Anyone who's read what I've written, or who knows me, knows that I'm a big Nightwish fan. I play their music frequently, I have albums and other memorabilia (some of it provided courtesy of my ex-wife in Finland), I've seen them in concert twice, including the well-known "replacement vocalists" concert here in Denver. But only now have I managed to see the magnum opus of the band, and its creative genius Tuomas Holopainen: the film Imaginaerum. Sadly, that first experience was not in a theater, but, instead, on our own TV and stereo system, as the DVD and Blu-ray of the movie arrived here before a theatrical release did (and then, only by direct shipment from Finland).
The movie is a cooperation between Holopainen and Stobe Harju, the director who'd previously directed the wonderfully surrealistic video for "The Islander" off the Dark Passion Play album. Originally, the plan was to do videos for each song on the Imaginaerum album, but, as they looked at it, they saw that the whole told a coherent story, so they brought in additional screnwriters Mikko Rautalahti and Richard Jackson to turn the story into a film. They also brought in composer Petri Alanko (most notably, composer of the music for the video game Alan Wake) to take Nightwish's music from the album and build a full film score around it. The film relies heavily on visual effects and computer-generated imagery, most notably for the character of "The Snowman," a major antagonist.
The story revolves around composer and musician Thomas Whitman, played by Quinn Lord at age 10, Francis-Xavier McCarthy at age 70 (present time), and Holopainen himself at age 47 (making it obvious this is Holopainen's alter ego). In the real world, he suffers from dementia and is close to death, and his only living relative, daughter Gem (Marianne Farley) is estranged from him and has no trouble coolly authorizing a DNR order. In his dreamworld, he's regressed to childhood, where the Snowman (voiced by Elias Toufexis) finds him at the orphanage of his youth and takes him on a ride (a reference to the animated short film The Snowman, which featured the song "Walking in The Air," a song later covered by Nightwish). From there, the plotline follows two separate journeys. Inwardly, Tom must follow a twisted path through his own memories to recover that which he's lost. In the outside world, Gem, staying at her father's house, must attempt to reconcile herself with her father and piece together clues to his life. In this, Gem finds help from the 73-year-old Ann (Joanna Noyes), who was the singer in Tom's band (and is played, at a younger age, by now-departed Nightwish lead vocalist Anette Olzon).
The full band appears in two major sequences of the movie: a jazz-club scene performing "Slow, Love, Slow," and a demented circus scene, performing "Scaretale." In the latter, note the band's bass player Marcus (Marco Hietala, of course) acting as ringmaster, and a cameo appearance by Troy Donockley, the band's guest piper on their last two albums, as a stage magician. But those familiar with the Imaginaerum album will note themes from the entire album throughout the score. The section derived from "The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove," for instance, has been noted as one that Olzon particularly likes. (The album's title track, an orchestral "overture" of the entire album, is played over the end credits, much as I figured it would be.) When you see the visuals for certain parts of the movie--"Slow, Love, Slow" and "Arabesque" in particular--you'll understand why those pieces are where they are on the album and why they're arranged in the manner they are.
The accessibility of the film is not limited to Nightwish fans, however; my fiancee Sabrina saw it with me and was genuinely touched by the story and its ultimate resolution, to the point of shedding a few tears. Gem undergoes a complete transformation of her character even as we see Tom go through the transformation from young boy (masterfully played by Lord, who was nominated for an award for his performance, and rightly so) to old man in his dreams. I believe that, with this movie, I have now seen, as much as anyone can see, into Tuomas Holopainen's soul. It's a powerful experience, and not to be forgotten--or missed.
One final thought: A key plot point in the movie turns on Ann's earlier "betrayal" of Tom by attempting suicide. Did we see life imitate art, in a similar "betrayal" of Tuomas by Anette, as she left Nightwish to have her baby? I fervently hope that Nightwish, unlike Whitman's band in the movie, will carry on after this, as they seem to have done.
To my knowledge, the only way one may obtain Imaginaerum in the United States is via the Nightwish Shop.
I just got a really interesting message last night from my old college roommate Dan. He's got a couple of kids now, and his son Alexander is learning Java, because he plans to take a programming course this summer to learn programming for Minecraft. Obviously, I can understand his motives. Aside from my own experience with the game, my godson Sean, who's the same age as Alexander, is a Minecraft fiend, and may be looking into similar esoteric matters.
So Dan set him up with NetBeans on his Mac, which is a good choice, though I prefer Eclipse myself. And the kid is just going to town with it, apparently. The thing that concerns Dan is, he refuses any kind of formal instruction in the language or object-oriented development in general, or even reading one of the many books about programming Java. He just watches various YouTube videos, and Googles for snippets of code that he copies and pastes, trying to come up with something that does what he wants. To Dan, who has more formal computer-science education than I do (he went up to UC Davis for grad school after we graduated from UCSB), this is somewhat dismaying. It even seems a little haphazard to me.
Yet, if you look back on it, is this really that much different from the way people like Dan and me first learned programming? Of course, we were working with much less-powerful machines and tools; I had a TI-99/4A back in those days, and I was lucky enough to have the (expensive!) Peripheral Expansion Box with the disk drive (all of 90K of storage on a single-sided 5-1/4" floppy disk!) and the 32K memory expansion card, for a grand total of 48K of RAM. And the most powerful language I was using was the Extended BASIC cartridge. As for outside information resources, all I had was the occasional book and a subscription to an early computer magazine. I didn't even have a modem to dial into BBSs; I think my parents were afraid I'd turn into a system cracker ala David Lightman in WarGames. And, needless to say, I'd never even heard of the Internet in those days. So I persevered, spending long hours at the keyboard, scrawling out lines of BASIC in endless pages in notebooks, tracing out sprite designs on graph paper left over from my Dungeons & Dragons gaming and converting those patterns to hex numbers to put in source code, patiently organizing sound-chip calls (such-and-such a frequency, at such-and-such a duration, for each individual note, to play tunes), and impressing my friends with the results whenever they came over to see. I had no notion of even structured programming, let alone more modern and esoteric techniques; I just did what worked. And it managed to hold my interest long enough to get me to the University, where I started really tearing into code development. (Even there, I was still learning. I think of all the computer time I blew through on an old PDP-11/70 they had there, creating code for an adventure-type game, because I hadn't yet learned how to properly design a lexical analyzer.)
In the modern age, of course, it's much easier to get started. Since he has a Mac, Alexander already has a Unix system much more powerful than anything Dan and I were using in college. All the tools he needs to start programming are freely available. Thanks to the open-source movement, there is a plethora of code out there he can use, learn from, and improve on, all of it easily findable via Google. And there are tutorials, both printed and audio-visual, right at his fingertips. Yet, at the same time, there's much less motivation to actually learn programming. Computers these days do many useful things right out of the box, as opposed to my TI, which popped up a title screen, then a menu, then just the prompt "TI BASIC READY" and a blinking cursor. Most kids these days don't seem to get beyond game-playing, Microsoft Office, and the browser, and, even in the schools, "computer classes" have been limited to just learning how to use computers, rather than program them. (That was, in fact, the inspiration for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which designed its $35 Linux machine for kids to learn programming on. Of course, a "real" computer that cheap lends itself to all sorts of other uses.) So Alexander is already noteworthy among kids for getting as far as he has. Still, if he decides to actually go into the field, I suspect he'll have a lot of bad habits he'll have to unlearn. That's not necessarily a problem; for many years, Linus Torvalds was able to develop, and coordinate the development of, his famous kernel without even proper version control. (And he wound up writing that himself, too.) Talent can substitute for proper technique, at least, up to a point.
For Dan, this is a great opportunity for father-son bonding, much as dads in earlier years would help their sons with model airplanes, or play catch with them out in the yard. At least once, Dan speaks of being involved in an intense debugging session with his son, only to have his wife and daughter get home and be dismayed because they hadn't started dinner yet. (Hey, ask Sabrina how hard it is to drag me away from the console when I've been coding!) And he was able to impress his son with a simple recursive function that calculated the Fibonacci series, something we all learned pretty early on in our programming education. I suspect, though, that soon enough, it'll be Alexander that's impressing Dan, as he starts moving into areas Dan hasn't dealt with. Something tells me, though, that he'll turn out all right.
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me
Harry Chapin, "Cat's In The Cradle," 1974
It's time once again for the only universal holiday of the Internet, April Fool's Day. Here are some of the pranks for today, for your enjoyment:
A 12-year-old girl took matters into her own hands during a home invasion in southeast Oklahoma.
It happened on Wednesday when the girl was home alone. She told police a stranger rang the doorbell, then went around to the back door and kicked it in. She called her mom, Debra St. Clair, who told her to get the family gun, hide in a closet and call 911.
OK, Mom and the cops both headed for the scene...but events wouldn't wait for either of them.
During that time, the intruder made his way through the house. St. Clair's daughter told deputies the man came into the room where she was hiding and began to open up the closet door. That was when the 12 year old had to make a life-saving decision.
"And what we understand right now, he was turning the doorknob when she fired through the door," said the Bryan County Undersheriff Ken Golden.
The bullet hit the intruder, who deputies identified as 32-year-old Stacey Jones. He took off but did not get far before officers took him down.
Yeah, the goblin managed to survive. But that doesn't take away from what that girl did. She had to have some serious ovaries to make a judgment call like that. I sincerely hope this is her first--and last--gunfight. But she makes a hell of a gunfighter.
Her mother raised her well...and was foresighted enough to provide her with the tool she needed to keep herself from being raped or killed. Or more likely both.
The story comes to us via Karl Denninger, who reminds us:
Your unalienable right to life does not come into existence at 18 or 21. It is just as applicable when you're 12 as when you're 75, when you're a 4'10" 90lb woman as a 260lb 6'2" man.
Your unalienable right to life is meaningless unless you are able to defend it, if necessary, no matter where you may be.
And it is a fact that on rare occasion you may need to do exactly that.
It is for this precise reason -- your right to defend your life against any who may try to take that right from you -- that the 2nd Amendment exists and must not be diminished, abrogated or infringed.
Couldn't agree more. Self-defense is a human right.
The drama has taken an unexpected turn.
Anette Olzon, despite having been extremely sick that night, had something of a complaint with the way the rest of the band handled the Denver show:
... I was never asked if it was ok they used Elise and Alica [sic] in the show last night. I don't think it's a good decision they made and I'm sorry for those of you who came to see the whole band but got something else. But I was very ill and this decision wasn't mine.
She later expounded on this: "Like life, sometimes we get ill and shows do get cancelled. Rihanna wouldn't ask Britney Spears to sing for her if she was ill;=) To think a show is more important than the humans in the band is for me, so totally not in this world."
Well, I'm not sure that analogy holds in this case; Rihanna and Britney Spears are much more tied to their particular music than Anette was tied to Nightwish's music...as she should know, having sung many songs that were originally voiced by Tarja Turunen. (At least three were still on the set list as of the Denver show: "Wish I Had An Angel," "Nemo," and "Over the Hills And Far Away." ) Besides which, I'm sure I was not hallucinating when Tuomas and Troy took the stage during the intermission, and Troy asked us which outcome we preferred: a canceled show, or running it through with Elize to help. We, the fans in the Ogden Theater that night, overwhelmingly supported going on with the show. So if Anette blames the other band members, she'll have to blame us as well.
And now the other shoe has dropped:
Another chapter of the Nightwish story has ended today. Nightwish and Anette Olzon have decided to part company, in mutual understanding, for the good of all parties involved.
In recent times it has become increasingly obvious that the direction and the needs of the band were in conflict, and this has led to a division from which we cannot recover.
Nightwish has no intention of cancelling any upcoming shows, and as a result we have decided to bring in a substitute vocalist starting in Seattle 1.10.2012. Her name is Floor Jansen from The Netherlands (ex-After Forever, ReVamp), and she has graciously stepped in to help us complete the Imaginaerum world tour.
We are all strongly committed to this journey, this vehicle of spirit, and we are sure that this will lead to a brighter future for everyone.
We forever remain excited about the adventures to come, and we are extremely proud of the two beautiful albums and the wonderful shows we shared together.
Wow. So not expecting that.
A number of observations in the wake of this news:
In closing, I bear Anette no ill will. I was fortunate enough to see Nightwish with her as lead singer when they came to Denver in 2008, for the Dark Passion Play tour, and, had this blog been running back then, I would have raved about that show just as much as I raved about this one. She handled both her own repertoire and Tarja's with aplomb; I'll remember her performances of music like "Sleeping Sun" and "Wishmaster" always. And, though she was singing Tuomas' words over Tuomas' music, it was her voicethat first brought the world "Amaranth." For that, I am eternally grateful.
And now, like the rest of you, I await further developments.
UPDATE: Steven "Padre" Buehler, a fellow fan, weighs in with his own analysis, relating it back to his own experience seeing Nightwish during the DPP tour (for what would be their last show, due to a hurricane and, once again, Anette getting sick).
SECOND UPDATE: Well, now. It turns out Nightwish was already planning to let Anette go. We know this because Floor has said, in a radio interview, that the band asked her to to join them starting in November...but then she got a text on September 29 (the day after the Denver show) that said, "How fast can you get to the USA?" So the only effect the Denver show drama had, it appears, was to accelerate the timetable of Anette's replacement. Denver fans can breathe easy.
Troy has spoken up about the events surrounding the switch:
The joy of this adventure was being wrecked and everyone was feeling very insecure. It was seriously interfering with our tasting sessions of the fine wines from the Napa Valley. Outrageous!
We never could have predicted that myself and Tuomas Holopainen would find ourselves on stage, alone, asking an audience of over 1,600 in Denver to vote by a show of hands on whether the band should perform or not. Touchingly we were met by a sea of upraised hands; beautiful – but how surreal.
We are all feeling a squillion times better. Our replacement singer Floor is simply majestic and we are having fearless fun. And on evidence of the ecstatic response to the last two shows, the fans seem to understand that this ‘vehicle of spirit’ cannot be derailed so easily.
Which jibes with my initial report from the opposite end of that poll...and from the show itself, for that matter.
Floor seems to be having a good time with what she calls "a really awesome opportunity," but hasn't said whether she wants the job permanently. Bear in mind, she has another band, ReVamp, that is expected to release a new album next spring, and she wrote most of the material for their first album, so this might interfere with a gig as Nightwish's lead singer. (And no, Tarja doesn't want the job back, so just don't go there.)
The scene: The Ogden Theater, Friday the 28th. Andrew, Ian, and I were standing in the middle of the ground floor, next to the area with the sound and light boards. My ears were still ringing after hearing Kamelot's opening set, which was some serious fuckin' metal; they even played a couple of songs I recognized, "Ghost Opera" and "March of Mephisto." The stagehands were busy removing their equipment and preparing for the main act: Nightwish. This was the concert I'd been waiting for. I'd even spotted Marco out in the alley earlier, as I was waiting in line for the will-call window; he was busy filming an interview of some sort.
Suddenly, two familiar figures appeared on stage: Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist and composer for the band, and Troy Donockley, the piper that featured so heavily as a guest on Imaginaerum, and before that, on "The Islander" and "Last of the Wilds." The room erupted in cheers.
Tuomas raised a finger to his lips, signaling for quiet. (He doesn't speak much in public.)
"That means a lot to us," said Troy, before launching into the bad news: Anette, the lead singer, was very sick, had been violently vomiting, and was being rushed over to the hospital as we speak. However, a backup plan of sorts was being worked out. Elise Ryd, backup vocalist for Kamelot, had volunteered to step in and sing what she could, and the band would count on our help with the rest. He put it to a show of hands. I raised both my hands; the theater was a sea of raised hands.
The crowd had spoken. The show would go on.
Now, sometimes, incidents like this result in disaster.
But sometimes--sometimes--this is when magic happens.[Read More]
So, John Scalzi got this weird idea to put each letter of the alphabet into his Web browser and see what Autocomplete came up with for each letter. Hmm, wonder what happens if I do that?
C - CaptainAwkward.com. I ran across this advice site via Scalzi, in fact, and it made some interesting reading.
D - Divine Ascension's web site. I'll be wearing one of their T-shirts to the Nightwish concert. Their lead guitarist, Karl Szulik, was the one that mailed it to me all the way from Australia.
E - Wikipedia (from the "en." at the beginning of their domain name meaning the English version). Come on, you know you get sucked into this site, too.
F - Facebook. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore it. Zuckered again...
G - Gravatar.com. I think this beat out Google because I was trying to check something related to my login there.
H - Ham Radio Outlet's Web site. There's a store not to far from where I live. Last thing I bought from there was a power supply for Sabrina's dad...
I - Second Life's OpenID Web site, id.secondlife.com. Don't ask me why...
J - Jamie Zawinski's web site. Old time hacker turned nightclub impresario. Also in the blogroll.
K - KittyHooch.com, makers of fine high-grade Oregon catnip toys for your cat. Penny loves it.
L - Lewisiana.nl, a site with essays about C.S. Lewis. Includes keys to obscure references found in the Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength).
M - My Coke Rewards. This must be its way of guilt-tripping me into entering the codes from all those bottle tops, right?
N - Nightwish's Web site. No explanation necessary. \m/
O - Optical Masters, the office where I get my eye exams and contacts.
P - Popehat. Though I haven't put it into bookmarks, I still visit it frequently...and even blogrolled it.
Q - Quora. Amazing, the mileage I've gotten out of some of the answers I've given to questions there...
R - The Raspberry Pi Foundation. Unsurprising, since I've been visiting it regularly since I decided to plunk down the $35 and get a Model B. This will no doubt make for some blog material later.
S - Subversion's Web site at Apache. This stems from the "setup" post I did, where I wanted to get everything linked. Oddly enough, a friend of mine used to own the actual subversion.com domain...she used it for advertising her goth club, called "Resurrection."
T - The Oatmeal. Funny as hell, and awesome as hell for raising a shit-ton of money to build a Nikola Tesla museum on the site of his Wardenclyffe laboratory.
U - The Setup (usesthis.com). They put my aforementioned "setup" post in their "Community" section. They are awesome; check them out.
V - The old Web site for the Venice Web Communities System at SourceForge. I really, really, really need to rewrite that one of these days...
W - Wil Wheaton's Web site. He's just this guy, you know? Oh, and don't be a dick.
X - XKCD. I agree with Scalzi here, stick figures ARE awesome.
Y - "You Didn't Build That," a Tumblr site devoted to mocking a certain infamous quote from a certain Hussein al-Chicago. It seems to have languished recently, though. Guess the joke has gotten old by now.
Z - ZeroHedge, one of the two sites I depend on for the real lowdown on financial news.
Try it for yourself!
Inspired by the interview site, The Setup, where people talk about the stuff they use to get things done.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm Eric J. Bowersox, frequently known as "Erbo," and I code. Presently, I work for IQNavigator Inc. of Greenwood Village, CO, where I work on their application for "buying services better" (management of contract and temporary labor for Fortune 500 companies), which is Java-based on an Oracle/WebLogic platform. My main focus of late has been on client integrations. Before that, I've had a wide variety of programming jobs, in fields ranging from software configuration management to finance to computer-based training to supercomputer clusters to telecommunications. I also did a stint at Durand Communications during the Internet Bubble heyday, where I worked on online community-management software. We were the ones that acquired the Electric Minds community...and, after we were ourselves acquired and decided to shut down the CommunityWare platform that EMinds ran on, I personally wrote a replacement work-alike platform (the Venice Community Management System) to keep the community alive on its own server for years afterward. (It later faltered due to hardware failure and something of a falling-out among the community.) Besides publishing about my exploits on social media, I have From The Erbo Files, a Roller-based blog.
I live in Denver, with my fiancee Sabrina, and our cat, Her Serene Highness, Princess Penelope Ponderosa Pollyanna Peachfuzz ("Penny" to her hoomans). When I'm not coding, I do a lot of reading and a lot of gaming...not to mention a lot of driving. Fortunately, I like my 2011 Ford Taurus. Oh, and I argue conservative politics on occasion.
What hardware do you use?
My personal desktop machine is a custom-built job, as it has been since my first PC-XT back in 1989. Its current configuration is based around an ASUS M4A79XTD EVO motherboard, slightly dated yet versatile. It holds an AMD Phenom II X6 1100T hex-core processor and 16 gigs of RAM; these upgrades were motivated by my desire to compile Android from source. An nVidia GeForce GTX 560 drives a pair of Acer 21-inch displays; with the 19" LCD TV immediately to their left, my computer desk somewhat resembles the bridge of the USS Enterprise. The system has three physical hard drives and two optical drives, which may seem excessive, but there's a method to my madness. Since I dual-boot the machine, I felt the safest configuration was one that gave each OS its own physical spindle, plus one that contains "data" partitions for both, to keep an OS upgrade from hosing critical data. As for the optical drives, one is a read-only DVD drive, the other is a DVD burner, to give me the capability to do physical copies direct without imaging. The keyboard and mouse are gaming-oriented; a Logitech G19 keyboard complete with its own built-in LCD, and a Corsair Vengeance M60 gaming mouse. (I used to use a WarMouse Meta, but, despite the appeal of 18 buttons, the thing felt cheaply built and started breaking down under heavy use; the Corsair is more solid.) And, while I stick with the motherboard's onboard sound, I do run it through a decent speaker system, a Cambridge SoundWorks PCWorks subwoofer-satellite system. (When I need a headset, I use a Sennheiser PC131. Sennheiser is my headphone brand of choice; I picked that up from my ex-wife.)
I run a local server, too, shared with Sabrina for file storage purposes, and also to give me a development server and testbed. This machine is basically a standard "cheap" Compaq tower; the only modification I made to it was to pull out the stock hard drive and install dual 1-terabyte disks, most of which are devoted to a RAID-1 mirrored data partition. I first used this configuration style when setting up our "new" Electric Minds server, and it saved our bacon on several occasions, so I went with it here, too.
My personal laptop is an ASUS K501 I picked up from Best Buy when I was flush with bonus money; it may not be much, but it works pretty well for my purposes. It has 4 gigs of RAM, a Pentium T4500 dual-core CPU, and a 500-gig drive that I repartitioned to dual-boot.
At IQNavigator, all our "workstations" are Dell laptop machines with docking stations; this makes it easy to haul our machines into a meeting or take work home, and, among developers, it encourages ad hoc pair programming as needed. The one they issued me is a Dell Latitude E6410, sporting an Intel Core i5 quad-core CPU and 8 gigs of RAM. Developers get an SSD drive, primarily because that's the only way we can get a build of the software in any reasonable amount of time. The dock on my desk connects to a pair of Acer monitors and a proper keyboard and mouse, as well as the wired Ethernet; we have wireless for when we're in meetings or otherwise away from our desks, too.
I also have a number of pieces of hardware I use for testing, special purposes, or just goofing around: an OLPC XO-1 from the One Laptop Per Child project, a Google Cr-48 Chromebook, a Barnes & Noble Nook Color (which I use as both an E-reader and a jackleg Android tablet), and a Raspberry Pi. And, finally, one of the most useful pieces of hardware I have is, of course, my iPhone 4S 64 Gb.
And the software?
Linux predominates among the OSs I use; it's the sole OS on three of the above-named devices, dual-boots with Windows on two of them, and Linux variants (Chrome OS and Android) run two more. The distribution varies, though. The desktop and personal laptop use Ubuntu, and were just upgraded from 10.04 to 12.04 recently; the new user interface took some getting used to, but I don't anticipate any real problems. The server uses CentOS, with which I was very familiar during my years working on supercomputers (it was the default distro we shipped on cluster nodes, unless a customer really wanted to pay for Red Hat or SuSE). The OLPC, of course, uses its own Fedora variant with the custom "Sugar" user interface, and the Pi uses the standard "Raspbian" Debian distro for ARM (for the moment, anyway--you can change out the entire software environment of the Pi by just changing its SD card).
The machines that run Windows all run Windows 7 64-bit. I will not upgrade to Windows 8 if I can possibly help it; Microsoft has completely crapped up the user interface on "regular" computers in order to try and make it look better on tablets. To me, this is the wrong approach; tablets is tablets and PCs is PCs, and never the twain shall meet. But Windows 7 is pretty much "the new XP" around here. We completely skipped the Vista debacle, and have no regrets about doing so. Perhaps the odd-numbered Windows releases are the better ones, in the same way the even-numbered Star Trek films were better...
The Nook Color is a special case. Its built-in OS is a variant of Android 2.2 Froyo with a custom UI...but the hardware can boot a different OS on a MicroSD card without touching the onboard flash. This I have done; I have custom boot cards for Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Both are the CyanogenMod versions of the OS, so they're fairly stock with some useful add-ons.
As you might imagine, I've standardized on Google Chrome as my browser of choice, and I use a number of pieces of the Google ecosystem as well, such as GMail and Google Drive. My standardized office suite is OpenOffice.org, possibly becoming LibreOffice soon. For a "local" mail client to manage my ISP mail account (which runs through my server, using Postfix, Dovecot, and Fetchmail), I use Thunderbird on Windows and Evolution on Linux. Of course, at work, they've bought heavily into the Microsoft ecosystem; it's all Office 2007 and Outlook, all the time. (Which we're actually running through Office 365 these days.) At least they don't force us to use Internet Asploder, except for certain sites that require it; our standard browser is actually Firefox.
Increasingly, I've found myself using a number of cloud-based services to handle various tasks. Besides the aforementioned GMail and Google Drive, I use Evernote and Dropbox frequently. (This entry is being written in Evernote as a draft, for instance.) I haven't really done a lot with iCloud, though it's attached to my phone, of course.
And now, development tools. My main line these days is Java, and I use Eclipse as my Java development environment. It wasn't always so; I've done a hell of a lot of work in multiple languages with just Emacs. But Eclipse has proven itself well-suited to my professional and personal Java development needs. Though Emacs is available for Windows, when I need an editor that's more powerful than Notepad, I use the open-source Programmer's Notepad. It reminds me pleasantly of the old CodeWright editor. I also have Microsoft Visual Studio, but I don't really do any Windows-specific development these days. Version control, of course, I have strong opinions about, given that I used to work on systems like that from the inside. My usual baseline is Subversion these days, though I developed an attachment to Mercurial in a previous job...but at IQNavigator, it was back to Subversion. And I really need to learn more Git.
For graphics, I find The GIMP suits my needs well enough, as well as Inkscape for vector-based graphics. For audio work, Audacity works for me. And, when I need to run virtual machines, it's in VirtualBox. You can tell I have a strong preference for open-source applications.
On my phone, besides having obvious apps that act as extensions of services or Web sites I use elsewhere, I have other apps that took over for things I used to use my older phone or Palm PDA for. Because I have a lot of passwords, a key app I use is mSecure, a password manager application that works on both the desktop and phone, synchronizes via Dropbox, and stores everything encrypted with a master password key. Also worthy of note is Gas Cubby, an app that keeps track of my car's gas mileage and expenses.
What would be your dream setup?
It would probably be built around an Emperor 1510 ergonomic work environment from MWE Labs, or perhaps the Emperor 200, though I'd want to change out the specs of the included PC. Those babies have overhead monitor arms that can support three 24" displays. Throw in a high-end surround-sound speaker setup, and you've essentially got the ultimate gaming/coding environment. But I'd want this work environment to be located in a workshop/laboratory like Jeff's, so I'd have benches and other facilities for doing hardware experimentation.
As for the computer at the core of this system? Stuff it full of as many CPU cores, as much RAM, and as many disks as you can manage; boot it off an SSD for added speed. Dual-boot it, of course. ;Then hook it via Gigabit Ethernet to a big NAS for even more storage, and to a rack full of servers to act as my own private supercomputer cluster (or OpenSimulator grid, whichever). Throw in a powerful Ultrabook I could dual-boot, and a powerful Mac of some sort (Macbook, Mini, iMac, doesn't matter) so I could try my hand at iOS coding. And throw some nice hardware Sabrina's way, too, so she doesn't get jealous.
I may never get around to doing a full report on our vacation that we took in July, but I do want to write about a few things from that trip...especially the second day, when we visited the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS. And, if you're a space buff like me, you need to visit it. Let's just say it's everything I hoped it would be...and more.
When we got there, it was pretty early, so the foyer (dominated by an SR-71 Blackbird and a mock-up of the side of the Shuttle Endeavour) was pretty empty. When I paid for our "All-Day Mission Passes," they were even nice enough to scrounge up a motor scooter for Sabrina, not unlike the carts she rides through the aisles of Walmart, so she could enjoy everything, too. We took the elevator downstairs to The Hall of Space, which covers aspects of spaceflight from the German V-1 and V-2 programs up through to the present day, with examples of real hardware or very-exacting replicas all along the way...including many examples of Soviet hardware, such as an unflown backup for the original Sputnik satellite and original Vostok and Voskhod capsules. American hardware is also well-represented, with such items as Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 capsule (dredged up from the ocean floor and painstakingly restored), the Gemini X capsule, an honest-to-God Titan II booster rising majestically into the Kansas sky in an outdoor display, and the Odyssey command module from Apollo 13. That area, I think, impressed me the most, and was about where I started to inwardly lose my shit; aside from looking right into Odyssey, past the control panel and seats into the lower equipment bay, I entered one of the original Apollo "white rooms," complete with the signature of longtime pad leader Gunther Wendt ("I vonder vhere Gunther Wendt?", and sat at some of the original Mission Control consoles...It felt like I was watching The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 all over again. Unlike most of the people walking through these halls, I knew what I was looking at. It really brought home to me how much we've accomplished...and how much we've lost as short-sighted politicians continually prioritize other things ahead of the dreams of humanity.
The cheeseburgers in the Lunar Port food court were surprisingly good, at least as good as some I'd eaten in Hana on Maui. We saw the Tornado Alley IMAX movie, in a domed theater like that back at the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theatre in San Diego, and it was most impressive; Sabrina certainly liked it. (Featuring narration by Bill Paxton!) She also got a kick out of the planetarium show, demonstrating the night sky as viewed in all seasons from Hutchinson, which was narrated with plenty of good humor and leavened with some nice pop music clips, including Clint Black's rendition of Monty Python's "Galaxy Song." Then, in "Dr. Goddard's Lab," we got some impressive explanations and live demonstrations of rocket technology, delivered with all the zeal of a Mythbusters episode by a young man who clearly has a lot of knowledge of, and love for, the material. I spent entirely too much on souvenirs and gifts in the Cargo Bay gift shop, which was totally worth it, and nearly ran my iPhone's batteries dead taking about half a gigabyte worth of pictures. All mission objectives complete!
I can't even begin to describe everything there. You need to go there and see for yourself. But, until then, I've assembled an extensive album of pictures, on Facebook and annotated for your enlightenment, that you can gawk at. Thatisall.
This evening, I sent out a couple of tweets that I send out from time to time:
This prompted some responses from my friends, like "Or are you?" and "Wow, you learned Turkish fast!" (No, I didn't, that was Google Translate.) But it occurs to me that I haven't adequately explained why these periodic broadcasts are necessary. Hence, I shall elaborate.
It's been quiet around here this past month, because, unfortunately, I've found something new that acts as a pretty good time sink. That something? Minecraft.
The game has been out for a while on PC, but I hadn't really seen it, other than hearing from Sabrina's friend Sheila about how her kids were obsessed with it. When they introduced it on Xbox, I had some MSPs lying around, so I downloaded it just to see what all the hubbub was about. Soon I was hooked. Sabrina complained, so I gave her the MSPs to get it on her Xbox. Soon, she was hooked. We then got more points for her friend Sheila to get it on their family's Xbox. And then she was hooked.
Are you starting to get an idea that this game might be, well, somewhat compelling?
In fact, in the first activity report Major Nelson released for Xbox Live after Minecraft was introduced, it had grown to be, not merely the most popular Arcade title on the service, but the third most popular game of any type, beat out only by Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. One week later, it had surpassed Black Ops to become the second most popular game on Xbox Live...and it still holds that position a month later. This, mind you, only marks the popularity of the Xbox 360 version of the game...not for the PC version (estimated sales over 6 million) or the "Pocket Edition" available for iOS and Android devices (the iOS version still ranks as #21 on the "Top Paid Apps" on the iOS App Store, despite selling for a much higher price than most paid apps...at $6.99, it's the only app in the top 25 to cost more than $1).
So how can I describe it? Tycho of Penny Arcade has said, "I have heard [Gabriel] suggest that the game is crack, but it’s more like all of the ingredients and equipment that you need to make crack, which I’d say is worse." But that doesn't begin to describe it.
Physically, Minecraft is something like a "survival-adventure" type of game. Start a game, and you're dropped down in the middle of a very low-resolution world, with nothing but your bare hands. And you'd better get busy, too, because soon enough, night will fall...and that's when the monsters come out, including zombies, arrow-shooting skeletons, and the infamous Creepers, which sneak up on you and explode, taking part of the landscape--and maybe you--with them. To combat this, the game gives you the ability to mine the landscape for useful materials, and to craft these materials into other, useful objects (hence the name). You start by punching trees (literally) to get blocks of wood, which you can make into planks. With these planks, you can make a "crafting table," which gives you more options as to what you can make by using it. Then you can use wood planks, and sticks, which you make from planks, to make a wooden pickaxe. With this, you can mine into solid rock, turning it into cobblestone...and from that and more sticks, you can make a better pickaxe, allowing you to mine faster. You can also make axes, for cutting down trees more effectively, shovels, for digging into sand, dirt, or gravel, and swords, for when hiding from the monsters is not enough. Soon, you'll be making a furnace out of cobblestone, which you can fuel with wood planks or--when you find it--coal, and which can heat things to make other things (such as glass, from sand). Using all of these, you can build a shelter to keep you safe from the monsters at night.
As you progress, there are more things to find, such as, deep within the earth, not merely coal, but iron ore (which you smelt in a furnace to make iron ingots, which can be used to make better tools and other things), gold ore (smelted like iron ore, and also useful in crafting, though not as much as you might think), diamonds (which can be used to make powerful tools, weapons, and armor), and the mysterious "redstone" (the basis of much of Minecraft's "technology," such as it is). You'll also encounter hazards like underground dungeons full of monsters (and chests of goodies), pools of water (yes, you can drown in it), and pools of hot lava (deadly if you fall into it). Cool that lava with a bucket of water, though, and you get the nearly indestructible obsidian. Mine that obsidian with a diamond pickaxe, then arrange it into a rectangular frame of the right size and light it "on fire" with a flint and steel, and you've created a portal to "The Nether," a Hell-like dimension with its own hazardous denizens, weird materials, and rewards.
There is an ultimate goal--to visit another dimension called "The End" and defeat the mighty Enderdragon contained within--but I don't know if that's even accessible via the Xbox version yet, which lags the PC version by a number of revisions. But what you can do is make use of the game's crafting abilities to build many things, like a primitive version of Second Life. Build massive buildings, huge underground complexes, road and rail systems, even primitive computers with redstone-based logic gates. The ultimate limits are only time and your imagination. (And perhaps available space...though the PC versions offer a virtually-unlimited size world, the Xbox versions impose limits on the size of a world. They're still pretty large though.)
You can generate as many new worlds as you like and play around in each; this is what Sabrina has done, for the most part. I, however, have chosen to spend most of my time in one world, one I created pretty early on--hence its name, "Alpha 2." Alpha 2 now even has its own geographic nomenclature, both for terrain features and for structures. It has a road system (complete with bridges over water) and the beginnings of a rail system, a number of buildings, and a number of mines (most of them with many signs to point the way to the exit--getting lost underground can be a real problem!) And there's the odd sentimental gesture:
This is a monument to my late brother Stephen who died four years ago. Accordingly, this geographic feature is "Stephen's Point," at the very end of the Eastern Peninsula, past the Eastern Outpost and the "End-of-the-World Mine." I think he might have appreciated it.
Minecraft is a prototypical "indie game made good," similar to Angry Birds in that respect. Whereas Angry Birds came from Finland, Minecraft hails from Sweden, having been created by Markus "Notch" Persson and now being developed by his company Mojang AB. The PC version of the game is actually written in Java, which piques my interest as I'm not entirely sure how anyone would do that. (There are libraries involved, some of which go back to a failed Sun project to make a Java MMO.) The game, like any moderately-complex game, has its own Wiki to help explain everything, which makes me glad that my Xbox is right next to my desktop system.
What's playing it like? It can be rather relaxing to dig through the Earth, put something together, or just wander around and sightsee...which is enhanced by the soft ambient soundtrack supplied by German composer C418. It also sucks you in, kind of like Civilization...and those that know me should now be going, "Yikes!", as Civilization is one of my major gaming weaknesses, the kind of game where I can start playing at 6:00 PM, and next thing I know..."Oh, is that the sun rising?" This is especially true if both Sabrina and I are playing, as it's hard to stop either of us when we get on a roll. (Sabrina has contributed much to Alpha 2...among other things, she discovered the elusive clay blocks. Her friend Sheila has visited, too, and has her own "house" on Alpha 2, a wood structure in the middle of the Eastern Peninsula.) Take Yahtzee's advice, and give yourself a project; it helps you appreciate the game more.
Recommended...just don't blame me if you, too, get sucked in. See you in the mines!