choice was the spicy chicken sausage while the other types sampled included one smothered in portobello mushrooms, one crested with arugula and another known as the Red Sox which had its own spicy sausage topping. We did our best to work off the enormous meal by walking back to Cambridge via the Longfellow bridge over the Charles river instead of taking the T.

Day 3
The day started out bright and relatively early at the nearest Starbucks with a cranberry-orange muffin and a soy mocha. From there, it was a quick jaunt down to 3rd St. and over to Charles St. to get to the Museum of Science. We'd been warned that it was juvenile and outdated but I was interested in the Jane Goodall exhibit that highlighted the famous anthropologist's work with chimpanzees. Admission was relatively cheap at $16 and while much of the displays were indeed juvenile and outdated, there were also some real gems. The chimpanzee exhibit was interesting but I felt it was far outshined by the electrical exhibit. Every two hours, a show took place that used the world's largest Van de Graaff generator. Harmless and beautiful static discharges, lethal yet fantastic lightning bolts and even the eerie St. Elmo's fire were put on display with each being eloquently explained.

Our next stop was the Langham hotel which was hosting the Chocolate Bar. A local favorite among Bostonians, it features a buffet of nothing but chocolate. Some of the highlights were chocolate banana paninis, chocolate crepes, and chocolate fondue. Consisting of enough chocolate desserts to make a French pastry chef blush, it was a true chocolate lovers paradise. Three dishes in, I was feeling slightly woozy and had to resort to eating fruit, sans fondue, if I was going to avoid getting sick.

Early evening saw us wandering the Harvard campus taking in its beautiful environs. Despite being summer, it felt like a regular school day with college-aged kids packing the the streets and impromptu sidewalk concerts filling the air with music. Eventually we made our way over to a small restaurant called Casablanca. Located below street level, it was festooned with scenes from the famous movie and featured unique Mediterranean inspired dishes on its menu. While I had the venison rare with risotto, she ordered the soft shell crab on a corn and arugula base. We washed it down with an excellent 2005 bottle of zinfandel. After dinner we meandered through Harvard Square slowly making our way back to the T station.

Day 4
Being our last day, we decided to take things a bit easier. After having checked out of our hotel at a leisurely 10 am, we took the T to the New England Aquarium. The main enclosure was approximately four stories tall and consisted of a round central tank which was hugged by a spiral ramp that gave patrons an unfettered view of the countless fish that inhabited it. The main enclosure itself had a square ramp running inside of it and at each level, there were a series of tanks housed that highlighted a particular aquatic habitat. Contrasting it with the world-famous Baltimore Aquarium, it was quite a bit smaller but their penguin exhibit was worth the visit alone.

Being so close to Boston's historic downtown, we retraced some of our foot steps from the other day and made our way to the Green Dragon which had come highly recommended by my buddy Georgios, a native of the area. Established by a man named John Cary in 1657, its name was well-known as a local watering hole by the time the Sons of Liberty started using it for their secret meetings in the days leading up to the revolution. After a light meal of mussels and beer, we started back for the hotel so we could pick up our suitcases and head out to the airport.

My overall feeling about Boston is that it is a great town that would be a fun place to live. But because of the harsh winter it is unlikely you will ever find me living there. As well, the disorganized street layout can make navigation difficult as opposed to Manhattan where everything is laid out in a grid fashion. Yet it should be noted that the majority of Boston's activities are centralized making them easy to get to and completely negating the need for a cab. And the T, while older and somewhat more confusing than D.C.'s Metro, really does take you anywhere you need to go. So for those of you looking to spend some time in a classic American city without the hassle of renting a car, I would highly recommend Boston.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Prone to violence

On a recent survey of my movie collection, it came to my attention that over 90% of my movies involve violence as a main theme. From A History of Violence to Full Metal Jacket, the sheer unabashed aggression on display in these movies is stark and unavoidable. But does a collection that encompasses three decades worth of some of the most violent movies indicate a violence personality?

Now I don't consider myself a very violent person. Save for the occasional brawl in elementary school, my youth was untarnished by physical encounters. Road rage led me on occasion to vent my anger at my fellow drivers through pointless screaming in the comfort of my own car but it never went beyond that. City life has taken some getting used to what with the constant crowds but again, it's never gotten to the point where I've actually attempted to knock another guy's block off.

Some would take this opportunity to suggest that watching violent movies might be alleviating that pent up aggression, thus saving me from a stint in jail or worse. But history shows us that engaging in violence often leads to more of the same. Witness the Roman gladiatorial contests which started small yet by the third century was consuming more than a third of the year in the form of state-sponsored holidays to view these bloody spectacles.

Yet a violent movie collection does not a violent person make. Hype in the media about violence in movies causing increased rates of murder and mayhem are just that, hype. The roots of violence are numerous and range from well understood causes like child abuse to lesser known factors such as brain damage. Movies however are not one of them.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

So long 27

"My name is Patrick Bateman. I'm 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself, and a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine."
The opening lines to American Psycho have always struck a chord with me, more so after moving to DC. My age, lifestyle and habits, albeit with some stark differences such as not having a psychotic break with reality, echoed those of the main character in this cinematic masterpiece. An obsession with self-image like having the best job, best clothes and best hair is something many urban males deal with, myself being no such exception.

Yesterday marked my 28th birthday and while I don't feel any older, the inexorable march towards 30 is there in the back of mind, starkly contrasted as if it was written in bold black letters on a white background. There's nothing I can do to stop this progression so I might as well do my best to enjoy it.

Going with this philosophy, I started out my morning with an egg, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich along with a soy mocha at Starbucks. Normally the cholesterol and sugar is enough to scare me away from such a meal but not today. Lunch was light in anticipation of dinner which, at that point, was still a mystery to me. But my girlfriend did not disappoint as she treated me to an incredible meal of Lamb Roganjosh at Rasika, a restaurant located in the Penn Quarter that serves haute Indian cuisine.

Gifts this year were all very useful and ranged from silicon-coated whisks to a subscription to The Economist. As well, my wish for the expansion pack to World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade, was granted. But gifts were not the only thing on my mind. I often found my mind wandering back to this time last year when I was contacted by a recruiter from Revolution Health who was interested in my Ruby on Rails skills.

Though I have no regrets about my decision to move up here I can't help but think about the people I have lost touch with, the friends that made Melbourne that much more bearable. My memories of that small Florida town will fade over time yet the events of May 2006 left an indelible imprint that will always be with me. In the year since that fateful decision I have come to better understand the sacrifices and gains made.

Yet I am buoyed by the fact that I've made new friends here while also reconnecting with old ones that have likewise braved the trek from Melbourne to DC. As well, despite the difficulty of adjusting to the environs of a big city, I can't recall a happier time in my life. I feel as if I've finally arrived.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Making the switch to Moonkin

When I used to play Warcraft 3 a few years ago, my favorite character class to use against the enemy was the Druid. Their ability to shift into different forms gave them what I felt was a tremendous advantage. So naturally when I picked up World of Warcraft a few months ago, my first character was a Night Elf Druid. Fortunately they'd gained the ability to shift into other forms besides Bear.

Going on the advice of a friend and veteran of the game I decided to spec Feral. This turned out to be a pretty good choice given the peculiar difficulties that a Druid presents and since this was my first character. As I learned more about the game play, I became better at using my Cat form in conjunction with Bear form to shred and tank against mobs. Yet save for the occasional role as a healer in instance runs, I felt my spell casting abilities were being severely under utilized.

By the time I reached level 45, I'd invested nearly 10 points in the Balance tree. This worked well in that I could use my DoTs to wear down an enemy to half their HP before they even got close whereupon I could easily finish them off in Cat form. Unfortunately, this also drained my mana pool very quickly. After reading up on the latest patch changes and how it vastly improved the Balance tree, I decided to re-spec and see if that matched by playing style any better.

Within an hour of going Balance and gaining Moonkin form, I did an incredible instance run of Zul'Farrak with my guild buddies as a high DPSer. Though Cat and Bear form had both decreased significantly with regards to damage output, in a sticky situation I could still switch to the latter and perform Frenzied Regeneration. Gradually, I changed out all my gear as well and went for those items with high intellect. I also switched to using a two-handed mace as my main weapon which upped my attack power and thus my mana regeneration.

At this point, I am a level 52 Balance Druid who spends about 95% of his time in Moonkin form. I haven't regretted the re-spec at all and in fact, I have only come to enjoy it more. Recently I attained Force of Nature thus giving me three treants to fight on my behalf and allowing me to easily take on enemies three or four levels higher. In PvP, I now have Warlocks of equal level complaining that I'm overpowered.

In short, the Balance tree has long been overlooked for Druids in favor of the easier-to-solo Feral build. But with the right equipment, good mana management and a desire to play more like a mage than a warrior, the Moonkin Druid can quickly rise to the top and become an invaluable member of raids and instance runs.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Revolution Health launches!

Three months after the initial beta release, Revolution Health launched yesterday to much fanfare and celebration. Yours truly is privileged enough along with 280 or so other employees to be a part of this incredible startup. To celebrate, the company rented out the Beacon Hotel just down the street and provided an open bar and appetizers. For some, it seemed like it was the first of the outside world they'd seen in several weeks after having worked furiously to get the site ready for launch.

Though I wasn't locked away I was working some pretty heavy hours to make sure that our group's section of the site was working seamlessly. It feels a bit strange to finally be on the other side of it all, as if we've stepped through some sort of door. One thing's for sure, there is no going back. From here on out, the health industry is going to wake up and listen and not just to us, but to consumers as well.

Our competition seems to be taking the hint. From imitating our look and feel (it's the sincerest form of flattery, right?) to adding a 'community' section, they are doing their best to keep up. Coincidentally enough, on the day of our launch they fired their CTO. Some people have theorized as to whether this was a signal to us but there's no way to be sure.

What is certain though is that we only needed to do something disruptive in either health care or technology to be revolutionary but we have instead chosen to take on both fronts. A brand-new approach to health care combined with the amazing Ruby on Rails framework means that we will be that much harder to beat. Let the race begin.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Back from hiatus

Yes, so I know it's been a long time since I've posted here and all I can say is that I have some very good reasons for my hiatus. The big one would have to be work. In preparation for our launch this Thursday, our full site release mind you, I've been working 12 hour days. Trying to maintain even the shadow of a social life in light of these long hours has been difficult to say the least.

In addition, I have also been spending time building my character in World of Warcraft. I'll probably dedicate a full post to that sometime later this week. Needless to say, while some will point to this as evidence of WoW's addictive powers, I can assure you that a few hours spent gaming online every now and then does not make one an addict.

Thanks to work pressures I feel like my Ruby/Rails knowledge has increased exponentially in the past few months. From plugins to ActiveRecord, the need for efficient easily-maintainable code has forced me to dive into Rails' inner workings. It's been tough but I feel that I have a much better idea now of what's going on behind the scenes.

So in effect, work is the culprit. I can only hope that in the future I will be able to drag myself away from it to blog on at least a weekly basis.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

First trip to New York

Friday morning began early at 6am with a short Metro ride to Reagan National airport where we awaited our direct flight to LaGaurdia. Unfortunately icy weather kept our plane grounded longer than expected and what was supposed to be a brief journey lasted quite a bit longer, thus delaying our arrival in Manhattan until early that afternoon. Once we dropped our bags off at the hotel though we were off. As it turns out, we were located less than a block away from the U.N. which was a source of unmitigated joy for me. Those of you who know my penchant for politics should understand my reaction.

The late arrival of our flight meant that both of us were absolutely famished. Fortunately her friends Becky and Elliott were there to take us to lunch, a small BBQ place called Duke's. Afterwards, Becky gave us an afternoon tour of Midtown including such highlights as Grand Central, Times Square and the New York Public Library. The early morning wake-up combined with all the afternoon's activities required a return to the hotel followed by a brief nap. We then met up with them again that evening in the Upper East side at a place named, coincidentally enough, Becky's Pub.

Saturday began in earnest for us with a trip to the American Museum of Natural History. We'd used the Subway briefly the night before, thus giving us a heightened confidence in its use. This morning's ride would prove a much different beast. To start off, the orange 'V' line we had planned on taking was out of service as was the blue 'C' line, our backup plan. The downtown blue 'A' line was the only option left to us, but when we attempted to transfer at the 50th St. station we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Apparently, and this is something known only to New Yorkers and adventurous tourists like us, some stations require you to actually leave the station and walk a few blocks to get to the uptown line. This is something we discovered only after a lengthy and frustrating walk around the rather sizable station.

The museum was fun albeit very crowded. We actually spent the majority of our time there in the Hayden Planetarium. After leaving the museum we headed for Central Park looking forward to a leisurely afternoon stroll. Lazily we made our way towards the Midtown entrance on the East side stopping to snap photos of particularly picturesque settings. Eventually we came out near the Central Park Zoo whereupon we quickly headed towards the hotel to prepare for that evening's activities. Nighttime saw us at a nearby French restaurant called "Deux Amis" followed by a showing of Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic theater. It was an incredible show, one that I've always wanted to see. We followed up with dessert at Junior's, a local restaurant known for their amazing cheesecakes.

Feeling a bit stung by the previous day's issues with the Subway, I approached our trip to Lower Manhattan Sunday with a bit of trepidation. As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The No. 6 Green line was operating just fine and took us to Canal St. without any issues. Upon exiting the station, we stepped into what was truly a foreign world. Everywhere we looked signs covered in Chinese characters and decorations for the Chinese New Year dominated the view. We wandered through what seemed like endless blocks of this vastly larger Chinatown in comparison to our own D.C. version. Lunch was had at a small seafood restaurant while just outside revelers celebrated with drums and poppers.

Ground Zero was our next stop. We approached from Broadway so the first thing we saw was the large memorial photo display at the PATH station. To see those photos with the very hallowed ground behind them was truly moving. As we made our way around the perimeter of the site we stopped at various places such as the Ladder 10 and Engine 10 firehouse which lost five firefighters on 9/11. After making a complete circuit we hopped onto the blue 'E' line running back uptown to our hotel.

Monday was President's Day as well as our last day in New York city. We had hoped to tour the U.N. but it was closed on this seemingly average American holiday. Therefore we decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was bitterly cold, much more so than it had been on any previous day of our trip. What were muddy slush puddles the previous day had frozen overnight to become well-camouflaged sheets of ice making walking all that much more precipitous. But the trip was well worth it as we were treated to such incredible pieces like Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans", Dali's "Persistence of Memory" and Van Gogh's "Starry Night".

That afternoon we had a wonderfully long lunch at a Greek restaurant called Meltemi located at 51st and 1st. I then hailed my last NYC taxi and we headed to LaGuardia airport. As I look back on our trip, it is the hectic pace of the city that stands out in my mind. This fast lifestyle that gives New York its motto as the "City that never sleeps" is what makes it so exciting and will keep people like myself coming back.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So long Battlefield 2. Hello World of Warcraft!

In December of 2005, on advice from my buddy Brandon, I picked up a copy of Battlefield 2 and immediately immersed myself into a whole new world of gaming. Whereas my previous vice, Counter Strike: Source, was essentially a repetitive bloodbath this new game required strategy, cunning and teamwork. For about a year, this game kept me entertained what with learning new vehicles and gaining rank. From infantry soldier to general to J-10 pilot, I mastered nearly every aspect of the game and had a lot of fun while doing it.

Yet the entire time there were certain things that bothered me. While the online service was free to use, this also meant that anybody could run their own server. Once the official EA servers went offline, only these user provided ones were available and each had their own unique set of rules they expected users to follow. Oftentimes these rules were lazily enforced and instead used as justification to boot users that the admin simply did not like.

As well, the most important part of the game, teamwork, was one that the game's architecture did not easily facilitate. Users were encouraged to 'squad up' at the start of a round yet they rarely did. So getting on a good team depended more on finding one in the various Internet forums or bringing a group of your real-life friends with you into the game. The latter worked well for me until our group disbanded after which I can count on one hand the number of times I found a good squad to game with.

My character VasilyContrast this with World of Warcraft, a game which has been out for longer than Battlefield 2 and which I have been avoiding because I've seen just how addicted my friends are. Yet after playing for several weeks, I can see why they are still playing this game over 2 years after it came out. The online service, while somewhat costly at $15/month, is operated solely by Blizzard and thus ensures that no arcane rules by a petty admin will get you booted off of a server.

As for the social aspect of the game, it is light years ahead of Battlefield 2. Support for parties (five people), raids (40 people) and guilds (unlimited) are built right into the game architecture along with easy ways to access them. Early on, the quests that you receive encourage group participation. Since starting play just a few weeks ago, I have lost count of how many times I've relied on complete strangers in my party to help me through a difficult quest. Many of them have ended up on my friends' list which notifies me when they are online. Thus an environment of camaraderie is built around teamwork and it is this feature that will keep users playing WoW for many years to come.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

January comes and goes

So the first month of the new year has been pretty crazy as you can guess by the lack of posts. It started off well enough with a party at my buddy Mike's place. He lives just upstairs from me and also works at the same company. It was a James Bond-themed party with all the guys done up like gentlemen and the women dressed to kill. Needless to say, we had an awesome time and I'm looking forward to the next event he hosts.

Work came at me without warning. I thought that with our product having launched in late December, this month might be a bit slower but that turned out to be a fantasy on my part. Unwittingly, I took on the responsibility of creating a browser-based rich text editor for use in many of our products. The one we had just didn't cut it due to cross-browser compatibility issues and customizing it for our needs. I can't say too much more about it now but if possible I would love to see us give back to the open source community by releasing this as a project on Ruby Forge.

But my life hasn't been all work. Play this week came in the form of a Washington Wizards game on Tuesday. My buddy Mario invited me and seeing as I had never been to a basketball game before, much less one in our nation's capital, I eagerly accepted. Mario's friend was the actual ticket holder and we had the benefit of sitting in the Lockheed Martin box right on the half court line. They were some spectacular seats and despite the loss to the Phoenix Suns that night, I nonetheless had a great time.

The end of January is nearly here and will mark the one-year anniversary when I came up to visit my (other) buddy Mike. My stay, brief as it was, left an indelible impression on me, one that would factor into my decision to move up here when a recruiter from Revolution Health came calling only three months later. In the time since, I have truly come to call this place home, more so than any other area I've lived in outside of Southern California. I'm looking forward to a spectacular 2007.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Installing Sirius into a Hyundai Santa Fe

This install was performed on a 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe. While my two previous installs had the benefit of being able to utilize the factory radio, the particulars of this vehicle prevented that. As such, it was necessary to replace the head unit with an after-market stereo. I ordered everything I needed from Crutchfield and I highly recommend going through them if you intend to do the same. On orders over $129, they include everything you need to install the stereo and this came in very useful.
  1. Pioneer DEH-P3800MP stereo
  2. Pioneer SIR-PNR2 Sirius receiver
  3. Hyundai in-dash receiver kit (Crutchfield part no. 003HYK1118)
  4. Hyundai wire harness receiver (Crutchfield part no. 120707301)
  5. Extra wire (about 16 guage) and butt crimps
  6. Wire connectors
The first order of business is to disconnect the negative terminal on the battery. Next, remove the components from the center of the dashboard. Start with the environmental controls by removing the ashtray and screws located there. You should be able to reach up and pull this piece out disconnecting the various wires as you go. Now you can remove two vertically-oriented screws that are connected to the top piece. Once this is done remove the piece containing the vents and digital clock.

Taking out the radio is easy now. At this point you'll want to fit your stereo into the in-dash receiver kit and adjust the included trim if necessary. My particular setup required ¼" being taken off of each side in order to get the perfect fit.

Attach the Hyundai wire harness receiver to the plug that was originally plugged into the factory radio. Color match the wires to those on the new head unit and connect them using the wire connectors. Don't worry if not all of the wires are used, just be sure those particular ends are wrapped with electrical tape.

Now we will install the Sirius receiver. You have two options: 1) Place it underneath the passenger seat or 2) Place it underneath the rear passenger seat. There are pros and cons to each but placing it under the rear seat is much tougher.

Attach the blue end of the the IP-bus cable to the back of the receiver in addition to the wire harness and FM radio antenna cable. If are you going for just the passenger seat, route the other end of the IP-bus cable behind the glove compartment, down the side and underneath the door trim which you can simply tuck it under. For those who choose the latter option, the short length of the IP-bus cable requires that you instead route it underneath the center console and carpet leading to the rear passenger seat. You'll need to loosen the center console with a ratchet and run a coat hanger under the carpet if you go with this option.

With the Sirius receiver in place, you now need to hook it up to a power source. While it's possible to reuse the path followed by the IP-bus cable, I highly recommend routing it instead along the driver's side of the car to avoid any possible interference with the signal to the head unit. In addition, this has the benefit of placing the ends of the wire directly next to the fusebox located underneath the steering column on the left side. You'll want to splice in the extra wire at this point so that it is long enough to reach. The wire can tap directly into the fuse labeled "Audio" thus ensuring that the receiver remains on when the stereo is on.

From the rear of the car, route the Sirius antenna wire down through the small space between the rear hatch and the roof. Tuck the wire into the gasket running along the edge towards the passenger side. Have it enter the car through the trim running along the roof edge and snake the wire towards the front. Depending on where you installed the Sirius receiver, route the antenna wire out from the floor through the door trim.

Make sure all wires are attached to their proper components. Reattach the negative terminal on the battery and turn the key to accessory mode. The stereo should start with FM radio selected. Press the volume control knob to select the Sirius receiver as a source. If you see 'SIRIUS' displayed then congratulations, you are ready to activate your unit and listen to the best that satellite radio has to offer.

Email me at if you have any.

Legal stuff
All brands mentioned in this document are copyright of their respective owners. I am not responsible if your equipment or vehicle malfunctions after following these instructions. You may copy this information as you see fit but please cite this article as a source if you do so.