July, 2003

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“Nowhere special”…

Thursday, July 31st, 2003

… is where I went for a ten-day vacation a couple weeks ago. To me Montréal is nowhere special since I’ve been there so many times as many of my relatives (and now, my parents) live there. However my friend Ana (from Puerto Rico) came to visit and apparently it was the first time anyone in her immediate family had ever set foot in Canada. I gave her as thorough a tour of Montréal and Québec City as her few days there would allow.

Here’s a photo of the two of us, with Québec City’s famous Chateau de Frontenac behind us. Can you guess what’s wrong with this picture? (Hint: we had no help and no tripod.)

[Ana and I in front of Chateau de Frontenac]

Neither here nor There

Thursday, July 31st, 2003

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in the public beta of There, a piece of software that allows you to enter a virtual 3D world somewhat along the lines of “massive multi-user games” such as EverQuest and Ultima Online. Unlike those games, There is more about participating in group activities and interacting with other people. I remember almost ten years ago IBM pioneered the same kind of thing with their Virtual World software though not much became of it at the time.

The idea of living an alternate existence within a virtual reality has long held some appeal and fascination with me, and from what I’ve seen There is quite interesting in the way it allows you to personalize your character (“avatar”) in appearance, clothing, even vehicles and pets. And they seem to hold a number of frequent virtual events such as gatherings, parties, and other group events.

As promising as it may sound my experience was somewhat more mixed. First of all, I inadvertently created a female avatar. If this were, say, some fantasy role-playing game such as Neverwinter Nights this wouldn’t be a problem at all, as I don’t have any quibbles about playing characters of different genders or species in such an environment. But in There I think your avatar is supposed to be somewhat more representative and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent myself in that way—especially since one aspect of There is to meet people one might want to meet in real life.

Anyway, much to my annoyance it’s not possible to re-make my avatar, and furthermore I can’t create a new avatar since the public beta requires that I sign on with a specific E-mail address, and that address is bound to an account that allows me only one avatar. As a result, since my initial foray into There a couple weeks ago I haven’t been back. I tried to log on last night but after discovering these limitations and running into server problems I got fed up and uninstalled the software.

Long story short, to date I’ve found that my real life—as humdrum or mundane as it may be at times—keeps me busy and interested enough that I barely have enough time for my one real life, much less an alternate, virtual one.

100% effective

Sunday, July 13th, 2003

I had always figured that given the extensible nature of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser that it should be possible to create a plug-in for it that can block all pop-up and pop-under ads, without resorting to clumsy schemes using proxy servers or window detection.

With the advent of the new Google Toolbar 2.0 I was delighted to see that someone had finally made such a thing: to date, its popup-blocking option has been totally effective at blocking every single and pop-up and pop-under ad. The only limitation is that it’s unable to automatically allow certain “legitimate” pop-ups, but overall I think the effectiveness and predictability of the pop-up blocker more than makes up for the effort of manually disabling it when needed.

The toolbar itself is fairly useful, too.


Sunday, July 6th, 2003

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of my start date at NVIDIA and by extension, four years that I’ve lived in California. One implication—less significant than it used to be—is that very soon my original block of stock options will be fully vested—a point at which many people will move on to new jobs. Though the oft-used (referring to presidential re-election) phrase of “Four more years!” is probably something of a far cry for me, things have been going fairly well and I think I shall be staying a while longer…

When implementing recursive file-deletion algorithms…

Sunday, July 6th, 2003

… don’t forget to skip over directory names “.” and “..”. I omitted that little “detail” last night and ended up writing code that went berserk and tried—with a fair degree of speed and success—to delete virtually every file on my computer.

Luckily I had planned for such contingencies—my computer backs up all my files on a nightly basis—and was able to restore my files without much trouble. I had a scary moment when it looked like my program had wiped out the backup files as well, but through a combination of planning and luck (the directory that holds the backup files is actually a “junction” or “symbolic link” that points to a separate hard drive dedicated to holding backup files, and my program luckily did not understand how to recurse into it) the backup turned out to be intact.

That scare alone was enough to convince me that I need a removable backup solution—one that would allow me to, once a week, remove the backup medium and store it in a safe place, alternating or rotating between two or more such media. Until a few years ago I had always used backup drives that stored files on magnetic tape, but I’ve found that such drives are prohibitively expensive for casual users and their storage capacities haven’t kept up with that of hard drives. With that in mind I can state the requirements for a backup solution:

  • Low-cost (which precludes high-capacity tape drives);
  • Enough capacity for dozens of gigabytes (which excludes writeable CDs or DVDs);
  • Unattended, automated operation (which again excludes CDs/DVDs);
  • Very high transfer speed (which excludes network-based solutions).

At first it seems like I want to have my cake and eat it too, but I believe that the latest FireWire or USB2-attached hard drives will fit the bill.

Time to bring out the ol’ “leaf and stripes”

Tuesday, July 1st, 2003

[flag of Canada, eh?]

Happy Canada Day everyone!