So Long, And Thanks For All the Laughs

Today is the last day at my job.  This is usually a cause for celebration, but in this case I’m not one hundred percent sure that I will be going into a better situation next week.

On paper, everything sounds better: a chance to start over in my preferred field, more money, and the opportunity to work with some good people I worked with in the past.

As much as I like to harp on the fact that I have never worked in a workplace where software development was done “the right way,” I am just as much to blame for my atrophied skills.  While I have dabbled in programming after-hours here and there, I never really dived into it as much as I probably should have.

Despite years of programming experience, I will be starting my job next week as an entry-level programmer.  In fact, the possibility exists that I might be reporting to some of the guys I was ‘above’ in the past.  That doesn’t bother me much; it could be argued I have been starting over every few years with each new job that I’ve jumped to.

My experience has always been that people who say “money doesn’t matter” either have more than enough of it or not enough.  I’ve been in both situations, and while I won’t be making quite as much as I did last year, the ends will have an easier time meeting now.

The company I will be working for is a subsidiary of one I used to work for (and absolutely hated). Both companies share the same office space, so I will see some of folks that I used to work with in the past.  I’m looking forward to that, but on the flipside, some of the folks that I didn’t get along with are still there too.  I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

What sucks is that the only bad thing about the job I’m leaving was the job itself The temporary thing sucked too, but I can’t begrudge them for that.  I leave behind the best boss I have EVER worked for, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve had a bunch of crappy ones in the past.  Unlike the taskmasters, micromanagers and bullies I’ve dealt with, Susanne sees the human side more than anyone that I have ever worked for.  That sounds like an odd thing to say, but trust me, there are too many managers out there that see everything (including people) as numbers and nothing else.  Frankly, I’d rather be “that guy that brings in cookies every so often” than Employee #867640-2.

My co-workers are a bag of mixed nuts which is a very good thing.  Too often, people get ‘assimilated’ into their workplace to the point where they start to act alike, turning the workplace  into a weird cross of 1984 and The Stepford Wives.  I try to buck the trend wherever I go.  Its not like I can stop being me for 40 hours a week, or even want to.  The workplace I am leaving has a great bunch of folks that aren’t afraid to be themselves and a boss that lets them do just that.  As crazy as it sounds, they are real people and I will miss them dearly.

Best of luck to all y’all.

It was fun.

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RANDOM REACTION: Nintendo 3DS Unboxing

11:00 AM

Well, its finally here, and I’ve got mine. I picked up my Aqua Blue Nintendo 3DS this morning from Gamestop and then drove on over to Toys R Us to buy Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ridge Racer 3D.  I was able to knock $50 off the price of the system by trading in my DS Lite at Gamestop, and Toys R Us was running a “buy one get one 50% off” deal so I picked up Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition and Ridge Racer 3D.  Thus, the blow to my wallet was softened a bit.  I also stopped at Best Buy to check out memory card prices, and they had units available as of 1030 AM, so perhaps we won’t see any of the shortages that plagued the Wii…yet.

Unboxed DS
Its a box!

The first thing I noticed about the Nintendo 3DS was that the box seemed to have a little bit of weight to it.  I was a little worried; one of the big things that I appreciated about the DS Lite and DSi were their extreme portability.  When you are done, you fold it up, stick it in your pocket and be on your merry way.  I hoped the 3DS wouldn’t be pulling off my shorts as it cruised along in my pocket.

Upon opening the box, I soon realized why it was so heavy.  For some time now, Nintendo has included English, Spanish, and French instructions in their games. This probably saves them on manufacturing costs, because they can sell the same box in the USA, Mexico or Canada.  That’s great for them, but it means that their games arrive with manuals that are three times as thick.  The trend has continued with the 3DS, there are three copies of a “StreetPass Mii Plaza” pamphlet, three copies of the “Quick Start Guide” and to top it off, a ‘Operations Manual” that’s 328-pages thick.  I guess the Big N won’t be getting any awards from Greenpeace anytime soon.  Not that they have before or anything. The box also contained a registration card, a Nintendo Power subscription offer and a pack of “AR Cards.”

3DS Documentation
That's a LOT of paper!

Now it was time for the good stuff.  Inside the box was the 3DS itself, an AC charger, and a charge cradle. The system has a glossy finish, similar to the DS Lite, but with a more metallic look to it.  All of the exterior casing has the aqua blue color.  Upon opening it up, I saw the bottom section was also aqua blue, but the top screen had a black background.  To the left of the touchscreen on the bottom were the Circle Pad and a standard cross-pad, and to the right were the standard A-B-X-Y buttons and a power button.

I found the charge cradle curious at first, because it had a plug for the AC charger, but there was nothing to plug into the 3DS or any connectors that I could discern, just a switch that would be depressed when the system was placed onto it.  I pressed the switch and nearby two connectors peeked out.  I looked at the back of the 3DS and saw two contact points next to the charger connection where the connectors would meet.  Clever.  I noticed that the 3DS charger looked very similar to my DSi charger and it turns out that they are exactly the same.  Same color, model number, voltages and everything.

3DS, charge cradle and AC adapter
The Hardware

The 3DS is about the same size as a DSi, is just a bit thicker, and feels just a tad lighter, too:

DSi vs 3DS
I AM YOUR FATHER!

Having heard about he 3DS’ less than stellar battery life, I figured I’d let it soak up a full charge before getting my 3D game on.  I left the 3DS on its charger before leaving to attend to some geeky business.

3:30PM

Upon returning from the geek gathering, I was pleased to find the 3DS’ charge light was off, it was time to fire it up and play some games set up my wireless connection.  As much as I wanted to get my 3D racing and fighing on, I figured I’d go through the motions and set it up to connect to my wireless router.  The first thing I noticed upon turning on the 3DS was that it took a few seconds to start up.  I don’t know if this was a one-time thing or not but it took long enough to be noticeably different from the nearly ‘instant-on’ behavior I was accustomed to on the DSi.  UPDATE: It takes a few seconds every time.

I then went through the setup, it was fairly straightforward though I found it interesting that I had to select a ‘region’ (in this case, Texas) in addition to the country.  Another addition was a little helper character that appeared in the bottom center of the screen, consisting of two rectangles stacked atop each other, with the one of top being bigger and having a smiley face on it.  Tapping the character made some help text appear on the screen which seemed like a nice touch.  Nintendo seems be focusing more on the online aspect this time around, hopefully it proves to be less of a pain in the neck than the Wii’s online.

I spent a bit of time fiddling around with the 3DS’ built in apps, which include Nintendo 3DS Camera, Nintendo 3DS Sound, Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, AR Games, and Face Raiders.  I’ll have more on the system as a whole in a few days, but so far its looking pretty cool!

Five Reasons I Think The Nintendo 3DS Will Succeed

Following a successful launch in its native Japan, the Nintendo 3DS will drop into American gamers’ hands this weekend.  I think it will be as equally successful on this side of the Pacific for the reasons below.  I don’t claim to be an analyst, own a crystal ball or have my future self sending me cryptic hints, this is just one player’s opinion.  Admittedly, I have a vested interest in the success of the 3DS, as I will be getting one myself this weekend, so take that for what its worth.

Its not just about the 3D: The Nintendo DS is seven years old, and in terms of its polygon pushing abilities, it was almost dated from day one.  It certainly lacked the graphical oomph of the Playstation Portable and succeeded partially due to the unique games that its touchscreen made possible.  While the third dimension is the hook to get people to buy the 3DS, the biggest improvement will be found in the system’s improved graphical punch.

The 3D Is Nice, though: Nintendo got everyone’s attention at last year’s E3 with just two words: “No glasses.”  While the Big N is routinely panned for being behind the curve in the graphical arms race, the cutting edge display of the 3DS does work as advertised.  While its launch line up does appear to be lacking, the 3DS’ “killer app” is the 3D itself.  At SXSW a few weeks ago, I was not surprised to see fellow attendees being very impressed with the unit’s capabilities at the Capcom booth.

3D is the “Big Thing” right now- Like it or not, 3D is currently very popular, partially thanks to the wave  of 3D movies in theaters.  While folks are willing to shell out a few bucks more to see a movie in 3D, they are less willing to shell out big cash for a 3D TV set and glasses.  While the 3DS’ price point does seem high, it is in the right neighborhood for a new hardware platform and I’d wager that gamers will be willing to pay for the privilege of playing games in 3D.

Enough about 3D, How About Games Players Want: One reason we don’t see many shooters, racing games or 3rd-person action games on the Nintendo DS is that the system just doesn’t have the horsepower to handle them very well.  The 3DS, on the other hand, is powerful enough for action games such as Super Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell to be produced for it.  Whether hardcore gamers are willing to give Nintendo yet another chance remains to be seen, but at least this time around, a Nintendo system has the ability to play core games, unlike its underpowered predecessor.

Its Not Just About Games, though: In addition to games, Nintendo has announced that Netflix Instant Watch will be available on the system as well as a ‘short form video service’ that will allow the viewing of 3-D movie trailers and other content.  In addition, an eShop should be coming this summer for classic game purchases and exclusive 3DS games.  The 3DS will also (finally) feature MP3 support in its Sound application.  While none of the above is reason alone to buy a 3DS, they are nice little extras to have and enable users to get more use out of their system.

So, there you have it.  I am sure there are just as many reasons for the 3DS to fail, but I think Nintendo will be able to pull off a successful launch.  Following that, we should see some big games drop for the system by the end of the year to maintain interest and reel new players in.  I should be posting a review of the system and/or whatever game(s) I decide to buy here sometime next week, so stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Agree? Disagree?  E-mail Eduardo “randomizer9” Soliz at edsoliz@gmail.com

The author received no compensation for this post.

Steam-Punks

UPDATE: Dress-up is not required, so come one and all!

When I first heard about the upcoming San Antonio Steampunk convention Ætherfest a few weeks ago, I was excited.  I noticed that Steampunk had been gaining a larger and larger presence at anime conventions, and it was good to see that they were going to try their own thing.  Having more geek conventions in San Antonio is also a Good Thing and I was looking forward to supporting these guys and learning more about what the whole Steampunk scene was about.  Thus, I went to the Ætherfest webpage to read up on it.  It featured the usual parade of guests, events, and dealers, and everything appeared to be business as usual until I got to the FAQ, which included this little tidbit of info at the bottom of the page:

 

I have to dress up, don't I?
Appropriately enough, this made me steamed

After reading that, I don’t feel like attending Ætherfest anymore.  The paragraph above does not make me feel welcome as a guest.  One of the points of a convention is to get folks that aren’t into your particular flavor of geekdom to see what it is all about in the hopes that they embrace it, or at least understand what its really about.  Telling people that they might not be welcome because they aren’t dressed up is sending the wrong kind of message to your potential attendees.  Yes, it does say: “we’ll try our best not to look peeved,” but that isn’t entirely reassuring.  Indeed, the thought of spending a day being looked down upon by a bunch of self-important nerds in costumes and opera glasses is not my idea of a fun time.

If this message was intended to be delivered “in character” then okay, fine, I get the joke.  That said, lots of other people will not, and when you’re starting a new convention, you don’t want to give people a reason not to attend.  Admittedly, I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I hope somebody sees the point I’m trying to make.

If Ætherfest is supposed to only be for hardcore Steampunk fans (steam-core? steam-elite?), then okay fine, do what you like.  If, on the other hand, you are looking to get as many people to show up as possible and grow your fanbase, then this is not the way to do it.

Come on guys, we’re better than this!

UPDATE: Apparently some of the Aetherfest folks read the post.  They agreed that their wording does come off as a tad ‘elitist’ but their intention was to poke fun at other cons where dress up is required, which is what I had guessed.  They have posted the following disclaimer on their homepage and look forward to seeing everybody there for a jolly good time!

Well played, fellows!

Five Things I Learned From My DSL Debacle

So after the smoke cleared, I got my DSL turned on and AT&T got another customer…well for now, anyway.  It only took a trip to AT&T’s website, 2 customer service reps, one angry tweet, 3 techs, two social media team people, three executive escalation people, about a dozen voice mails, about twice that many phone calls, and seven days.

For my trouble, I’m getting my first month of service free, which I think is fair enough.  I’m just happy that the switch got flipped, and hopefully things will be hunky dory from here on out.  I also learned a few things:

  1. Just use the phone already! I should have just called back the next morning, despite the terrible experience I’d had with the first CSR.  Its just quicker, especially considering..
  2. “The Power of Social Media” is worthless if the people answering the tweets don’t have the power to DO anything. Awhile back, a friend of mine had a problem with Netflix that he tweeted about.  Someone from the company got in touch with him fairly quickly and got the issue resolved.  Thus, when I got a response from AT&T’s social media people, I got excited that someone was going to get something DONE about my problem.  Sadly, the only thing the social media mavens that answered my angry AT&T tweets did was tell me to wait for a phone call that would come at some indeterminate time.  Of course, once I got past the social media d00dz, I found out:
  3. Just because they’re “executive escalation” doesn’t mean they want to talk to you. I don’t think I’ve ever played as much phone tag as I did with the executive escalation gal. Part of it was because of my job, which entails answering phones, and part of it was because of the phone system at AT&T, which did not put me through to the person directly.  Whenever I had time to speak, I had to leave a message and hope that she called me back before I got busy again.  This is hardly efficient, especially considering that…
  4. Competence is not “expected behavior” This was not the first time I had ordered DSL service from AT&T.  I had expected the positive experience I’d had before to be repeated.  Sadly, this was not the case; the smart people I’d spoken to years ago have probably either been laid off or hopefully, moved on to bigger or better things.  As for me:
  5. I may just be too patient.  I probably should have thrown in the towel after the social media dweebs told me to wait 48 “business hours” for a phone call but I was desperate to get back on the intertubes and I wanted to see this whole thing through.

So I now have sweet, sweet, internet and life is good.

Aww, crap…

GAME OVER. Press Start To Begin!

Evening of Monday March 8, 2011.

I left a message with the Executive service person in the morning letting her know that I’d had enough and was going to cancel my order.  We still had plenty of folks out sick, so work soon began in earnest.  Oddly enough, I got a call from a AT&T tech during my morning break.  After asking me if I had my own modem plugged into the phone jack (being repeatedly asked that question was another annoyance) he was going to get everything set up outside.  I reluctantly agreed.  After all, I had nothing to lose, and I wasn’t exactly clamoring to deal with Time Warner Cable.

I had to make a trip to the bank during lunch, but before I took off, I left another message with the Executive gal letting her know that I was going to give it one last shot before packing it in.  The morning had been busy and I was feeling a little frazzled, so I drove the few miles to the bank with the windows open and the radio on.  Arriving at the bank, I discovered that Executive gal had called while I was on the road.  I didn’t feel like leaving another message so I left the phone in the car while I went to take care of my business and have some lunch.  Of course, during that time, she had called again.

We played phone tag for the remainder of the afternoon.  I don’t know if it was the long day I was having or the constant stream of apologies that got thrown my way, but I did not want to talk with her.  I had planned on leaving early to see if my connection was working, I had just enough time to get home, check the modem and leave a final message with Executive gal.  That plan got shot to heck as I ended up getting stuck on two consecutive long calls with two irritating customers. It was past my usual time to go home and I was pretty beat.  The trip home was longer than usual, thanks to an accident that had occurred less than a block away from my apartment which totally hosed things up.

Being stuck in traffic is one thing, but being stuck in traffic just a few blocks away from home is maddening.

I was all but ready to collapse into bed for a quick nap.  Before doing so, I half-heartedly checked the modem again.  This time, I was greeted with four solid green lights and a fifth one that was blinking green.  They finally freaking did it.

HALLELUJAH!

I hastily plugged in my laptop, opened up Firefox and saw an AT&T error page.  Aww.

The error page provided me with a number to call.  I hesitated for a pretty good while before picking up my cell phone, steeling myself for another craptacular experience like the one I’d had just a week earlier.  The prize was finally within reach, I hoped that I didn’t get the same idiots that I had spoken with the week prior.  I didn’t.  Instead, I got a gentleman from India, who called himself “Ed.”  Go figure that one out.

As an aside, I’ve always wondered:  do those folks pick names out of a hat before signing in to their phones?  I just picture a bunch of people in India sitting at their desks practicing their new names before work begins.  “Ed” got lucky, I remember speaking with a less-than-convincing “Gladys” some time ago.

Moving on, I let “other Ed” walk me through the process, and except for one  hiccup that was my fault he got me on the tubes and I was now a happy geek:

Not bad at all!

I plan on calling Executive Girl in the morning to let her know that everything got done and that I would be hanging around with AT&T for awhile.  For all the aggrivation, I will be getting a free month out of the deal and look forward to being “always on” again.  I’ll probably do one last wrap-up post after this, but for now I will bask in the glow of the sweet sweet internets.  Thanks for pulling it off in the end, AT&T!!