Monthly Archives: September 2014


I think I’ll take my time today to talk about another really cool podcast. I’ve got only a handful of podcasts I follow; the last thing I need is one more thing clamoring for my attention and free time. But podcasts are nice because they’re quite easy to put on in the background, to occupy the parts of your mind that get easily bored while other, more productive parts are, well, productive.

I’ve talked before about 99% Invisible and Welcome to Night Vale, the other two podcasts I follow, but I’ve caught up with both of those, and they only update a handful of times a month. This one I just started, Radiolab, will hopefully keep me going for quite a while.

I just started listening to this podcast, so Wikipedia would probably be a better source of information about it. But that’s (presumably) not why you’re here. So I will endeavor to do my best. Radiolab is a very interesting podcast. That is to say, it’s about interesting topics (like 99PI) rather than being bizarre and surreal (like Night Vale). The first few episodes I’ve listened to so far have been about topics as wide-ranging as memory and the sense of self to mortality (physical) and morality (philosophical).

The general setup seems to be an hour-long podcast, with several stories and interviews supporting the episodes. The production is very engaging, with sound effects and everything. The two hosts are clearly practiced and knowledgeable, and play well off each other.

Why did I start listening to this podcast? Well, normally when I’ve been drafting I put on headphones and listen to music. But then I have to decide what kind of music I want to listen to (I know, I know, First World Problems). So I was losing interest in that. And I’ve also been enjoying listening to an episode of the other podcasts I follow (when available) while commuting in the morning. Well, seeing as I’ve caught up with both of those, I decided to check out Radiolab; I had bookmarked one of their episodes that had sounded interesting, to the point of subscribing to the RSS feed so as to not forget about it, and decided this was as good a time as any to stop ignoring it.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that Radiolab’s episodes were about twice the length of the others I was used to, so it was still playing when I got to work. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just finish up this episode while I start my day. But the more I got into it, the more I realized just how pleasurable it was to have something intellectually stimulating on in the background while drafting (which let’s admit, can be quite dry and mind-numbing). So that was a pleasant surprise.

So yeah, I can heartily recommend the Radiolab podcast. It’s interesting, educational, and so much more than just two people talking back and forth for an hour.

Just Cause

Time flies when you’re having fun.  Take last weekend, for example.  When I wasn’t being a productive member of my household, I killed a lot of time.  And how did I do it?  The best way possible: destabilizing governments and knocking over drug cartels while driving around in a tank and listening to Manowar.  You know, as one does.

While the addition of heavy metal was my own doing, the rest of the mayhem was accomplished in the game Just Cause, an open-world sandbox game released a few years ago.  If you’ve played any of the Grand Theft Auto games, then this will be very similar.  Except you get a grappling hook and a parachute.

Yeah, it’s kind of turned up to 11.

The story, such as it is, has you playing as Rico, a special agent tasked with formenting revolution in the tropical island nation of San Esperito through various means.  There are a wide variety of vehicles, from cars and motorcycles to attack helicopters, boats, and yes, tanks.  Gameplay is your typical sandbox fare: wander around in the world, doing story missions to unlock progress, causing as much mayhem as you want along the way.

To be honest, the gameplay is only average at best.  You’ve got your standard suite of weapons and vehicles.  If you’ve played GTA, you’ve played Just Cause.  But what really attracted me was the scenery: it’s beautiful.  Rather than driving/flying around a gritty ersatz New York or Los Angeles, you get to spend your time in a lush tropical environment.  White sand beaches, vibrant green forests, and beautiful sunsets are frequent occurrences.  Plus, there’s just so much scenery.  According to Wikipedia, this virtual playground encompasses almost 400 square miles.  Sure, in an eight-year-old game this isn’t the most populous environment, but it’s still a beautiful sight to see.

Plus, did I mention I was able to invade and take over settlements with a tank?  Oh, and you can leap out onto the hood of your moving vehicle, hook on to a passing helicopter, reel yourself in, toss the pilot out, and proceed to rain death from the skies.

Seriously, this game is just outlandish fun.  It may not be anything super special to write home about (aside from the aforementioned action movie moments), and the story is so far mostly forgettable, but it’s definitely a fun diversion.  If you can pick it up on sale, I can definitely recommend it.  I hear the sequel is good too, improving on the original in many ways, I’m just not sure my laptop can run it as well as I’d like.

But really: tank.  Helicopter.  Grappling hook.  Parachute.  Up to 11.

Tech Envy Redux: Not The Kind You Think

I’ve written about tech envy before, and how after a while I’ll begin to feel the upgrade itch, that my current technology infrastructure just isn’t what it could be. And while it’s true I’ve been drooling over the prospect of a new computer, my current bout of tech envy is coming from an unlikely source.

When using my work computer, I find myself jealous of my 6-year-old laptop.

On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. After all, shouldn’t a brand new workstation be blowing an aging gaming system out of the water? Maybe it is, but it doesn’t often feel like it. Get a few AutoCAD drawings open, and it starts getting bogged down. And it takes a relative eternity to boot up and log in. But it’s got better specs, right? Faster processor, better graphics card, and more RAM…

It does have those things, right?

I looked into the system specs of my work computer (as one does), and was surprised to see that it doesn’t have any more RAM than my personal laptop. Admittedly, my sense of things may be a bit skewed from having to try and sell people computers at Costco, but I would have thought there would have been some progress on that front. And while the processor is indeed fancier, AutoCAD is largely a single-threaded program, so there isn’t much to gain from having multiple processor cores. The work computer has a faster processor clock speed, so that shouldn’t be an issue.  And I’m not sure if the graphics cards are comparable, since one is workstation-focused and the other is (or was, back in the day) gaming-focused.

Maybe it’s just a matter of scale, and I don’t remember getting bogged down in AutoCAD in school because I was using smaller, less complicated files. It’s definitely a possibility. But earlier I had an epiphany (those seem to be going around). Not all of my laptop is stock any more. While I made good use of the warranty while it was still available, that merely swapped parts of equal performance. There’s one upgrade I’ve done since then that wasn’t a straight swap: my SSD.

Can a solid state drive really make that much difference compared to a platter-based hard drive? Apparently it can. I do remember commenting on just how snappy things were on my laptop after the upgrade, and how slow things felt when I had to temporarily boot to the old HDD to retrieve some data. So maybe I’m just spoiled now.

Even if I am, it’s definitely something I’m going to have to remember when I get around to building my new PC. I had briefly considered skipping the SSD to save some money, but now I’m not so sure. Would I just end up lamenting that my brand new gaming baby felt less snappy than last week’s (read: half-decade’s) news? I don’t know, but it’s definitely food for thought.

Either way, being jealous of an old computer still feels weird, no matter how unlikely you are to go out and spend money as a result.

Dispatches From The Spam Front

Because it exists on the Internet, I’ve had to deal with spam comments on this blog. Some of them have been amusing, but mostly they’ve been annoying. See, the way I’ve got things set up right now is that first-time commenters (as identified by email address) are held for moderation. Once approved, they can post as many comments on as much stuff as they like. And since there generally aren’t many comments posted here, I can quite easily approve first-time posts as they come in.

Every once in a while, however, one of my posts will for some reason become a target for high-intensity spamming. There have been some posts that end up with dozens of pending comments over the course of a mere day or two. And each time a comment is held for moderation, I get an email.

So this has gotten very annoying, to say nothing about how cluttered my inbox has been getting. And while a part of me is sometimes fascinated by the ingenuity of these robotic responders, I feel the need to do something. In the past, I’ve turned off comments on individual posts as they became spam magnets, but that solution is still very much reactive rather than proactive.

Ugh, sorry, my inner motivational speaker just flared up. Gimme a minute, and I’ll get it back under control.

So where was I? Oh yeah, proactive spam prevention. I’m going to make some changes going forward, and while not many will be affected, it will definitely make my life easier. Moderation of comments will continue, since that seems to be working well, but I’ve decided to automatically turn off comments on posts older than 14 days. Two weeks should be plenty of time for people to have their say. And if it isn’t, there are other venues like Facebook and Tumblr (not that I’m on either of those much these days with the new job, but what can you do).

So hopefully this helps.

OH, one other thing: pingbacks! Does anyone have any opinions on these? There the little pseudo-comments that show up when I (or someone else) links to an article. Helpful? Annoying? Didn’t even notice they exist?

Still Fighting

I was walking through the grocery store yesterday evening, and nothing sounded good. I found myself bored with the prospect of yet another lunchmeat sandwich for lunch every day this week. I found myself bored with the prospect of waiting to get a loaf of bread sliced. I found myself bored with waiting in line at the deli counter. I was also hungry, which as we all know is not the best time to be shopping for food. Long story short, I was done.

But no matter how done I was, I still have to eat this week. So I trudged through the story, my stomach growing emptier and my mood growing darker. I wanted to do nothing more than go home and sit like a lump in front of my computer and let my brain drip out my ears, when suddenly I had an epiphany.

Wait a minute, I thought to myself. Bleak mood, indecisiveness, and boredom? Holy cow, I feel depressed!

And I did. I felt depressed. And I’m happy to say that realizing that actually helped. It didn’t completely stop the dark thoughts, of course, but it did allow me to take a step back and recognize these thoughts for what they were. And eventually (once I got home and got some food in me) move past them.

I guess this mini-malaise caught me by surprise because I’ve been in an overall better mood since I started my new job. After all, working in a field I’m interested in is much better than pushing carts and stocking pallets at Costco. To say nothing of not having to get up at four in the morning! So overall, I’ve been in a much better mood since I got out. So much so that I guess I grew complacent.

It’s a familiar cycle for many: you feel bad, so you do something to feel better. But once you feel better, you start forgetting to do the thing that made you feel better. Then you start feeling worse, and the whole thing crashes and the cycle starts over.

And I had indeed stopped doing the things that helped. I was sleeping in more, true, but I was also staying up later. But for me, the most telling thing was that I had forgotten to take my St. John’s Wort for at least a week, if not more.

While I’m not really on any strong medication for my depression, I had fallen into the trap many people on constant medication do: I felt better, so I stopped taking the thing that was making me feel better. And while my life situation had improved enough that I didn’t really notice the effects, that lapse seems to have caught up to me. Luckily, the reminder wasn’t too poignant: I was able to snap myself out of it before it became a full-blown Funk. And I am going to do my best to heed that warning.

Yes, I still have issues with depression. They can be mild; mild enough that even I forget they’re there. But much like my ADD, it’s not likely to go away any time soon. I just have to remember that there are things I can do to help, and then remember to do them.

Happy Equinox

Now that I’m out of school and working full time, the days and weeks tend to blend together. For instance: did you realize it’s already the last part of September? Where did the time go! And why the heck is if full dark by 7h30? Whose bright idea (no pun intended [this time]) was that, eh?

Oh right, the natural progression of the seasons. My bad.

Anyway, I just realized earlier today while checking the Astonomy Picture of the Day that today(ish) was the Autumn Equinox: the time of year when the length of the day and the night are approximately equal. And how better to illustrate that than with a video from SPAAAAAACE!

If you didn’t click that link, I’d strongly encourage you to do so. It’s a series of images captured from a geosynchronous satellite during last year’s autumn equinox. The day/night terminator passes through the north and south poles, and you can see the clouds progressing and the sun tracing along the equator. How cool is that!

Anyway, that was my astronomy nerd moment for the day, and totally wasn’t a cheap way to postpone the longer post I wrote until tomorrow when more people are likely to read it. Happy Equinox, and death to Daylight Saving Time!

Where Do We Go From Here?

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I needed an intellectual outlet. Working at Costco was mind numbing in the truest sense: a half-trained monkey could have done my job. Sure, interacting with customers and asking questions about electronics took some engagement, but I quickly developed a patter, a series of small sound bites I could string together to simulate a conversation without having to actually engage my brain. And don’t get me started on pushing carts or stocking merchandise. Grunt labor at its finest.

Needless to say, this was a huge shift from grad school, where I was spending almost my entire day thinking about something or other. Even at work, when it was slow in the computer lab, I could find interesting stuff to read online or chip away at the ever-looming pile of homework. Have you ever been riding a bike, pedaling hard in a high gear, when suddenly the chain slips off the sprocket? That feeling of there suddenly being no resistance? I went through a mental version of that.

Blogging helped me reengage those gears. It gave me something to mull over, to toss back and forth in my head while on the job (when I wasn’t just too tired to think). It gave me something to do. And it was great! I went from being fairly listless and bored most of the time to only being listless and bored every once in a while (I was still working at Costco, after all; there’s only so much better about things I could feel). And I’m pretty proud of myself for keeping up with it for as long as I have.

But now that I’ve changed jobs, my level of mental engagement has also changed. I’m suddenly having to mentally exert myself again, and now it’s more akin to having accidentally slipped into a higher gear while going up a hill (my bike is a little old and has a few quirks). I’m spending most of the day drafting, and the learning curve alone is leaving me pretty spent.

So what does that mean for this blog? I don’t know. I know that I don’t have as much mental time/space/energy/whatever to devote to things as I used to, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the posts get slightly more inconsequential and banal. I do still want to continue, though.

I guess it comes back to the question of who am I writing for. Am I writing for an audience? Then I have to worry about keeping things interesting, and writing things people want to read. Am I writing for myself? Then it shouldn’t matter what I write.

I tend to forget to do the latter, and all too often worry about doing the former. I’m not sure how to fix this (see previous comment about mental energy), or if it’s even a problem at all. In all honesty, I’d probably do well to remind myself about the name of this blog, as well as that thing about hatched chickens being able to do math.

Growing Pains?

Today wasn’t as bad as yesterday, but my brain is still pretty fried.  My afternoon has been pretty chill: I finished one of the layouts I was working on, and there wasn’t quite enough time to start the next one.  Don’t you hate that when it happens?  I’d like to be productive, but sometimes you just reach a good stopping point.  It’s just unfortunate when that point doesn’t line up with the end of the work day.

That’s not to say that my entire day has been stress-free.  No, I freaked out a bit earlier, once I realized that I had to go back and tweak a drawing I thought I had finished, all because I missed one of the conventions our office uses.  I thought I was going to have to re-draw everything, tweaking all the sheets I’ve done so far.  Oh, and my boss jokingly mentioned that I was supposed to be done with this project already.  Isn’t that just great for my self-esteem?

Luckily, I realized that instead of beating my head against the desk (although there was a bit of that nonetheless), I needed to take a step back from the problem, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to eat something as well.  What’s that, I can be taught to monitor myself for signs of low blood sugar?  I can remember that there are easy solutions to problems?  Weird, right?

Okay, okay, it did take me a minute or so to realize I could do that, I’ll admit.  But once I did, it helped a lot.

I’m also trying to not stress too much about when this project was “supposed” to be done.  After all, it’s the first project I’ve done on my own.  My first few weeks here I was mostly doing corrections on drawings my coworker had done.  Sure, it was stressful, but at least I had someone I could easily ask for clarification, where I could just be a CAD monkey.  But this project is different.  I’ve basically been working on it from scratch, taking existing linework and reformatting it, making it fit our office templates and cleaning it up.

As I’ve gone along, I keep noticing things that need correcting, or things that could be done better.  Sure, maybe my innate tendencies towards perfectionism are making me spend too much time on the little details; I’m willing to admit that.  But this is also the first project I’ve done on my own since starting here.  Of course I’m not going to be as efficient as I could be just yet.  So I’ve decided to treat the bothersome “ribbing” from my boss as just that: ribbing.  Unless I get an actual talking-to, I think I’m doing alright.

Let’s see how that goes.

Poached, Scrambled, Or Fried?

My brain is fried today.  I tried waiting until after work to write, but unfortunately I spent most of the day trying to bend CAD to my will.  So there’s not going to be much of a post today.

I’ve got a project I’m working on, and the scope seems to be expanding as time goes on.  At first, I thought I’d just have to take an existing CAD file and put it into our office’s title block.  But then I started noticing things that needed fixed.  So I fixed them.  But then I started noticing data that was missing or incomplete.  So I tried to fix that too.

Long story short, this project is taking me longer that it probably should.  On top of that, I can’t help but feel I’m making more work for myself, most likely through misunderstanding the scope of work.  My boss(?) thought it should take no more than a week; now it’s looking more like two.

Oh well.  I’m not being hounded about it yet, so hopefully there isn’t a problem.  There’s only so fast I can work on this sort of thing before my brain starts leaking out my ears.

So instead I’m going to go hit my friends with sticks.