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Scott's Column
Work, New TV & The Bartender

September 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

It has been busy around here lately. I am getting bumped from high priority project to high priority project at work. I couldn't help but tell you about it. I did manage to do some gaming on the new desktop, though. We also had to buy a new TV. Finally I am going to tell of a personal project I have in mind.

Current Topics:

Gaming

With my desktop making a great gaming machine for games at least two years old, I have been playing games at least two years old. I finished F.E.A.R. I did not like the game that much. When going up against elite soldiers it was fun, but the weird stuff was too weird for me.

It was not fun enough to play again, so I am playing Halo and FarCry again. I loaded FarCry up at level 4 (the levels are 1-5 with 2 being the default and the level I originally played at). FarCry is a lot harder, to the point that when I start fighting the mutant creatures I had to resort to cheat codes. I think I started Halo at the same level as before (the default). I like both games. Halo has gotten to the point where the spores are everywhere. This is the point of boredom for this game. It is only a matter of time before I have to follow the annoying floating robot with an even more annoying voice then my own (those than know me know what I am talking about). That's when you have to shoot tons of spores and follow this irritating robot on a wild goose chase. Since I have played it before it will be much harder to follow this infuriating robot knowing he is actually the evil little menace you will need to kill eventually.

Playing FarCry and Halo with their checkpoints for saving progress has made me long for F.E.A.R. which lets you quick save anytime you want. I saw Halo 2 for $30 at Fry's. I may have to get that. I am also contemplating getting The Orange Box which I saw at Target for $40. Ouch! This is a collection of five games with three versions of Half-Life.

With no new game yet, I have been downloading a few demos. So far the only promising ones have been an old Call of Duty. I saw Call of Duty 4 at Target today for $50 still. I need any game to come down a lot from that. I will be hard pressed to pay more than $30 for anything. I re-downloaded Timeshift and will try it again, but I think it is still too expensive. I'll have to check around.

I wish there was a really good racing game out there. I loved Need For Speed Most Wanted, but I heard more resent Need For Speed games got worse after MW. Maybe I will just load it up again, but it too started getting boring after a while. I guess I wanted more reward for winning. I really liked Need For Speed High Stakes when you bet your car at certain points. I could see mixing that with the police pursuit from Most Wanted for a really good game. I like the tracks better from High Stakes than the street racing venues in Most Wanted. Though the street venues were perfect in the pursuit modes. I guess I just want the best of both worlds, the pursuit action on the street from Most Wanted as well as nice multi-lap racing with cool courses from High Stakes.

I saw a new racing game called Ferrari Challenge for the Wii while at Best Buy. I will have to get online and see if I can find some reviews of this game. Or maybe I can rent it first.

Basically I am looking for a good game to numb my brain when I need a break from brain numbing work.

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Work Takes Center Stage

There is something to be said for job security. At least that is the way it seems. I am on so many projects at work and priorities are changing so much that I really need to perfect that cloning thing soon. As long as I get to keep both paychecks while we locked up the clone at night.

For long time readers you know I need to be vague here. I work for a company that prints things for customers. I am the programmer responsible for the software that prints all our output. I am also heavily involved in writing exports to vendors that produce items we do not have the ability to manufacture in house.

My company is in a merge with another company. The merge has already happened but we are still merging functions.

As I wrote this I had 10 official project on my plate (official in my mind is projects that where assign to me, but my boss says those are all unofficial projects because they are not priority work). I also had at least three unofficial projects (my idea of an unofficial project is one I thought of that needs to be done, but was not assigned to me)That's 13 projects.

I just finished one of the projects that was given very high priority having to due with shipping labels that had a hard deadline. That takes use to 12. I was responsible for one of four primary financial reports to be migrated off of our mainframe and onto Oracle. I was the only one to successfully balance an Oracle report to a mainframe report to the penny (this will become important in a moment). I finished this project. Now we are down to 11.

Well, I was told I had to be put on an all new top priority project having to do with the company merge. I am going to be writing an interface from our system into the other company's legacy system. (Yes, it is all just our systems.) I had to take two export projects and pass them off to two other programmers at another location. One of the exports was my top priority because the vendor we use is changing and it is an export that runs on the mainframe and we want to move it to .Net & Oracle. With the change in vendor it had a hard deadline. I took a trip to town to meet with the programmers that would take these two exports and finish them. I had not done much, so they will be doing most of the work. I will be able to claim little credit. One has a hard deadline of September 2 launch, and I will be doing a lot of work to help merge that code into our existing production environment as well as coordinating database changes to support the export.

When I got back to the office expecting to start the integration project I was told I am working on the financial reports. Apparently we have a hard deadline on those of the end of September. So the integration will have to wait while I work on two of the remaining 3 financial reports. Damn, it sucks that I was able to get the first report to balance to the penny. The next two will not be as easy. In fact, I don't believe they will be able to be balanced to the penny at all. I just have to hope that I can document the problems with the old reports well enough to satisfy the auditors.

As soon as the financial reports are done I will be working on the integration project, probably past the end of the year. I was told that the last company that merged into this legacy system took 9 month. I was picked because of my knowledge of how we manufacture orders here, and how that will translate to the type of work we will be doing at other plants. It is expected I will have to visit more than one plant to understand each of them. This could be a fair amount of travel time. I don't know yet. I can't image taking 9 months to integrate orders from our system into the other systems. Even if I am the only programmer on the job. Maybe I am too confident in myself, a problem I definitely have but a problem that almost never lets me down.

I'll try to keep you posted without giving too many details. Must be vague you know.

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New TV & Batman The Dark Knight

The TV in our Master Bedroom died. It was a Sony 25" glass tube TV about 12 years old. So we decided to take advantage of Best Buy's 24 months interest free offer to get a new TV. I got online and started searching their web site. I was hoping to find a name brand 40-42" widescreen TV for under $1,000. I could not find anything that seemed reasonable in price with a name brand. I did notice one Toshiba 42" TV listed for $1,099. I decided this was the worst case scenario. I should be able to find something cheaper, but certainly if I could not find a TV for less I know this should be more than good enough at $1.099.

Well, I took my son with me to get the TV. We had very limited time. See, it was the same day we were going to see Batman The Dark Knight at the new IMAX theater. The movie started at 12:35PM, and it was already after 10 AM. We headed to the Best Buy closest to our house. They only had one model sized 40" below $1,000. It was a Dynex model for $897. In my opinion Dynex is not a name brand.

I asked the salesman about it and he didn't think they had any models in the 40-42" size range at or below $1,000. I mentioned the Toshiba I saw online. We checked the web site together and were able to find the model (Toshiba Regza 42" LCD TV, Model# 42RV530U). He saw that they did not have any in this store. He checked their inventory system and there were at least 5 at the next closest Best Buy. We took off. It was getting close to 11:00. I need to get the TV up and running before we go to the movie, and we are heading further from the house.

We arrived at the alternate Best Buy and checked their big wall of flat panel TVs. Sure enough we were able to find the Toshiba listed at $1,199 (the $1,099 price was a special). Now it was time to stop and take a look at the TVs. Yes, it was a 1080p LCD TV with plenty of inputs to meet my modest needs (we would hook it up to our current DVR and DVD player so I needed coaxial and RCA red/white/yellow connections for now and 2 HDMI inputs for later when we replace those devices with HD versions).

But how did it look. As it turned out it looked pretty good. It was not the best TV there. There was a 40" LG Electronics TV that looked better and priced the same as the Toshiba. However, I did not like one thing. The LG Electronics TV had a glossy screen, the Toshiba was dull. Then I looked around and most of the TVs have the glossy screens. Since this TV was going to be in the bedroom across from the foot of the bed I did not want a glossy screen reflecting back at me. I find this annoying in the living room with my Mitsubishi 65" big screen TV (8 years old). I did not want it in the bedroom.

So we bought the Toshiba Regza. We got home about 11:40 AM with the TV. I had it all setup by noon with nothing but the defaults for everything and the DVR for the cable hooked up. My wife wanted to watch something specific that day. We got to the movie theater about 12:15 and I could see through the window that the 12:35 showing of Batman was slowing blinking Sold Out. Damn, now we would have to watch it on a non-IMAX screen. I asked for tickets to the next available showing of Batman and that was the 12:35 showing. Cool, I get to watch my first movie on an IMAX screen in something like 20 years.

If you have not seen this movie you need to. This is hands down the best superhero movie ever made. In fact, it is as much a crime drama as it is a superhero movie. The things that really impressed me the most was the scenery and the plot. Yes, it is over the top. Yes, it is hard to believe that some of this is possible. Never mind that. The plot really brings to light some of the deep dark ideals in the Batman world. They covered real moral issues like whether it was good to have a vigilante controlling crime in a city full of corrupt cops. There were doubts that the people of Gotham needed Batman. The Joker holds people hostage until Batman reveals himself. This really puts a huge moral dilemma in place. Should they turn over the Batman to a terrorist? Which is the morally right thing to do. The Joker even sets up two ferry boats, each with a switch to blow up the other. If neither ferry blows up the other before midnight they will both be blown up. What to do. You have to see this to see how it plays out. I will buy this movie when it comes out on DVD and watch it a few more times.

I mentioned the scenery. This Batman movie was filmed in Chicago. I do not know what Chicago looks like, so to me it looked like a large, but real city. And it was. This is a huge step forward from all the previous Batman movies in that Gotham City was some weird, even grotesque, dark dreary place that no one would want to live in. I really liked the "normal-ness" to this Batman movie's surroundings. It comes off as far more believable that a super rich guy dealing with the pain of watching his parents killed in a street crime could actually become a very well equipped vigilante taking up where the police leave off in a crime ridden city.

So, Batman The Dark Knight is both believable and unbelievable at the same time. The story is real enough to be believable if you can suspend belief that the feats Batman pulled off are possible if someone spent a lifetime training for it and had the financial resources to make it happen.

Go see it if you have not already.

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The Bartender

During my web hosting change I hinted at a new application I want to build. I am going to call it The Bartender. It is basically a drink recipe application. I may first build it as a PC application. If I like it I will consider making it a web application... or maybe a locally run application that connects to a central database. Actually, the more I think about it the more I think it should be a web application. O.K. That's confusing, let me explain the application.

As I see this application the biggest feature will be to enter in all the ingredients you have on hand. The Bartender will them tell you all the drinks you can make with those supplies.

I received a drink recipe book for Christmas. I liked it a lot. But it showed I have a very small amount of liquor. I started buying some liquors to "stock my bar." I am not a heavy drinker, but I like the idea of making mixed drinks from time to time. Whenever my wife asks if I am going to make drinks I am stump on what I can make. I have to spend a lot of time looking through that book to find something that I have the ingredients for.

With The Bartender I could enter the items I have and a it could search through the list of recipes in a split second and show the drinks I could make.

As an online application I would maintain a central database for recipes. I would enable others to add recipes. User entered recipes will probably be separate, and I would maintain the main list. The key would be that each user could enter their own items they have on hand. That would require storing information by user. This would require a database.

As a database web application you could enter recipes and decide for yourself if you want to share them or not. Your "on hand" list would always be private. Imagine you can select drinks from three classes of recipes... ones you enter... ones from the main database... and ones that others entered and are sharing. You could browse the recipes, or get recommendations base on preferred liquors or just what you have "on hand."

As the application progresses we can add ratings to drinks like Netflix has ratings for movies. This will allow the program to refine is recommendations. Each recipe could have its own comments, like a forum.

Another feature I want to create is a shopping list. Let's say you are going to the liquor store and want a suggestion for something new. The program will look at what you have and what recipes you could make with just 1 or 2 more items. This would be a great way to build a loaded bar a little at a time.

Of course, if I build this it would be a free web application. I say that with some trepidation in my voice. I would like it to be free... but if this idea takes off and it costs me any real money (hosting such a site/app) I would have to figure out how to get some money. The number one way I can think of is ads. I would like to restrict ads to items that go with a liquor based site. Ads for brands of liquor or maybe mixes and such. This way the ads are pertinent to the content and hopefully useful. Like you I hate ads, because they are mostly annoying, but also because they rarely seem pertinent.

As I said, I thought about this being a locally installed application that would "phone home" to get information from the web site. But it might be best to have this as a web site only. I am still thinking about this. I will probably make it a web site so I can learn to build a web site with this kind of complexity. That can help my career as a bonus.

Very Cool!

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. It was a surprising amount of information. I don't even have any ideas yet for next month, so it may be a short edition next month. We'll see.

Until then...

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