Friday, December 4, 2009


My friend and neighbor died today. Cancer. He was the father of my son's best friend. From playing ball with his kids in the yard to dead in 4 months.

Today sucks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Rise & Fall of the Lich King

I have been a long time fan of the Warcraft universe. When I finally caved in to the pay-to-play world of MMOs there was little doubt what game I would be playing. I fell in love with the game from day one. The world was immense, in my eyes. I remember my first time logging in to the game clear as day. I spawned an Orc. He was awesome. I killed boars. They were awesome. The landscape, the other players, the tasks assigned to me – all of it amazing. My buddy Ben and I climbed a mountain, jumped into the ocean on the other side and got eaten by alligators. We had no clue what was going on, but we laughed our collective ass off.

Throughout my time in WoW there were images like this. My first visits to Orgrimmar, the Crossroads, Thunder Bluff, Booty Bay, Stratholme, Black Rock Mountain, Ragnaros, Nefarian. These are all very vivid and very positive memories for me.

Then… Outland.

After a couple years of amazing game play in one of the greatest worlds ever created we couldn’t wait for the expansion. Burning Crusade offered so much more opportunity for us as a Guild. A new world awaited us with new bosses, quests, gear, and thousands of hours of dorky goodness to consume our free time. That’s not quite how it worked out, however.

The beauty of the original World of Warcraft was this continuity to how the world worked. Each quest line was designed to help you experience the environment. A led to B led to C, D, E, and F – many of these with new paths of their own. Every zone was interesting and served as a backdrop for the gradual growth of your character. It was a masterpiece. By comparison Outland was a muddled mess.

Maybe Outland suffered from expectations, or development timelines, or the leveling-as-a-science approach many players had adopted by the time of its release. There is probably no way to tell where this failure occurred, but the expansion was clearly not born of the same blood of the original game. Quests were contrived and zones were crowded. Everything was laid out in a way that leveling felt mechanical rather than organic.

It was synthetic.

I guess that’s what I should expect from a computer generated world, but I have seen immersive environments, both before and after WoW, and Outland totally missed the mark. It should have been bigger. It shouldn’t have ridden such a sharp tangent so far from the original lore. It should not have disrespected the history that we went to great lengths to experience to its fullest.

So this week the “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion came out. On the walk between my car and my office this morning I found myself considering the ramifications of reopening my account. The notion didn’t last very long, but I felt an affirmation that my time in the original game could not have been wasted if – even after the pains of the Burning Crusade – the allure of Azeroth was so strong.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Road to Hell is I-91

Along with the new job comes a new commute. I figured that a change from my back road journey to and from Avon, CT would be an improvement - especially considering Windsor is a straight shot up I-91 from my house. Net improvement on a clear traffic day is about 50%.

...on a clear traffic day.

When I was growing up in West Hartford it was well know that the transition from I-84 to I-91 was an abomination. You had to exit the highway, drive a few blocks through Hartford, then get back on the highway. All this was engineered to compel people to drive past the local department store. Back in the 1990s the state committed to improving the situation. Unfortunately "improve" is subjective.

So the new interchange has I-91 South through Hartford narrowing to 2 lanes from 4, not counting the HOV lane. The spare lanes on the right are dedicated to "exit only" traffic. The left hand lane for through traffic is bombarded by a merge from the HOV lane and is shared by people transitioning to I-84 East leaving essentially one lane dedicated to through traffic.

North of that debacle there are various engineering atrocities that cause massive backups from poorly designed merges and off ramps. Add the amazing stupidity of typical Connecticut drivers and the result can be easily anticipated.

But wait! There's more!

Whom ever is responsible for assigning state troopers to traffic stops in the area north of Hartford is a moron. And trust me when I tell you that is a compliment considering the evidence against them.

Hartford is a suburban city. Most of us live outside the city and many work outside the city which means A) traffic flow is not easily predicted and B) we don’t generally car pool. It's not that we don't like each other, it's just that most of us don’t live near people we work with. Driving 20 minutes out of your way to sort of defeats the purpose of car pooling in the first place.

What this means is that the HOV lane is useless. The cost/benefit is amazingly top heavy and it remains mostly empty. Unless there is a back up and people with a high risk tolerance try to make a solo run hoping to avoid any troopers. The troops are oh so smart and naturally caught on to this trick so they started putting traps in place to nab these nefarious commuters. Keeping in mind that Connecticut drivers are idiots, I am sure you can see how the shiny bumpers of a police car draws their attention to the extent that they are compelled to slam on their fucking brakes. The end result is that the cops are causing the sole motivation for people to "cheat" in the HOV lane. The bonus is the massive cost in time, gas, and money for the rest of us.

So the answer to all this is pretty easy: eliminate the HOV lane and the median providing 2 additional lanes for traffic. Convert one of those lanes to a dedicated I-84 East exit leaving 3 lanes for through and local traffic. All of this could be accomplished with some paint and one new onramp.

Can someone please tell me why this is all so damn difficult?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Different Kind of Busy

So for some reasons the planets aligned and a couple friends of mine got new jobs right around the same time I did. Oddly enough their old jobs were in agencies doing interactive work as well. Ben and I were in our old positions a while - 6.5 and 8 years, respectively, so we were problably due for a move. Myles had a pretty good gig for a couple years and just happened upon a good situation for him.

The net of all these moves is pretty much the same. We are all getting away from the emotionally draining business of agency work and moving to areas which best suit our capabilities. I run a group responsible for database work in financial systems, which matches my pre-agency work history. Ben is focusing on some pretty cool social networking stuff in flash. Myles is going to be reworking the foundation of a web-based business application for a company that does something really cool in the medical field, but in all honesty I really don't understand it - which is pretty much exactly how my wife feels when I get home and start talking about investment accounting.

When you first leave agency life it's hard not to smile a little when someone says your new company is "a dynamic workplace with constantly changing priorities." Corporate America's got nothing on agencies when it comes to the brutality of true chaos. No planning. No organization. No proper product spec. Nothing of the kind exists in the world of Interactive Media. Like I have said previously, you're job is to just figure out how to get things done in a place where the company mantra is that it's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission - and easier to do it if you're easy on the eyes, which is why so many attractive women work in the ad business. :)

So what of our new homes? Well we're busy. Very busy. I can see why they insisted on making it clear to me during the hiring process that they lived in constant chaos and turmoil. The truth of the matter, however, is somewhat different. The work is draining, for sure. But its mentally draining as opposed to emotionally draining. The problems we solve are bigger. They require more overall thought with regards to their internal workings and their ramifications. The data I deal with is legacy in a lot of ways so there is history to consider as well. Ben has to consider compatibility and different API support. Myles has to deal with code written by developers 750 miles away in Florida. All of us have "big picture" concerns that didn’t exist for us a couple months ago.

All of this is a big change for us. Our old jobs were usually small from a technical standpoint but high in level of detail. We are used to gigantic stress parties about seemingly irrelevant details. My first meeting at my old company was a heated 90 minute affair with 6 people discussing whether or not to use "family" or "families" on the company Christmas card. The slightest pixel shift between page loads on a website would bring the release process to a screeching halt. Everything mattered. That’s why people paid so much for the work we did.

Oh, and by the way. The client has advertising dropping in the morning so she needs it by End of Day.

Emotionally draining.

So we are adapting. We all seem much happier. At least more jazzed about what we do which is a good place to be. Solving larger or at least deeper problems makes for a greater feeling of accomplishment on the ride home. We're tired, but a different kind of tired. A better kind of tired.

At least for now ;)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I think the greatest way to piss off your coworkers is to cook bacon in the company microwave.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Juggling Chainsaws

When I first started in business I faced the typical catch-22: Can't get a job without experience. Can't get experience without a job. Though some sick and twisted fuck up in the space-time continuum I seem to find myself in a very similar situation once again.

I consider what I do to be somewhat specialized. I work as a web development manager in a small corner of a fairly strong advertising and communications firm. I got here more or less when this line of work began for the company and my role has evolved over the last several years from "the only tech guy we have" to "the guy who manages the only tech guys we have". I am fine with that for the most part. However there are certain operational truths to how we manage our day - all of which have contributed to this dust speck on the wisp of the long tail.

We make web software here. A lot of it. It's mostly Shadow IT stuff put in place by rogue corporate groups intent on toppling the Ivory Towers of strategic planners through the use of heretical notions of efficiency and achievement. We solve problems in days that our corporate counterparts project will take weeks or months. We diligently abide by the 80/20 Rule to ensure we deliver - on time, on budget, solutions that perform as advertised. Our methods are adaptive (Agile, Scrum) rather than predictive (monolithic SDLC/CMM/BDUF) allowing twice the productivity in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the staff.

Lately I have started to receive inquiries about other employment. Here is where this little post finally gets to the point. The vast majority of the position in discussion centered on what I would consider "normal" IT operations. to put it simply, none of these companies feel I have enough "enterprise experience" to fill their needs.

Excuse me... Enterprise experience?

The use of this as justification for ending our employment discussions suggests 2 possible lines of thinking:

1. They feel that process outweighs productivity - a notion that I am convinced has led to ballooning healthcare costs (sit for a day in an insurance company to find out more).

2) They feel that somehow what they do is more difficult than what I do.

Either way, it's their grave. I am not the be-all-to-end-all, but people like me get things done. It's troubling that 17 years into my career that I face these same sort of catch-22's.

** Note:
I actually wrote this a couple weeks ago and never published. Turns out I was able to find a new position with a company in need of exactly the type of skills I provide. My faith in corporate America is restored.

...for now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Grand Theft Console

As evidenced by my previous post, I have kids. Three were present at last roll call so I'm going to stick with that number for the sake of brevity.

I feel my kids pretty are well adjusted considering the deluge of craptastic advertising in the media around the holidays. They are happy with what they have, they don't nag us for stupid things, and they have a sense of economy when it comes to presents and toys. It's nice to be able to say "I don't have that kind of money to spend on a toy" and have your 7 year old understand it. This is good, because I'm pretty much a cheapskate when it comes to nonessential spending. I'm the guy who buys last years model of just about everything, with the notable exception of food.

All that being said, we do sometimes like to splurge and pick up family gifts that all of the kids can enjoy. We bought a Gamecube from a friend a couple years ago and we got a Playstation 2 after it was found collecting dust in the bottom of my WoW-addicted brother in law's closet. We usually buy older games for them, or newer ones with gift cards, but the kids have plenty to play with and enjoy both of the systems.

This year my wife and I were discussing moving to a new system. With all of the major systems out for about a year we figured they price should be palatable, right?

Um, no.

XBox 360 is $279 for the low end version. The full system is around $400.

PS3 40gb version is $400. 80gb for -- dead serious -- $500.

Wii is the "consumer friendly" price of $250 for the base system. Any of the bundles will run you $380-ish.

Seriously... WTF? Who has the kind of money to piss away on this stuff? Add $60 bucks for the hacked-together-30-day-shelf-life-ADD-fodder-du-jour, $50 a year to go online and help set intelligent discourse back a decade, and countless dollars on memory cards, controllers, etc, and the net would cover the cost of my daily commute for the next couple of years. Which is an important juxtaposition, because the same dumb fucks buying this crap for their kids are the ones who are seen on the morning news "appalled" about the cost of gas.

My kids will enjoying Scrabble this season, thanks.