Friday, September 30, 2005

Serenity! (Sad) Woot!

Just got back from seeing Serenity with The Gang. I definitely liked it, although with what happened it in, any restarted TV series of Firefly would be markedly different. But I'd still want it back on, no question there. Anyone know if Joss Whedon is looking for Firefly to start back up?

WARNING, spoilers follow. Click to toggle spoilers' visibility.

If you haven't seen it yet, go! I don't care that it only opened today; only poor souls who were without sneak previews should have waited until today anyhow. Go convert the unenlightened masses of Firefly-ignorant!

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Good Times at Microsoft

So my summer internship at Microsoft on the MSN Shopping team was quite a lot of fun. Now that I have the pictures Forrest took uploaded to my Flickr account, I shall recount some of what happened but was never blogged about.

I hope the orange has your attention. It certainly grabbed mine when I walked into my shared office my first day. I shared an office with my mentor, the PM for my team. He has some eccentric things going on with his desk: glaringly orange shag desk carpet (I didn't even know such things existed), extra-anti-carpal tunnel keyboard (think "Natural Keyboard," but sunken instead of raised), joystick-shaped mouse (doctor's orders), a veritable forest of empty seltzer water cans, a guitar-shaped nightlight, and a Sumo wrestler–shaped fan.

Around the water coolers in the company kitchens (where, contrary to Dilbert, no one gathered to gossip), there were free polystyrene cups. These cups are a bright, almost obnoxious orange, and they stand out wherever you set them down. Except, that is, if you happen to set one down on my mentor's desk. In that most unusual case, your cup camoflagues into the shag, to become only visible by virtue of having a white interior.

Elsewhere in my office building, someone had labeled this bit of hardware destined to be recycled as the resident "hall monitor." Someone should be fired for the emotional distress caused me by the pun. Or maybe subjected to my mom's or Patrick's punning, if such a punishment is not banned by the Geneva convention.

Amongst all the other productive work we did our last day, Forrest and I went to the company store for one last chance to purchase deeply discounted Microsoft software (legal copies! wow!) and mementos to remind us of the summer. I bought some square-bottomed, round-topped coffee mugs for me and my dad, little stuffed frogs with Microsoft shirts and magnetic feet for Rene and my mom, and a little stuffed moose for Lisa.

Forrest, meanwhile, bought himself a full-sized shirt. The amusing thing, we discovered later, was this shirt's tag: penguins make Microsoft shirts! What will the Linux mascot infiltrate next?? Would upper management let such attire continue to be worn at official company events if they knew??? Inquiry conspiracy-theorist minds want to know.

My mom, as many of you may know, just loves smiley faces. Adores them. In the sense that they make her gag, anyhow. So when I saw that someone on my floor had thrown out a boquet of smiley balloons, I immediately knew my mom deserved such a gift, to let her know that I was thinking of her and that I loved her. I took the balloons to the Microsoft shipping center and, with many a strange look, got them to box the balloons up in packaging peanuts. She still has them, dangling from a bookcase in her sewing room, as testament to how much she loves me and smiley faces. *evil cackle*

Forrest and I gave Joe a small tour of the Microsoft campus and environs when he visited for PAX. One of the places we stopped was the Nintendo company store (which is much smaller and lamer than the Microsoft one, I must say). Outside said Nintendo store sat this Pokémon car — Pikachu, I believe, complete with welded-on lightning bolt tail. Frightening.

The Intern Puzzle Day's theme for 2005 was pirates. (How can you go wrong with pirates, that most sacred of peoples?) One of our teammates had partied a little to hardy (on grog, I'm sure) the night before, such that he showed up to the team headquarters with a hangover. He decorated a whiteboard with an in-theme illustration of his condition.

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Backdated Posts

That nasty practice of backdating strikes again: read about the continuation of PAX weekend with Joe (August 26th). You may want to re-read the arrival of Joe if you've forgotten what that was all about.

Watch this post for updates as I add more backdated posts. (I shall maintain my chronological integrity!)



Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hotel with a Sense of Humor

We stopped in Astoria for gas. We had forgotten we'd just crossed the border into Oregon, so we accidentally pumped our own gas — an offense which carries a $5000 fine for each party, or so says the gas attendant. He gave us free coffee passes, though, so he wasn't that upset since we didn't get caught.

On the way out of Astoria, we passed by a Holiday Inn that's built beneath Astoria Bridge. Its sign out front was more amusing than most hotels':

Where sleeping under the bridge is a good thing.

Glad to see management there has a sense of humor.

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Your Oxen Have Drowned!

We crossed over the Columbia River this evening/morning without incident. Brought back Oregon Trail memories.



Saturday, September 10, 2005

Strange Argument at Gas Station

Asiago cheese dip and triple chocolate stout cheesecake. Mmm!

We didn't finish packing up our cars until 8 o'clock in the evening, then we had dinner at Rock Bottom one last time. Cheese dip and cheese cake, mmm! Oh yeah, and a Caesar salad to keep up appearances. ;) So anyhow, we didn't actually start driving south until around 9:30. Ick, I says.

Near midnight we stopped at a gas station for snacks. (Forrest bought an entire 12-pack of that apple gum he likes so much.) At this gas station, a man and two women in a van were having an argument. The guy snapped something along the lines of "I'm not going anywhere" to the women. Then the women unloaded their suitcases and walked away down the road with them. Mind you, this is midnight that these two women are wandering off. The man (who indeed did not go anywhere from the driver's seat) just sat there, looking pissed. A few minutes later the women returned and got back in the van. Coincidentally, a cop car pulled into the gas station while all this was going on, but they just seemed to be there for the coffee and donuts. Dunno what the people's fight was all about, but it sure looked weird from a third party's perspective.

Update, 9/29 2:20 AM: Forrest finally gave me the photos off his cameraphone. This picture now exists; expect new posts of photographed summer exploits in the near future.

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Friday, September 9, 2005

Badges? We don' need no steenkin' badges!

Dogs with ties, made as gifts for my Microsoft internship teammates.

I am no longer a Microsoft employee. I turned in my badge, and I'm back to being a civilian in the eyes of MS Security. At least Security didn't have to escort me out of the building.

Yesterday I stopped at a local thrift store and bought seven stuffed dogs and seven men's ties; I tied the latter around the necks of the former and gave them away as gifts to my teammates. Let me explain. At the beginning of the summer, my manager stumbled across some Japanese website that featured clothing for animals. He noticed in particular a photo of a serious-looking dog wearing a necktie. He liked it enough to make the image his desktop wallpaper and MSN Messenger buddy icon. Then, when the PM was writing up the first round of specs for the project, they realized they had no official logo to put on the spec's header (this being a new team, they didn't even have an official product name, much less a logo). So the PM used the dog-with-tie image as the logo placeholder. People were amused, and since at this point only other team members were looking at the specs, the dog was allowed to stay. The in-joke about dogs dressed up in ties remained throughout the summer: people used such photos as their avatars on the test profiles for our dev site, people signed emails with the photos.

Separately, I read on the Internz mailing list that many interns gave their mentors going-away gifts as a sort of thank you. I had more or less decided not to do that, because I had no idea what to get my mentor. But then, yesterday, I had a revelation. Dogs with ties! It was perfect: funny, not too expensive (like a good shrubbery), and commemorating our specific project. So, like I said, yesterday I went out about bought out the thrift store's entire inventory of stuffed dogs, and a matching number of ties. Shane showed me how to tie ties, and he also helped do the actual tying. To make the ties not be ridiculously long compared to the size of the dogs, we had to fold the ties in half before tying them. Luckily, it didn't look too strange (at least, not in comparison to the mere fact that we were putting neckties on stuffed animals).

So I handed out these dogs (wrapped up in brown Safeway bags, 'cause I'm classy like that) to my teammates today when I got in to work. They all laughed and thought they were cute. So I think that was a good gift choice. :)

My team took me out to lunch at a dim sum Chinese restaurant. Barbeque pork buns are yummy, despite their strange appearance. I'm still not sold, though, on the translucently wrapped dim sum that are a little too slimy in texture for me. At the end of lunch, my PUM presented me with a greetin card. On the cover is a cat wearing a red cowboy hat and bandana — so they also thought to hunt down dressed-up animals, albeit a cat for Cat(herine) rather than a dog. Each teammate had signed the card, which was nice. They also gave me a Borders gift card, whose monetary value I didn't look at until I was getting in my car: $100! Granted, that's only like $20 from each person, but still! Very nice of them all. So yeah, I'm going to miss my team. Maybe I'll see them again next summer.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Server Down; Blog Ugliness

My server is offline — we think Comcast might have cut internet 'cause of it — but I would have needed to take it down within days anyhow for the drive back to California. This means that the CSS styles used to prettify this blog are unavailable. But at least my blog is readable without CSS, which is more than some trendy CSS-heavy sites can claim. :P

Update, 3:18 PM: I'll be copying the CSS to Blogger when I get home from work and have physical access to my server. Then my blog will return to its usual beauty.

Until I get my server back up and running some time mid to late September, my site will be completely down. (Unless Jerry can host it again, which would be cool. We'll see if that works out.) Blogspot hosts this blog minus the styles, though, so this'll remain available at (though not, since that requires my server to be running).

It'll be nice to have my server settled down again... Traffic to my site has definitely been hurt by the two relocations and downtimes.

Update, 9/9 10:04 AM: The pretty blue styling should be back up and happy. You still need to access my blog via, not, until later in the month.



Monday, September 5, 2005

The Big Link Post

I've been emailing myself URLs for the past week, intending to blog about them. But I procrastinated, so instead of a couple small linky posts, here's one big one.

Humor Links

  • Wired's interview with Jon Stewart. I really need to start watching The Daily Show more regularly. Aaron, I'll be looking to you for that one.
  • Cats In Sinks is a photo website dedicated to, yes, cats in sinks. Anyone with cats knows that these pictures are not hard to come by. :)

Random Links

  • If you like the look of alarm clock–style digit displays, check out this instant labeling tape.
  • Bitfall is a water fountain art display thingy. That is, a horizontal controller with many nozzles lets drops of water fall at various times and durations, creating a "black and white" image in mid-air. Really, just go look at the site. Is cool.
  • Paul Anderson's novel Hunger's Bride weighs in at 4 pounds 9 ounces and 1,360 pages. Plot sounds like it could be decent, and it's apparently gotten good reviews, as well.
  • Apparently cave-dwelling is seeing a revival. Now, how to have strawbale and caves at the same time... ;)

Flying Spaghetti Monsterism

  • You may have noticed the new FSM button I've added to my blog's sidebar and my website's footer. Or maybe not. But it's cool, regardless. Ramen!
  • A craft blog shows off a stuffed fleece FSM. I've requested my mom put a similar project at the end of her project list. She's the best! *wink wink nudge nudge*
  • The amazing Michaelangelo-inspired FSM wallpaper is now being sold as a poster on Café Press for $24. Very tempting.


  • Some guy did a Bender case mod. Some guys have too much time on their hands.
  • If you ever wanted an algorithm to suggest new music you might like based on your current music tastes, go check out Pandora, free for the first 10 hours.
  • Web developers that care how their sites look in all combinations of browsers and OSes may find the $10/month fee of BrowserCam worthwhile. There's been talk of my Microsoft team getting one of the larger subscriptions.
  • Eric Meyer has put together a surprisingly good-looking CSS-based slideshow that degrades gracefully. Standards-compliant, even! Think twice before posting something only in PowerPoint format now.
  • If you've ever wanted to turn a printer into a shredder, go read about the DIY anti-printer.
  • You've all heard about Skype by now, I'm sure. But here's a usage pattern for Skype that I hadn't thought of. Intriguing.


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Moleskine for NaNoWriMo 2005

A pocket Moleskine and telescoping pen, next to my wallet for size comparison.

While at Barnes & Noble last night, I finally broke down and bought yet another journal. (My family could tell you all about my fascination with blank media, be it journals, paper, hard drives, CDs, whiteboards... I have at least ten almost-blank journals to my name, and the real count is probably closer to twenty, but I didn't bring them all with me to Washington, so I can't give you an accurate number.) This is not just any old journal, though. This is the semi-famous Moleskine notebook, specifically the ruled pocket-sized one. It was comparable in price to the only other similarly-sized notebook at Barnes & Noble, but with more pages, better cover, smaller rules, and greater coolness. I paid just less than $10 with my discount card.

What I like about it is it's small enough to fit in my back pocket; it's about the same dimensions as my wallet, although less flexible. The plan is to use it for brainstorming, notetaking, and outlining of this year's NaNoWriMo attempt. I'll be starting November 1st, rather than November 12th like last year, when I first found out about NaNoWriMo, so hopefully I'll write more than the sad 19,292 words I managed my first time.

I surfed around for webpages about Moleskine notebooks, as they're fairly popular among the writer-crowd. I came across one blog with an amusing quote:

Never [lend] someone your pen. They only want to steal it. If you let them use your pen once, they will assume that means they can use it whenever, also, stick it in their pocket, chew it, walk around with it, lend it to other people, sell it into slavery, and also additionally, they'll borrow your pencil too.

Minutes after chuckling over this comment, Forrest picked up my pen to fool around with it. Ten minutes later, he still had it. And thus I thought, bah! my pen is about to disappear. It did try its best to vanish — there was a moment as we were headed out the door that I couldn't find it — but it turned out that Forrest had in fact given the pen back to me and it was "safely" in my pocket. So it turned out okay... this time.

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Wasting Time at Work

CNet is running an article titled American workers: Lazy or creative?, based on a time-wasting survey run by The average number of hours the survey respondents reported wasting was 2.09, double what managers expected their employees to waste. Managers also thought that women wasted more time than men, when it's actually about equal. "Personal internet usage," including web surfing, email, and IM, was the largest single activity people did instead of work, with almost 45% of respondents admitting to it.

Wonder if there's any truth to their theory that workers are compensating for longer hours, on-call-ness, and being expected to check things like work email over the weekends. Or are people just giving in to the temptation of non-work fun activities, that have become increasingly available from their office desk?

So, how many hours of work a day do you waste?

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FOXP2 Not the "Grammar Gene"

Sometimes my friends will send me links to language-related articles, since you people know that I'm into languages. And occasionally, the unfortunate happens and one of these links will be a bunch of incorrect hooey, a pop-culture rendition about language rather than a more scientific look at it.

With that background in mind, I felt it might be good for me to blog to you guys about a language issue first. If you look around the web or the news for information on FOXP2, you'll see a lot of people calling it the "language gene" or "grammar gene". Please read Language Log's article on the matter before jumping to conclusions about this genetic discovery; it looks like FOXP2 may be more related to the motor control necessary to speak than to a person's mental linguistic abilities.

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How Long Have You Been a Robot?

This poor guy: he failed the Turing test. Reminds me of an even funnier paper about chatbots and AI (if you don't feel like reading the entire thing, search for "cujmeister" and read the section immediately following it). If you want to prove that you are human, go talk to Mr. Mind.

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Links: Mood Graphs, Betting, Wifi Maps, and the Catsup Crapper

Tonight's links:

  • Moodgrapher graphs LiveJournal users' moods over time. Random and interesting. Once the developer gets back from vacation, he'll be adding prediction lines to all the graphs (and his algorithm seems pretty darn good).
  • Steven Levitt is looking for a few bad poker players.
  • Long Bets collects long-term bets on events that may or may not happen in the future. Bettor's winnings go to a fund used for philanthrophy, so that it doesn't legally count as gambling.
  • Plazes is sorta like Virtual Earth's Locate Me, but better because anyone can add new hotspots to the database. Users of Plazes can also upload photos of a hotspot's location, tag it, link it to Flickr, and record info about the type of network (free, public, wifi, etc).
  • The Catsup Crapper is most excellent. People will be lining up to buy this gizmo in droves, I'm sure.

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Mmm, Asiago Cheese Dip

Despite best-laid plans to get in to work today (technically yesterday, if you go by that midnight-is-tomorrow business), I slept in until 11 (which has, crazily enough, become late for me), played around on the internet for a couple hours (as usual ;)), and then Forrest and I went to the Rock Bottom Restaurant in Bellevue for lunch. Again, the asiago cheese dip was superb. I had the brown ale chicken and mushrooms for my main meal; also yummy.

We meant to take a picture of the cheese dip to share with y'all, but we forgot about our photo-taking plan as soon as the dip arrived. It's that tasty. I asked the cook to swing by our table if any other customers ordered the cheese dip so we could take its picture, but no one else did before we left. So the new plan is to go back once more before we leave the area, and have a cheesy meal: asiago cheese dip and triple stout chocolate cheesecake.

After lunch, we walked over to the Barnes & Noble across the street, where I finished reading Freakonomics, an interesting book that I first found out about from the various other blogs I read.

Back home, I went hunting for asiago cheese dip recipes, as there are no Rock Bottom restaurants near to SLO. I found four similar recipes that sounded a lot like the restaurant's version. Once I get back to SLO, I'll probably try it out. I'll come back and edit this post after I beta-test the recipe.

Asiago Cheese Dip

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Asiago cheese (for the dip)
  • 1 tablespoon Asiago cheese (for the topping)
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatos
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)

Combine ingredients and cook "until bubbly," which means 350-400 degrees for 15-30 minutes.

Yield: between 2 and 3.25 cups; the recipes don't agree.

Sources: Cooking Light magazine via, That's My Home, Erin Rogers via and Cooking Smart, and Razzle Dazzle Recipes.

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