May 31, 2008

A-Kon Day 2 Delayed

I'm still going through the pictures I took today trying to get rid of the crap, plus I have about an hours worth of work I have to do tonight.

Here's a preview picture to hold you off.

May 30, 2008

A-Kon Night 1

Wasn't able to get into Anime Hell due to capacity concerns, but I did get three more pictures, including the only Tenchi cosplayer I've seen this con.

A-Kon Day 1

Better look out, Strawberry Shortcake, or American Greetings will sue your ass.

Plenty of pirates this year. I consider this a representative sample.

The pre-registration line never got shorter than having about 1,000 in line at once. There were 2,500 in line at the peak last night.

Video game characters are the order of business this year due to an attempt at a Guinness Book World Record tomorrow.

Webcomic authors were out in force. The Applegeeks guys forgot to bring change...

And even though most of the visitors of Shacknews really don't seem to like VGCats, the creator is taking it in stride...

This picture was taken just moments before Shinichi Watanabe's Japanese afro kicked my ass.

A few other costumes...

May 27, 2008

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" Mini-Review

I managed to get out and see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" yesterday, and while I thought it was better than "Temple of Doom," it wasn't better by much.

To be fair, it isn't the fault of the actors. All of the primary stars gave stellar performances. Even Cate Blanchett, who is reduced to playing Generic Russian Bitch #12 due to the storyline, is able to pull off a decent performance. The special effects were decent, there are some nice miniature sections, and the script stayed true to the characters.

The main problem is the myth they decided to tackle. Movies like this work when the back story is well established and generally integrated into our communal consciousness. "Raiders" and "Last Crusade" work because they ask us to imagine for a moment that the legends behind Judaism and Christianity respectively are literally true. While the legends that "Crystal Skull" ask us about are less than sixty years old for the most part, they're still enough out there that we can start to see it. "Mola Ram" was just pulled out of Lucas' ass.

It's still worth seeing just for some real closure to the series, but as long as you go in expecting a big screen version of a TV episode of the Indiana Jones chronicles, you won't be disappointed.

May 26, 2008

Guest Post #2

My second guest post, "Lessons from Car Salesmen," is now live at Game QA Blog.

I need to ask Zach if he really has a trademark application out for Game QA Blog...

(Update: Copy/pasted incorrect URL initially.)

May 24, 2008

Errors of the Past

One exercise I've been going through over the last few weeks while I try to get myself back into a QA mindset is I've been going over my actions back when I was QA Manager at Ritual (20/20 hindsight and all that) and trying to figure out what I screwed up. I know I've made plenty of mistakes, but you have to be able to identify errors that you've made if you want to advance.

My biggest issue is how I've dealt with the public. I violated the number one rule of public relations: Never draw attention to yourself unless you are selling something.

For example, while I was not in error as far as bringing out additional data regarding technical support ratios, I was in error with how I dealt with the community after the fact because I wasn't really selling anything. While I could have used that time to promote the products I had worked on, I ended up just talking about piracy more than anything else, and this gave those who were promoting piracy their entry.

I made the same mistake going on about Sony. Not only did I have nothing to "sell," my actions actually damaged my personal marketability. While testers loved it because it brought attention to issues that they faced every single day, it did nothing but damage my ability to continue in the games industry.

When I am testing, I like to think of what I do as science. I observe an error, I create a hypothesis about what could cause that error, I experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis and repeat that process until I come up with a consistently reproducible case for the error, analyze and report on the error, and then retest later on.

Unfortunately, I suffer from the same failing as many scientists. I see the purity of what I do and because I am so close to it, I can't see how what I am doing can be misconstrued or seen for anything other than what it is. Being "liked" doesn't even enter into the picture.

Look at the "debate" between scientists and creationists. The scientists have the evidence, they have theories that have been able to reliably predict results (the true mark of a good theory), they have how evolution not only applies to the diversity of life but also to other fields of study, but for the most part, they do not have public speaking skills. They come across as elitists preaching from their ivory towers. Even though they speak the truth, they don't come across as "likable," and so they lose the debate. The quality of the evidence and the quality of the argument mean less to the majority of American public than the quality of the presenter. Fortunately, the terms of the debate are changing...

But alas, I'm off on a tangent. (Another failing.) My point is that it was a really good thing for me to essentially vanish for the last year. It's given me time to rebuild my image both in and out of the games industry, get ready to return to college later this year, and all-in-all work on improving myself and the world of those around me.

Now that said, my posts here for the foreseeable future are going to fall into one of four categories.

One, useful pieces of information or code that could help someone who encounters a problem similar or identical to what I have recently encountered. According to my web stats, these are the most popular entries and pay for ~75% of my ad traffic.

Two, funny videos or pictures that my readers might enjoy. There won't be many of these. Usually, I share these over at ShackNews.

Three, updates on life or family. (My granddaughter who was hit by a truck is home now and recovering nicely. Thank you for the well-wishing.)

Finally, and this is going to seem a bit vague but it is with good reason, I'm going to try to focus less on the what and the how of things but focus a bit more on the why. While it is admirable to see what is happening and even more so to understand how it happens, knowing the why is what gives you power.

May 18, 2008

Guest Post #1 Up

My first guest post is up over at Game QA Blog.

Check out "Soft Language" here.

Also, some of you may start seeing ads for over the next week or two. VGD has been making just enough off of advertising to pay for its hosting and domain name, and I'm investing a little bit to try to increase its exposure.

May 17, 2008

When Should You License A Component?

In the past, we've all had to reinvent the wheel because we couldn't afford a component or library that we have needed to get our work done. However, even when you can afford it, it may not be the proper choice. So how do you decide when you should license a component?

The simple formula is license if it is cheaper than what it would cost for you to make it times five, but here is the breakdown of how to arrive at that formula.

First, take the cost of what it would cost to create the component from scratch. This is really your gross hourly wage, working at most 30 hours a week. (Expect 10 hours a week for breaks, false starts, meetings, etc.) Double that includes your time debugging and integrating your component, and triple that includes your time having to support your own code.

At this point, we are at three times what it directly costs you to implement the feature. Now double that. This represents your lost opportunity cost: time you spend working on this feature/component/library is time you aren't working on other things.

That brings us to six times the cost of what it would take you to implement it yourself. Why is the formula only five times? Subtract the original implementation cost to account for how long it will take you to actually implement the licensed component in your system. No matter how easy the licensor may claim it will be, there will always be a gotcha that will force you to take time debugging how the component works, contacting their support department, etc. It usually approximates your implementation timeline.

Mind you, this does not mean that open source/free software is automatically the best thing. If you aren't getting support, you have to factor in the time you will spend looking for the answers into the formula. In addition, many open source components and libraries have licenses that are incompatible with the needs of many businesses.

So to sum up, if it costs less than five times what it would cost you to make it, license it.

May 15, 2008

Tech Support in a Nutshell

In this short over at, Dogbert shows the solution to 95% of all technical support problems.

Yes, most of the time it is that simple.

May 13, 2008

QA Mindset in a Dev Mind

I'm trying to prepare some guest posts for Game QA Blog and it has been a bit of a challenge to mentally shift myself back into the QA mindset. I've been trying to figure out what the difference has been really between being a developer and being a tester, and while I think I've got it, it's difficult to put into words.

As a developer, I can afford to have the one thing that I could never afford to have in Not faith in a higher power or faith in other in myself.

In QA, you are always second guessing have to. Did they implement this feature right? Did they fix their bug? Did my test cases properly cover the feature? Did I get all of the related features? Did my fellow testers properly test their areas? Could a combination of our tests trigger an interaction or integration bug? What don't we know? It doesn't help that if you miss something, it all comes back on QA.

Even the best testers lose some skepticism of that when they become developers. I can unit test all day long, but the difference is that while in QA my job was to keep bad software from going out, my job as a developer is to ship software. Every once in awhile, I catch myself doing the "it builds, smoke it, ship it" cycle and I really have to stop and remind myself of the pain that mindset can cause, but it does get increasingly harder to shift back to that.

The good thing is that while I have faith in my abilities, the tester in me keeps nagging me because the tester in me knows my weaknesses. My inner tester constantly reminds me that I have issues with double-caching under load at times, threading deadlocks (of course, who doesn't have problems with that), and remembering to code for the one corner case that is brought up as an aside in the design meetings that ends up being the most important part of the application.

I tend to rush through the implementation of my features because I have faith that I'll get pretty much everything but the above right so I can spend the proper amount of time testing my code to try to ensure that I've properly accounted for my weak spots. I guess that's another major upside about being a developer. I can make up for not being able to afford faith as a tester by continually testing my faith in my skills as a developer.

Every bug I find in my own code is penance for a bug that I let slip through.

May 11, 2008

Movie Details

I love looking for hidden things in films. It helps keep my eyes sharp and is a good way of improving your attention to detail.

IMDB has even started adding in some of the trivia I've submitted.

For example, on the "Snakes on a Plane" IMDB entry, they finally added my submission that I sent to them last April.

What do you do to keep your observation skills sharp?

May 10, 2008

Douglas Adams

I miss Douglas Adams. Here he is reading a section from "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" (not "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" as introduced in the video)...

Rational Thought vs. Superstition

Why fight for rational thought in school? Because it is there in increasingly short supply.

Church / Vote / State

I had a bit of a disturbing experience this morning. I voted for a school bond. That isn't the disturbing part. The polling place was in a church. Specifically, it was in the religious primary school attached to the church, but it was still in a church.

I'm an atheist so the building has no special relevance to me, but I wondered about others who do have faith in a supreme being and what effect the location of the polling place would have on their vote.

What if the polling place was in a Gurdwara and everyone had to take their shoes off and cover their heads before entering?

Would the proximity of flame in a Zoroastrian Fire Temple potentially be seen as a risk to the ballots?

What if the polling place was in a mosque? Should voting be disrupted during one of the five daily prayer periods?

What if the polling place was in a jinja and you had to have permission from the Shinto priest to enter?

Where would the polling place even be able to be in a mandir? How about the Bahá'í Houses of Worship? Or a Latter-Day Saint temple, where non-Mormons are forbidden to enter?

What if, as is more and more common, your priest made a sermon prior to election day about the very topic on the ballot that you disagreed with, but the polling place was in your place of worship? Which would take priority, your duty to God, country or your conscience? Should someone of faith even have to make that choice?

May 7, 2008

Zune 2.5 WTF

I really like my Zune, and I'm glad that I can now buy TV shows if I want to, but come on...$144 for a single season? The shows are already slightly more expensive than they are on iTunes ($2.00 instead of $1.99), but season passes on iTunes are a wee bit more realistic. Most are in the sub-$40 range.

May 3, 2008


While I was in my training track today, my granddaughter Alex was hit by a car while she was crossing I-10 around here to head home.

She's currently in the trauma ward at Texas Medical Center in Houston.

Beyond that, I have no information. I'll try to keep you posted.

Update: She was jaywalking across the frontage road while talking on her cellphone. She has a fractured pelvis, possible spinal and head injuries, and keeps drifting in and out of consciousness. To top it all off, she isn't insured. Still trying to get more information.

Update 2: She's supposed to go home today. No spinal or head injuries, just a broken pelvis and a quiet sense of gratitude for having been skipped by Darwinian selection.

Eight Days of Exhaustion

I am sure that everyone has had one of those weeks where even though nearly everything has gone wonderfully, you still want the week to be over. This is one of these weeks.

Note: I will update this post later with relevant hyperlinks. (Update: Updated and typo fixed.)

I am currently sitting in the Addison Conference and Theater Center for Dallas TechFest 2008. I had to leave at 6:15am to get here, and since the only wireless available to me is unsecured pay service, I'm typing this on my BlackBerry for lack of anything better to do.

A week ago today, I was lucky enough to get to see a live riffing by the crew at Cinematic Titanic of their next movie riff, the Roger Corman "classic" known as "The Wasp Woman.". (You can see this over at do you really want to?)

I have spent the last week poring over nearly 100,000 data records to try to find an integrity issue with our numbers, putting out fires at work, and overall just working myself a lot harder than normal...and now I am here so I can learn more stuff so that I can do more work.

Let nobody tell you that coders make sense. At least I am investing some time in my future. I know many coders who don't...or even worse, won't.

Anyway, I'm going to be posting a bit over at some other blogs in the near future. Currently finishing up a post called "There are no theists in QA.". Guess what the topic is?