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Archive of January, 2009

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[Permalink 2009-01-21] How I Suffer for My Hobbies

January 21, 2009:

I'm currently growing out my beard again, so I can cosplay as Dr. Venture at Katsucon in a few weeks. It's been a few years since I've done this, and I have noticeably more gray hairs in the facial region than I did back in 2005.

But that's not the suffering part; I could have told you from the gray hairs on my head that the beard would be well on its way to "salt and pepper" by now. No, this is worse.

And it has nothing to do with having to shave the beard into the odd hybrid mix of goatee and beard that Rusty sports, either. After all, I get to wear normal clothes for the most part. Dave is going as the Monarch, and will thus be wandering around Katsu in a leotard and tights, wearing butterfly wings. Dude is definitely going more all-out on the costume front than I am.

So how am I suffering here? Well, it does have to do with the beard. It's really itchy.

[Permalink 2009-01-19] Review: Battlestar Galactica 4-13: "Sometimes a Great Notion"

January 19, 2009:

Damn. Welcome back, BSG.

So, the fallout occurs, and it's huge. Roslin, who started all the mystical stuff in a cynical effort to consolidate her power, actually came to believe the prophecies. And now that the articles of her faith -- that the home of the 13th Colony would be their home -- has been yanked out from under her she's fallen down hard. Ditto for most everyone else in the fleet as Galactica's morale deteriorates to the point that there are unstopped fistfights in the halls and graffiti ("FRAK EARTH") scrawled on the walls.

Roslin surprised me, but I guess she shouldn't have. She was really buying into the "dying leader" thing she'd envisioned for herself. To have the house of cards come down, in such drastic fashion, probably left her wondering just what purpose she was supposed to serve. And if the prophecies were wrong, how can you say any other parts of the scrolls are right? That's not the easy path to atheism.

In the midst of all this, we have Lee getting back together with Dualla. Dualla, who helped Lee keep his wits about him on Pegasus. Dualla, who put up with his philandering with Starbuck until he basically stopped coming home. Dualla, who was one of the few unbroken people in the fleet. Dualla found a locket and a child's jacks amongst the skeletons and waste on the beach and had it hit home that nobody was safe, anywhere. After her drink with Lee, happy for the first time in more than a year, Dualla went into the officers' locker room and put a bullet in her head so she could die before the despair set back in.

I barely had time for a "wha?" before she pulled the trigger. When the gun came up I expected another overwrought hold-gun-to-temple scene like we got with Sharon ("Boomer") in season one, and Tyrol in season four. And probably a few others I'm forgetting. But no. Gun comes up, gun goes boom. Holy fuck. But goddamn Adama's grief over it rang hollow. I get that he was out drinking because of Roslin, but the scene in the morgue with him and Lee just clanked. That one should have cut from Lee replacing the sheet to him exiting the morgue. Everything in between was shit.

What about the rock, the Old Man? After an inconsolable Roslin threw him out of his own quarters he hit the sauce. Again. Been doing that a lot lately. After a horribly-written and -acted stop in the morgue to feel worse about Dee's death than her ex-husband, he walked the halls of Galactica, loaded sidearm in hand (nobody noticed or cared) to taunt his newly-outed Cylon XO into killing him, because he couldn't do what Dualla did.

As good an actor as Edward James Olmos is, he can be really unconvincing with the over-emotive stuff. Back in season two it was a big deal because Adama never lost his cool, and is was easy to forgive Olmos for going overboard. Now women in the depths of PMS are telling him to calm the fuck down.

And that's just the crew. What about the Cylons? Well, we really only saw D'Anna, sitting on the beach. She's going to stay on Earth rather than leave with the new Colonial/Six/Sharon/Leoben fleet. She came back from the dead -- or at least being boxed -- for this, and it's a giant shit sandwich. Looks like the Colonials aren't the only ones just giving up on life.

Oh, there was one more crew member: Starbuck. Her and a Leoben walk the earth for a while tracking the signal that brought them to the favorite radioactive wasteland. They eventually find Kara's Viper, in pieces from (presumably) when it disappeared in the gas giant back in the first bit of season four. And she's still in it, though in somewhat toasted and decomposed form. It's the magically-surviving hair, in addition to her dog-tags, that gave it away. Even Leoben freaked the hell out over that one; we didn't see him again for the rest of the episode.

So, this is not the OEM Kara Thrace. She must be the Fifth, right?

Hold on there, Sparky.

The Finals have been remembering fragments of their past lives wandering around the toxic wasteland that iswas Brooklyn. Tyrol sniffs an avocado before a nuke turns him into a Hiroshima shadow. ("That was me," he mentioned to the others, gesturing to the marked fragment of wall he was leaning against.) Anders fingers the frets to the sitar version of "All Along the Watchtower". We see nothing of Tory's memory, but at the end of the episode, Tigh wanders out into the ocean and pulls up the door from a locker like you'd find at a pool. And he remembers trying to pull out someone very dear to him. Someone who told him the plans were in place and that they'd be reborn to find each other.

Ellen. "You're the Fifth," Tigh said, as the episode closed.

Well, they managed to give us some big answers, and a metric fuckton of new questions. The Earth mass-extinction happened 2,000 years ago which places it about the same time as the abandonment of Kobol. The skeletons unearthed on the beach, and other sites worldwide, were all Cylon, according to a Six. They even found a heretofore-undiscovered variant of Centurion.

How are we supposed to tie all of this together? And how the hell did Kara come back if Ellen was the Fifth? Given that I'm a Star Trek fan, it should not surprise you that I have a hypothesis. Given that I'm me, it shouldn't surprise you that it's weird and extremely likely to be wrong.

(For clarity's sake, I'm going to talk about four different groups of people. Terrans, the "Cylons" they found on Earth; Cylons, the seven "kill all humans" types; Finals, the ones who lived on Earth as it got nuked; and Colonials, who make up most of the fleet.)

I still think the "13th Colony" thing is a case of memory fade. We know that we evolved here, and Ron Moore said that would be taken into account. Thus, we are the same Terrans that got dug up. We are the originators of the Twelve Colonies. Life out there began down here.

At some point in our future, possibly right after the inception of jump drive, a group of neo-pagans, sick of the monotheists' destruction of the world, leave to found Earth's first colony. They sever all ties with any active religion, opting instead for the classical Greek and Roman gods and naming their groups after the twelve signs of the zodiac. It has to be this way; the coincidence needed to have people make flags that just happen to look like constellations as seen from here is just too much.

So the Ark (as I'll call it) leaves. Seven or eight billion (maybe ten billion, who knows) Terrans (us, remember) stay behind. At some point we develop technology that allows us to download into computer storage the entire content of our brains.

This isn't too far off, really. It's estimated that you'd need about 15,000 terabytes to store all the information in the human brain. We can do that know, albeit sloppily (that'd be a big pile of hard drives) but we lack the ability to accurately map all the neural connections that do the actual data storage in the gray Jell-O inside our heads. Storage space will probably get where we need it to be in 10-15 years. Who knows about the mapping ability.

Anyway, only a few people -- five to be specific -- are shown to have availed themselves of this ability: Saul Tigh, Ellen Tigh, Samuel Anders, Galen Tyrol and Tory Foster. Maybe it was in the test stages, making them the ones who developed it. Maybe you had to be super-rich. Maybe it was Krypton levels of ostriching on the part of everyone else on Earth. Who knows why, those are our only five.

Meanwhile, en route to the Colony (which they will name Kobol) the Terrans undergo a bit of genetic drift. Maybe the Ark isn't shielded quite well enough from cosmic radiation, or they passed too close to the radiation cluster that killed Kat back in season four. But they're no longer Terran when they get to Kobol and settle. They're now Colonials.

Over the course of time, the Colonials have to leave Kobol (chemical or biological warfare, perhaps -- Kobol wasn't nuked) and found the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. Due to their ancestors' scrubbing (or misremembering) of their flight form Earth, Earth is now considered to be the 13th Colony, settled before the gods kicked everyone out of the pool. They don't know that this is their people's second time fleeing their home.

Time goes on, and the Colonials develop the original Cylons. The first Cylon War (CWI) happens, and as shown in Razor, the mechanical-biological experiments begin. The Cylons, in creating the "original" Seven, correct what they correctly assume is radiation damage in Colonial DNA. They also make a few tweaks to allow them to do nifty things like stick fiberoptic cables in their arms.

Meanwhile, radiation levels on earth are dying down. In a Red Dwarf-like scenario, the resurrection software deems the surface safe enough for an emissary -- Saul Tigh -- to go look for the lost colony. He finds the Cylon homeworld, and meets Cavil. Cavil is interested in resurrection software, which he gets, but he plans to use it to destroy the Colonials in CWII. Tigh flees, and upon finding the Colonies, sends updated location information to Earth. The others arrive in batches: Ellen first, then Tyrol, Anders and Tory years later. The machinery then laid dormant until Kara, maybe by going through an Einstein-Rosen bridge (a.k.a. a wormhole) at the gas giant, was rebuilt by the resurrection machine on Earth to signal the Finals that it was time to "wake up". "Watchtower," after all, coincided with her return to the fleet.

Here's where I get to stuff I can't explain. Instead of keeping their knowledge of the impending attack and trying to stop it, they opt to "forget" everything. Likewise, Cavil keeps the secret of the "Final" Five from the others as he creates them and makes it verboten to discuss them.

So the Finals, then, are Terrans. They appeared as Cylon in tests because they have undamaged DNA like the Cylons gave themselves. They can download, but not in the same way or with the same technology, like the Cylons. The Centurion, found among the bones, is probably a red herring: It's a mask, maybe.

So now Terrans have destroyed their planet (Earth), their descendants the Colonials destroyed their original home (Kobol) then built machines to fight their wars for them (the Cylons). When the Cylons rebelled against being used as intelligent slaves and stand-ins for human deaths, they spent 40 years marshaling resources (with the help of Tigh's resurrection technology) so they could destroy the children of their creators.

"All this has happened before, and will happen again." Not specifically the hunt-and-chase with the Cylons, but the human (Terran, Colonial and Cylon) compulsion to destroy themselves. Now even the Cylons have started fighting amongst themselves -- the Cavils, Dorals and Simons are still pursuing the fleet with its trashed basestar full of Sixes, Sharons and Leobens. No matter where we go, no matter how much we want a fresh start, we will find a way to kill ourselves.

And the survivors will flee, only to have it happen again, and again, and again. It's been (approximately) four millennia since the settling of Kobol, two since the destruction of Earth and the flight from Kobol. And the Colonies were destroyed about two years ago. Every 2,000 years, it seems, we try to kill ourselves off. And every time we rise from the ashes to do it all again somewhere else.

Not a particularly comforting thought, is it?

[Permalink 2009-01-12] The Weird Stuff I Notice

January 12, 2009:

My brain really could stand to pay less attention to some things.

· There's a car in the parking lot, and its license plate is only different in the last two digits. It's a VW, so I assume s/he bought it a month or two before I did from the same dealership. Or, given that the place went out of business a few months after I bought the Jetta, maybe several months before. It'd be really cool, to my dorky brain, if it was a clone of mine, but it's about as far removed as possible while still being the same model. It's white where mine is black, has the 2.5L engine instead of the turbocharged 2.0L, and is the GTI variant. About the only things they have in common are the Jetta badge, the sunroof, and the satellite radio antenna.

· This year, February will fit exactly into four calendar weeks -- the first is a Sunday and the 28th is a Saturday. No big deal, it happens 3 years out of every 28, but this is the first one since I started working here and I was happy to see that the calendars and datepickers I've written actually manage to handle that correctly. Next occurrences will be in 2015, 2026 and 2037. (Previous ones were 1998, 1987, 1981, and then the calendar widget in Windows runs out. My hunch is that 1970 was the last one before that.)

· I've been working on the GPS system since I got here in 2005, so this shouldn't really surprise me any more, but every time I pass a client's bus on the road I check to see if they have the right type of antenna on them. And when they do I have to fight the urge to call up one of my coworkers and ask where that particular bus is. When there were 150 buses in the system it was cool to see evidence that everything worked. With 1,400 in the system, not so much.

[Permalink 2009-01-05] How to Kill a Zune

January 05, 2009:


So, everybody on earth with a 30GB Microsoft Zune MP3 player found themselves in a world of hurt December 31st. The bootup progress meter would get so far, then stop.

while (days > 365)
if (IsLeapYear(year))
if (days > 366)
days -= 366;
year += 1;
days -= 365;
year += 1;

The hitch of course, is that there were 366 days in 2008. Microsoft accounted for this -- or more accurately Freescale did -- but goofed the edge case.

When the year converter got to 12/31/2008 it saw 28 years and 366 days (The Zune uses the "Microsoft epoch" of 1/1/1980) so the while loop stayed in effect. But the check for being a leap year sent it into a different branch of code, and nothing ever got subtracted from the day count. It stayed in [366 > 365] -> [enter loop] -> (effectively a) [nop] forever so the progress bar hung in an infinite loop.

My gut instinct is to change the loop to count while days > 366, then do an if statement for not-leap-year, which would be computationally the same as what they had. At the end you could conceivably have 366 days on the dot, so after the loop you'd need one last not-leap-year check to see if you're on Dec. 31 of a leap year or Jan. 1 right after a not-leap-year. Someone who's spent more than 10 seconds thinking about it may do better though.

And I'm sure some schlub at Freescale told his boss, "oh yeah, I accounted for leap years no problem." I mean, how hard can it be?

[Permalink 2009-01-01] Happy New Year

January 01, 2009:

However 2008 turned out for you, here's hoping that 2009 is better.

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