the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Bugger my previous post

Viva ftp.is.co.za whichallowsmetodownloadgentooisosatbreakneckspeedeventhoughmyADSLcapisblown, viva!

{2004.04.28 11:24} : Comments (0)

Connected

When Ronwen & I moved into our previous flat in Robindale, in 2001, we were stuck without a phone line for the first few months. (Telkom was over capacity in our street, and it was only through knowing someone who could do some serious pulling of strings that I was able to get a line at all, but I digress. The purpose of this entry is not to grumble about Telkom, as much fun as that is). As I battled to get into the studying groove this evening, I got to thinking about those few months. At the time, having no home Internet connectivity felt awful. Looking back though, it was actually rather good for me. I couldn't spend my evenings mindlessly trawling the Net. If I needed to see certain websites, I had to do it from work, and so I tended to keep things focused. All my personal email was kept at work, and reading/replying was also kept to a minimum. If I worked from home, I had no distractions or email tugging me this way and that, and I was able to really focus on what I was doing. Not that I worked from home much - I couldn't afford to stay away from the office for extended bouts like I do now. Since I was forced into more of a 9-5/6/7 existence, when I came home it was far less likely that I'd have brought work home with me. If I think about how much time I've spent on various web sites today, exacerbated by not wanting to work on my assignment, I have to seriously question whether this is a good thing. I'm not saying the Net is evil or anything, since I know it's my own self-discipline that's lacking, but I can't help but think that ditching the ADSL line would do wonders for my personal productivity. Ditch the ADSL line... if you hear reports of Ronwen having strangled me in my sleep, you'll know why :-)

{2004.04.28 02:35} : Comments (0)

Back to the grind

Ah, getting back to the subjects I had to cancel last year. Nothing like doing assignments on work you've already plodded through a year earlier. "When is a table in BCNF?" Yay!

{2004.04.27 16:04} : Comments (1)

Late nights and despots

Jeez. I should stop blogging if I'm dozing off at the keyboard. Last night's review of Equilibrium reads like an answer to a Matric English exam question. Revelatory experience? Sheesh :-) Anyway, it's a cool movie, with cool ideas. Nuff said :-) Tomorrow's another public holiday for us, since Thabo Mbeki is getting inaugurated tomorrow. One of the dignitaries at the proceedings is Bob Mugabe. Apparently he's staying at a guest house because at least two hotels in Sandton refused to put him up :-) Tying into that, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is encouraging the English cricket team to boycott Zimbabwe, to "send a clear signal to the Mugabe regime". I'm not a sporting fan and the state of Zimbabwean cricket doesn't really shake my world - but I have a lot of respect for Tutu's willingness to speak up when others, including our president, won't.

{2004.04.26 23:01} : Comments (0)

Weekend

We rented Equilibrium on DVD last night. I was expecting it to be a shite Matrix rip-off, but I ended up quite enjoying it. The storyline is basically Farenheit 451 meets This Perfect Day. Orwellian hell. Instead of Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei, there's "Father" repeating his message on every TV screen, and every citizen has to take their "Equlibrium" medication daily, to free them from emotion and sensory experience: the reasoning being that these base human experiences were the reason for the wars and murders and atrocities of the past. Instead of book-burning, there's burning of anything luxurious or "sensory": paintings, trinkets, ornaments, records, books of poetry. The hero is a high priest-style policeman who learns to "feel", and ends up rebelling against the system. The movie explores aspects of feeling and sensory experience that we probably take for granted and don't think about. There's a particularly poignant scene where the hero, who's off his medication, is walking up a wide set of stairs amidst a throng of people trudging along, and for the first time, he starts looking around him and taking notice of - sensing - his surroundings. Ahead of him, he sees an old woman (obviously not taking her druks either), who removes her glove and allows her hand to run along a railing. The power of the scene, apart from the revelatory experience the hero has, is that this scene could probably be played out in any of a million modern cities today. It's a metaphor for own lives, I guess: how often are we so caught up that we don't appreciate the simple things that make us human? The Matrix-esque fighting has an interesting hook: a style of fighting called gun-kata, where the student is taught to anticipate gunfire patterns based on tons of statistical analysis blahdy-blah. Net effect: the ability for one "cleric" to take on roomfuls of machine-gun toting opponents and blitz the lot of them. Suspend disbelief for a bit, and it makes for incredibly cool fight scenes. Well worth the watch just for that. Given that I've never read F451 (and saw the movie back in the 80s), I think finding a copy of the book and the movie are going to be my next project. Apart from that, I spent too much time tinkering with computer games that wouldn't work. I managed to get Wing Commander: Prophecy going (sort of). Boy... I bought this game in 2000 or earlier, and I'd never gotten around to installing it. My Logitech Wingman joystick, bought in 2002 when I could scarcely afford it, got used for the first time since the weekend I bought it. Sad, man, sad. As for my WC woes, it seems Sound Blasters are the culprit: the cinematics skip and are unwatchable. I might end up hijacking Ronwen's machine to play it properly including narrative, but in the meantime I spent the day getting my ass whupped in the Wing Commander training simulator. We popped into Cresta so I could return the second faulty copy of the Black Sabbath CD I bought a while back (note to self: don't buy locally-produced CDs, you should know this by now), and ended up popping into the Manhattan Grill for dinner. *Burp* Oh yes, during the week, I also finished reading Masters of Doom: a biography of John Carmack and John Romero, the two personalities behind id Software and classics like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. A good read, even though I stumbled across an interview at a gaming site, where other id founders reckon the book is a bit sensationalist. Either way, I enjoyed it. What's especially cool about this book, is that unlike many of the annals-of-geek-history stories from the 70s and 80s (which I'm a big sucker for), this book's history is something I can relate to, because I lived through it :-) I remember spending hours playing the original Wolfenstein 3D, as a student. I remember myself and colleagues playing networked Doom after hours at KPMG. I remember playing the original Quake (the sound of the zombies' flesh blobs landing *splat* is indelibly imprinted in my synapses). Nowadays we take these things for granted, but jeez, back then these games were making the impossible happen. First-person shooters, where you were part of the action? Realistic 3D graphics? Fighting your buddies across a network? These were mind-blowing things once. As always, the book paints a picture that many would see as geek nirvana: the obscenely hard work doing absolutely awesome stuff, the genius that brought these things to life, and the rewards that followed - but at the same time, it tells the story of how reality always comes knocking: the politics, the personal issues, the fallibility. Inspiring, and sobering at the same time.

{2004.04.26 01:58} : Comments (0)

Old games

I learned this evening that Windows XP is not as "compatible" when it comes to running certain old games, as I would have hoped. I decided to reacquaint myself with one or two fairly old games which I haven't touched in years. As luck would have it, these games aren't completely well-behaved, even with compatibility settings enabled in the OS. This had me doing a bit of research into what the masses do. It seems the masses are a bit stuffed. For DOS games, free software such as DosBox seems to be doing the trick. The games I want to play aren't that old, though, they're Windows 95 and Windows 98 games from the late 90s. Before Win2k and XP, but firmly in the GUI/Windows era. I had wondered whether VMWare would work, but sound emulation is apparently shoddy, and VMWare obviously can't do 3D hardware acceleration, so it's not much help. Dual-booting is a possibility, but hardly an optimal solution, and it's probably not sustainable as the years go by and hardware gets more exotic. Searching the Net, it's obvious that there are a fair number of people wanting to play these older games, who're stumbling as they upgrade to XP and Win2k. One crowd of people may have the answer: the WINE/Linux folks. Projects like Transgaming have a lot of promise. I'd love to get my current machine running a current, healthy Linux distro and see just what can be accomplished. In the meantime though, I'm more than a little disappointed. I bought some of these games years ago, hoping that I'd one day get to sit down and really play them. Now, it seems that might never happen. Bummer.

{2004.04.25 01:52} : Comments (0)

Random diaryesque observations

* Directors' meetings are a lot more fun when they're held at a steakhouse. Smith & Wollensky's in Eastgate, last night. Their Argentinian steak kicks ass. * I bought Unix Network Programming Volume 1 by the late W Richard Stevens. ETA on getting to work through this famous tome: around 2010 at current workloads. * Gym two days in a row has me feeling suitably tender. Learned to use the BodyIQ contraption that now tells Virgin Active (and no doubt Big Brother Discovery Health) what I weigh, my body fat percentage, and blood pressure (is it good to take this measurement after 60 crunches and 60 leg raises? I think not). At least I now have a baseline to measure myself against. A dearth of cardio work means I've not shed too much fat (thus far I've added a kg), but Ronwen says she can see changes. I have triceps trying to poke their way out of the cushioning, basically. To me, the real victory is getting my butt to gym at least twice a week, and having stuck with it. But yes, I'd like my next victory to be around my waistline, thankyouverymuch. * A ten minute dash to the Nandos/Woolies around the corner this evening has me wanting to pull a Columbine on the majority of the twats there. Four impatient assholes who squeeze past me and leave me jammed as I try to maneuvre into a parking from a bad angle, asshole in BMW who parks in disabled parking and laughs at the security guards trying to tell him off, asshole in Merc who shoots up a one-way to get an open parking, miserable cow pushing her way into the queue when a new till opens to handle the mass of shoppers at Woolies, and the old fart behind me who almost nudges my stuff off the counter before I've even properly paid for my groceries. I am reminded that I tend towards misanthropy for a reason.

{2004.04.21 20:05} : Comments (3)

Decisions and ennui

Time to change mail clients for my POP3 stuff. Eudora is getting a little long in the tooth, and I'm just about ready to move my mail to a Linux client. Back in the old days, I used Netscape (version 2 on my PowerBook :-), and I stuck with Communicator on the PC until version 4.7, by which time (early 2001) the browser had become virtually unusable, and Communicator seemed a little too big just for mail, and it became too frustrating losing one's mail client every time a dodgy web site brought everything to a halt. Is it time to move back? I think so. The only question is whether to stick with Firefox + Thunderbird as separate apps, or glop up with good ole Mozilla. I've read in a few places that FF + TB are the "NextGen" Mozilla, and once they've reached 1.0 status, the old Mozilla browser and mail client will get nixed. That would make my decision easy, except that I've stumbled across a few comments saying that the old Mozilla mail client is better. The only way to find out is to try them both, I suppose, but I must be honest and admit that these days, installing software just to poke and prod is nothing short of a mission for me.

{2004.04.20 02:12} : Comments (2)

Busy weekend

Jeez, the past few days have been a whirl of work - mostly the horrid (beancounter) stuff, not the technical, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully it ain't a train. I can't wait to return to some normalcy work-wise. Ronwen & I drove through to Braamfontein today, so I could show Ronwen how to get to the Civic Theatre. Ballet stuff and whatnot. I almost never head into 'old' Joburg anymore, and so now it's always a big trip down memory lane to drive through suburbs like Parktown, Braamfontein, Saxonwold, Killarney. It's weird: for the first 7 years that I lived on Joburg, many of these roads and suburbs and sights were things I took in daily. Then you move elsewhere, start working elsewhere, and your experience of the city is completely different. Let's be honest, as nice as Randburg (home) and Sandton (work) are, they just don't have the character that older parts of the city do. We stopped off in Rosebank for lunch and window-shopping. I bought a few games development books at Exclusives - hopefully I'll be able to indulge in some armchair geek tourism. Soon :-)

{2004.04.18 22:25} : Comments (2)

My mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts

SABC2 is airing old Pieter-Dirk Uys satires on Thursday nights. Tonight was Beyond The Rubicon. Some of this stuff is incredibly cheesy 18 years later, but some of his lines and impersonations are still rapid-fire brilliant. I remember some of the punch lines from the first time I saw them. Looking back, I'm taken by how many of those old politicians are so removed from our mindshare, that in good time we'll laugh at the impersonations but have no memory of the originals to put them in context. When last did anyone see Piet Koornhof and his wingnut ears on telly? PW Botha and the wagging finger? Even FW De Klerk seemingly got his first TV outing in ages, to offer a sound bite about yesterday's elections. I think Pieter-Dirk would do well to include old news footage of the main protagonists, to keep these people in context. Perhaps you just had to be there :-) More to the point though, when will local artists start releasing their stuff on DVD instead of boring old VHS? I'd love to get some of these classics but I don't even *own* a VCR anymore.

{2004.04.15 23:35} : Comments (0)

I done voted

It's done. I feel all democratic and stuff. Ronwen & I were planning to pop into Northcliff Primary School to vote at 9, but that turned into 11 (it is a public holiday, after all ;-). Thankfully the queues weren't too bad and once again, as we were leaving, the queues were starting to lengthen, so our timing was impeccable. Not without a hitch though. When we registered in November, a barcoded confirmation sticker with our ID numbers was stuck into our ID books. Let me restate that: a computer-generated, ID-number-aware bar-coded sticker, to confirm that we had registered at the Northcliff voting station. Were Ronwen & I on the voter's roll today? Noooo. We (along with a good few others) had to re-register, but at least we got to vote. One of the voting officials sheepishly said "hmm, I guess they didn't capture your details". If that were a paperised process I could understand, but in this case the system was at least partly computerised, dammit. Did someone accidentally sit on the floppy disk afterwards? Anyway. Concerned onlookers will be pleased to know that we won't be havin' no Supreme-Court-electing-the-president fiascos here. We make our mark literally, with a big bloody cross, which while primitive, is so far removed from the world of dangling chad confusion that you have to wonder whether progress really is worth it. An interesting point about our ballots, is that each party is represented in 3 ways: the name of the party, the party logo, and a thumbnail photo of the party's leader. Why? This has been a tradition since the 1994 elections, and as I understand, the faces are included because so many South Africans are still illiterate, and faces and logos are the only way they can identify their party. Something which has changed since '94 is how you're marked to say you've voted. Back in '94 you got your fingers swabbed with an invisible UV ink to make sure that you didn't try to vote twice. Nowadays they have special ink pens (are they, or are they just white-labelled Koki pens? ;-) and the election officials make a dot across your left thumbnail, cuticle and skin. I presume this is cheaper than the UV ink and equipment and there's less hassle than with UV lights, batteries, power outlet problems in rural areas, yadda yadda. I suppose the other upside is that having done your bit for your country, you can at least wear your little ink dot with pride :-)

{2004.04.14 12:49} : Comments (3)

Hard Drive

Just finished reading Hard Drive - Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire. Good book about the man whose "personal wealth is estimated at $6.5 billion." Yep, a 1993 Microsoft biography. I picked it up last weekend at a second-hand bookstore. At first I put it back on the shelf, thinking 'nah, too old'. But I figured that 450 pages dealing with the first 20 years of Microsoft's history is bound to more interesting than 450 pages dealing with 30 years of Microsoft's history, especially when I know about the last 10 years having lived through them :-). A really good read. No punches are held when it comes to describing Gates and his less-than-charming personal hygeine habits, etc, and a fairly balanced but unforgiving look at the allegations of the dodgy dealings and mindset that got MS where it was. The one thing that really stands out, as one reads of how MS focused on hiring "the best of the best" and Bill Gates and his lieutenants being hyper-intelligent people, is how they just kept churning out such crap software. They devoted millions and millions of dollars, and had the country's best programmers working absolutely ridiculous hours for months and years on end on various projects, and never quite seemed to come up with the really magical stuff that other software companies came up with. Food for thought.

{2004.04.11 22:03} : Comments (2)

Lost weekend again

I dropped Ronwen at the airport this afternoon - she's in Durbs for the weekend to spend some quality time with the nephew. This leaves me free for another wild and wacky weekend of work and studies (and perhaps a bit of house-cleaning). Kinda lonely at home. The usual crap programs are on TV, and as I'm sitting here working with locally produced shite like The Res in the background, I'm still letting loose my usual stream of OTT ad lib comments, but there's noone to tell me to stop it. Where's the fun in that? *sigh*

{2004.04.01 23:00} : Comments (2)

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