tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Help me spend money

I’ll skip my usual preamble. :P

I just traded in a bunch of old games (KOF XII, Castlevania DoS, Elite Beat Agents, Worms Open Warfare 2, Pokemon Pearl and Ninja Gaiden DS, if you’re curious) for a total of about $30 in Amazon gift card credit, and I’m wondering what I should get with it. These are the options I’m looking at (based on my Amazon wishlist):

  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
  • Assassin’s Creed II (PS3)
  • Yakuza 3 (PS3) – although I’m thinking of springing for the import since the US version has cuts
  • Baccano! DVD box set
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie DVD box set

Alternatively if you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them…

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The travails of Cyber Monday

I just dropped $700 on new parts for my computer and $24 on all four Prince of Persia games, and then I saw the following offers on our Cyber Monday page:

Uncharted 2 for $40
Planet Earth Blu-ray for $40
Hori Real Arcade Pro 3 SA for $90

Dammit.

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Writers’ block, yet again

Once again I’m finding myself casting around for something to write about. I’ve got a few ideas, but I honestly don’t think that I could do any of the subjects justice.

So I figure I’ll just start writing stuff and see where it goes from here.

Work has been pretty hectic lately – the project that I’ve been working on for about 4 months now had its first production milestone last week and my team was involved in a last-minute scramble to get everything in place. The first milestone is now done, in that my team’s contribution is more or less over, and after my week oncall I’ve shifted over to working on our next milestone. The last few weeks have been pretty hellish because of some mistakes we made early in the project, and I’m doing my best to ensure that we don’t run into the same problems on our second milestone.

As for what sort of project it is, I’m not sure I’m at liberty to say – suffice it to say that it’s a company-wide initiative that will have a pretty big impact on how all the teams in my organization do their jobs.

I actually had a dream last week where I was interviewing with some other team within the company, although for some reason the team worked in an indoor playground. Not going to bother trying to interpret that one…

I’ve started looking at apartment listings, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Amazon is going to be moving to a new campus downtown, and I’d like to move somewhere closer to the new campus, even if it means I have to commute to work by bus for a few months. On top of that, while my current apartment is really close to work, it’s not particularly close to anything else, meaning that I have to take a bus to do pretty much anything important. And let’s not forget that the effective duopoly on Internet providers in my neighbourhood means that I get to choose between crappy cable and crappy DSL. I currently use the latter, and it’s the #1 reason why I haven’t watched any of the new anime that’s come out in the last…2 years or so. 1.5 Mbps means that even Youtube ends up being a bandwidth hog. Not to mention my pings in TF2 and L4D are awful, even to servers that are relatively close by.

My dad suggested buying an apartment, which is probably not a bad idea seeing how prices seem to be heading lower every day, but I haven’t contacted any realtors yet. Part of me is wondering if buying a property when I’m on a visa that might not be renewed in 2011 is a really good idea or not.

I guess I’ll think about it some more.

On a side note, the CEO of the OnLive service that I talked about in my previous entry has apparently been on the PR warpath, offering interviews to a lot of big gaming sites about why all the naysayers are wrong. Apparently they’ve spent seven years developing a video compression algorithm that can get frame data down to very small sizes, which is great, but that also means the stream is going to have compression artifacts, reducing image quality overall. On top of that you’re apparently locked to 720p or 480p, so if your monitor’s native resolution is something else, you can’t play in full screen mode without blurring the image.

So yeah, it’s not for me. Or for anyone with taste, I’d say.

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I’ve been a little busy

This past week I was on call for my team. This past week was also Thanksgiving, and since I work for a company that is in the business of selling things to people, it was more than a little hectic for me.

In other words, being on call for a critical service at Amazon + Black Friday = PAIN.

I’ve been paged more times this week than any week I’ve worked at Amazon so far, and I spent most of the week working on an urgent fix requested by another team, one which necessitated that I load test our software to make sure that the fix didn’t affect performance adversely, and then spend hours on Saturday deploying the fix to our production boxes. On top of that I’ve had to attend early morning conference calls for high-velocity sales events (some of which you may have heard of). So yeah, I’m pretty worn out.

Still, while it does sound like I’m whining, I’m pretty happy that I was able to get through the week without any major problems on the site. The Amazon philosophy is to have all employees think like owners of the company, and given that we got through Black Friday without any major problems, as an owner, an employee and someone interested in customer experience I’m pretty happy.

I would be happier if we could ensure that sort of thing without driving the on call engineer nuts, though…

On a somewhat related note, I did manage to score 4GB of Corsair DDR800 RAM for the awesome price of $50 plus a $30 mail-in-rebate, and a copy of the PC version of Fallout 3 for $30 (both off Amazon, of course). I haven’t finished the first Fallout yet, but it’s already pretty clear that the third game is a vastly different beast from the first (and I’m not sure if it’s in a good way, either).

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Heads up, and something to look at

Amazon is going to be having PS3 deals all day today (August 27th), starting at 12am PST for the big daily deal and then lightning deals every four hours starting at 6am PST. Just a heads up in case there’s some PS3 game or accessory that you’ve been on the lookout for.

And no, I don’t know what the deals are going to be in advance, so don’t bother asking. You can usually make a pretty good guess from the clues on the Gold Box page anyway.

EDIT: The list of deals is up – the daily deal is Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. The lightning deals haven’t been revealed yet, but here are my educated guesses:

6AM: Resistance: Fall of Man
10AM: Ridge Racer 6
12PM: Ratchet & Clank Future
2PM: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
4PM: Devil May Cry 4
6PM: Warhawk

Looks like either games I have no interest in or that I already own. Urgh…

And now to pad out this post a little more, here’s what my desktop currently looks like (click to view full-sized version).

Why yes, I am rather obsessed with sandviches at the moment.

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Buy me stuff, kthx

For some reason I added a widget off to the right that lists stuff in my Amazon wishlist. I highly doubt anyone is going to buy me anything, but I can dream, can’t I? :p

EDIT 7/14/2008: I replaced the list widget with a normal button, because it didn’t really go well with the rest of my layout and the links to the full wishlist weren’t working for some reason. It might be a good idea to bug someone at work about that…

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A year of lessons

A year and twelve hours ago today, I stepped into the lobby of Pacific Medical Center in Beacon Hill, ready to begin my first real job at Amazon.com. I’ve really come a long way since my first time on call when I accidentally did software deployments in the middle of the day, I think…in particular there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve learned.

  1. Your pager is most definitely not your friend.
  2. Perl is actually quite readable if you squint at it really hard.
  3. Eating lunch at your desk while a dog is in the vicinity is asking for trouble.
  4. Do not bite the hand that provides the free beer and snacks every Friday.
  5. Resist going out for Brazilian food as much as possible.

Obviously, I’m kidding. But I have really learned a lot in the last year…I can’t wait to see what the next will bring.

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Odds and Ends

Not much in particular I want to talk about…just dealing with various things that have been happening recently.

I got a new video card recently – a GeForce 8800GTS 512MB from EVGA. It was a bit of a pain getting it into my case…it’s pretty much the same length as my motherboard, so it was a pretty snug fit (it’s nestled right up against my SATA connectors). Performance-wise, though, it’s a dream. I get anti-aliasing in Mass Effect now (as well as a much better frame rate), and games like Half-Life 2 Episode Two that would chug a bit on my old card now run smooth as butter.

Of course, as luck would have it, the same week I decide to upgrade, nVidia drops the 9800GTX to $200, and ATI comes out with brand new cards that keep up pretty well with nVidia’s current offerings. Such are the travails of the PC gamer :p

In the meantime, work has been…not really as interesting as it could be. After the problems we had on the site a few weeks ago, my team has dropped what we were working on before and has been working full steam on mitigation measures. This is kind of annoying for me since I was just getting my first taste of real software engineering(requirements gathering, writing technical specs, getting them reviewed, the whole lot) when this happened. I can’t complain too much though – the site is what keeps us running, and we’re beholden to the customers to make sure it stays up.

(And if you’re still waiting for me to tell you what actually happened…forget it. I like my job too much to risk it like that. If you must know something, get our official position from Jeff Bezos’ radio interview on KUOW this past week)

Speaking of work, in a couple of weeks, I’ll have spent a year at Amazon.com. I might have been in India by this point had it not been for the interim regulation that lets me stay here until my work visa starts on October 1st. Still, one year…what a year it’s been. There have been low points, but the good has outweighed the bad by a significant margin.

I really should do a proper retrospective before I forget.

In the shorter term, though, I was thinking of watching a movie this weekend since I don’t really have anything better to do, and the release of a Pixar movie is always reason to celebrate. Both Wall-E and Get Smart are looking like good candidates for my dollar…any recommendations?

A big news story I’ve been following recently is Bill Gates’ departure from Microsoft. I can’t help but wonder what will become of the company after his departure…Microsoft is hardly the powerhouse it used to be back in the 90s, and has ceded a lot of ground this decade. I found a vitriolic blog post from a (now former) stockholder, who has used the occasion of Gates’ departure to dump all his Microsoft stock. It makes for very interesting reading.

Given the occasion, I’m wondering if I should pick up Microsoft 2.0 by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley. I’m in the mood for some insight on where the world’s largest software company is going, and where it might be going wrong.

Speaking of Microsoft, I’m actually writing this blog post in Microsoft Windows Live Writer. Aside from the cumbersome name, it’s a really nice blog client that works with a wide variety of blog sites and services. Very cool, and easily the most impressive thing I’ve seen out of Windows Live so far.

On a final note, the Jun Senoue remix of Lee Brotherton’s Dreams of an Absolution is currently stuck in my head. Yes, I know it’s from the horrendous next-gen Sonic the Hedgehog – but this is one of the (very) few good things about that game. The others being the instrumental version of His World and this cutscene from Shadow’s story.

I sense my last.fm profile looks pretty messed up right now…

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How was your day?

Mine was pretty terrible.

I think I’ll go blow up some random douchebags in Team Fortress 2 to vent.

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I r l33t h4x0r

As you might have guessed from the title, this is another geekspeak-heavy post. I’ll try and make it digestible for the less technically inclined, as usual :p

This past week I took part in a course at work, meant to help Amazon employees understand Amazon Web Services (Click here if you don't know what those are). They’re basically a bunch of services that we vend to software developers to use in building applications. Examples of this are the Simple Storage Service (or S3) which is a simple data store which charges users based on how much space they use. There’s also the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) which is a service that lets developers purchase computing time to perform tasks that they can’t do with the resources that they already have (like, say, running complex operations on data sets). In any case, as part of the course, we had to build something using the services that we sell, without access to the internal tools that make our lives easier.

I teamed up with a friend from my team, and we set to work building a system that would allow people to search for MP3 downloads on the Amazon.com MP3 store (shameless plug!) using the lyrics from the song instead of the title or artist name. We did get it working successfully (about half an hour before the deadline), and presented it to the entire class. At the end an award was given out for the best project.

We didn’t win, but it didn’t bother me that much, mainly because of something else I found out from one of the facilitators of the course. Apparently, while testing our code over the weekend, we generated so much traffic to one of the services that the engineer who was on call for the service that week got paged, and had to figure out who or what was creating so many requests to the service.

So, we didn’t win, but we did cause some poor guy to get paged over the weekend.

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that matter. :D


I’m looking at following and ’s lead and ditching LiveJournal for my own webspace. Not so much because I disagree with their policies, but because I want a lot more control over what I can do with what has essentially become my little corner of the Internet. Does anyone know of any good hosting services? I’m looking at running either WordPress or a Ruby-based content management system called Typo (because Ruby is one of my favourite programming languages). The idea behind running the latter is that I can modify the code if I feel like I need to (I don’t know PHP).

So, any suggestions/recommendations?

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