The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 31, 2011

Random Thoughts: Year End Blowout Edition

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:46 pm

Second-to-last sunset of 2011.

Well, it’s just about time to put 2011 in the books and move onto 2012.  As tends to be the case with most of them, it’s certainly been an interesting year, and with the way things are going right now, I suspect that 2012 should prove equally interesting, albeit in completely different ways.  Then again, you can never truly tell what the future holds for you until you actually get around to living in it, so there’s really only one way to find out.  In the meantime, here’s a few random thoughts and loose ends to finish out 2011.

  • Two days before Christmas, our family got a somewhat unexpected surprise when my sister Jacki had her third son and my fifth nephew several weeks earlier than her expected due date.  Tyson John Keenan arrived into the world on December 23rd at roughly 10:30am, healthy and weighing 6 pounds 5 ounces.  Nonetheless, even giving birth two days beforehand wasn’t enough to deter my sister from attending our usual family Christmas get-together, where the above photo was taken of Tyson with his cousin Isla, born just about four months ago at the end of August.  With all the kids around these days and most of them being boys, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a quiet family get-together in our family anymore. 
  • Incidentally, I just spent a good 20 minutes digging through Facebook profiles to try to remember when Isla was born.  I suppose if I was a good uncle I’d actually remember this stuff…
  • As I’ve said in the past, I’ve never been big on the whole concept of New Year’s resolutions.  To me, the whole concept seems rather arbitrary.  Nonetheless, back at the beginning of the year I set a number of goals for things I’d like to do over the course of the then coming year, found in this post.  To be honest, I didn’t really get anywhere with any of these, although 2 of the three goals were things that, now that I go back and look at them, were pretty frivolous in the first place.  Granted, all three of the goals (write a PC game from scratch, build a supergun so I can play my collection of arcade boards, write something significant) are still things that I would like to do at some point, but aside from the writing, they’re pretty much things that I wouldn’t be too disappointed in myself if I ended up never getting them done. 
  • Speaking of writing, I think I’d still like to set a goal to do more of that in 2012, but I think I need to take a different approach to it.  For a number of years, I’ve had an idea or two for a novel in my head, but for some reason have never been able to develop it well enough to get much out of it.  I suspect that’s one of those things where I’m going to have to start small and work my way up to it.  Then again, sometimes these half-baked ideas may still be useful, but probably not at the scope I had originally envisioned.  Because of this, I would like to set a goal for myself to write a short story every month and post it here.  I have written a few of these here and there and posted them on the Blog (the most recent example being this one, written back in July)  but I’d like to do more of this.  Watch for more of these over the course of the next year.
  • In addition to this, I would really like to spend some more time writing about software testing (which is what I do for a living,) most likely in the form of a series of posts discussing some of the basics of testing and explaining how the process works.  Hopefully it’s the type of thing some people out there might find useful.
  • After months of putting up with the crummy office chair that I’ve been doing most of my Blogging from for the past several years, I finally got around to replacing it earlier this week.  I have actually been looking at new chairs for quite a while now, but quite frankly, I think for most people, the “perfect” office chair simply doesn’t exist, or at least it ends up being too expensive to bother with.  Even though I could probably afford one of the really nice ones like the dot-com bubble leftover I’ve got at my desk at work (a Herman Miller Mirra) it still seems like a lot of money to spend, even taking into account how much I would be using the thing.  In the end, I went with something that’s a little bit nicer than the gradually self-destructing Ikea chair I had before, but still tried not to spend a ton of money on it.  Chances are I’m just going to be replacing the thing in three years anyway, right?
  • Music stuck in my head recently:  Between the Humble Indie Bundles and the holiday sales over on Steam, lately I’ve been picking up a number of indie games and playing them on my PC.  One of my favorites this year has been Jamestown, a well-made 2D shoot-em-up based on a war between Britain and Spain in 15th century… on Mars (um, yeah… don’t expect much in the way of historical accuracy.)  Admittedly, 2D shooters are one of the few niche genres I tend to enjoy, but the orchestral soundtrack to this game is the part that stands out to me the most.  Perhaps the most notable song in the game is this, the Lost Temple of Croatoa Suite, the first part of which accompanies the game’s final level.  The rest of the soundtrack can be found here.
  • Somehow, I suspect that when I’m writing another one of these posts at the end of 2012, I’m going to find that there is quite a bit in my life that has changed significantly from where I am right now.  Of course, I can never really tell what the future is going to hold, but I do tend to think that things are (mostly) headed in the right direction. 
  • As usual, I should be putting up my annual statistical Overview post sometime tomorrow.  Overall, traffic is down a fair bit from last year, but still pretty reasonable.
  • Dear WordPress Spell Checker:  No, I did not misspell “from”, thank you very much for flagging it though.  Thanks, Brian.

Have a happy and safe New Year, and be sure to watch for more cool (or boring, depending on how motivated I’m feeling at the time) stuff here over the course of 2012.

December 24, 2011

The 2011 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Good Things Don’t Come to Those Who Wait

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:38 am

Well, you waited until the last minute to do your Christmas shopping again, didn’t you?  Most people would learn their lesson on that one after the first five or six times they ruined Christmas with their novelty shaped waffle irons and dubiously colored sweaters, but year after year, some people continue to convince themselves that if they do their Christmas shopping in a blind panic at 2pm on Christmas Eve enough times, eventually it’ll all work out.  Here’s a hint for you:  It doesn’t.  As we’ve all learned from sad and repeated experience, waiting for the last minute generally results in a lot of sitting around in traffic just trying to get to the stores in the first place (and over the past couple of weeks I’ve witnessed quite a few fun little traffic jams pointed in the direction of Bellevue Square, which makes me really glad I don’t have to sit around in any of them,) lots of waiting for parking spots when you get there, and lots of wading through crowds of people who just happened to make the same mistakes.  In short, you really should have done all this weeks ago.

But in spite of your predicament, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  Once again, it’s time for the sort-of-annual Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas gift guide, chock full of gift-giving ideas that you should most likely consider not having if you can possibly help it.  As usual, you’re responsible for whatever consequences arise  if for some reason you happen to actually give any of the items on this list as a gift. If you try to blame me I’ll just deny everything.  You’ve been properly warned.  That said, you’ll find the complete list after the jump. 

Previous Gift Guides and Other Holiday Posts:

(more…)

December 12, 2011

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Filed under: Holidays, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:35 am

Early last week, I found myself in one of the occasional vaguely scrambled mental states I manage to get into every once in a while, which resulted in one of my (very) occasional late-night trips to Denny’s to sort things out. As I’ve discussed previously, I can’t explain just why it is that I only ever seem to end up at Denny’s when my brain isn’t quite firing on all of its proverbial cylinders, but there’s a certain quiet and largely distraction-free solitude to a nearly deserted restaurant late at night that seems to be conducive to sorting out these types of mental states. Granted, this doesn’t really happen all that often, but apparently it happens often enough that I’m starting to recognize some of the people who frequent the place at that time of night, including some guy in one of the booths behind the counter who seems to be often engaged in phone conversations that are, even by my standards, incredibly nerdy. There’s also several of the waiters and waitresses who I’ve begun to recognize from multiple late-night visits. This seems to be a remnant of the culture that developed over the years (but has now largely vanished around here, although some holdouts still remain, largely unchanged) within the various greasy spoon diners, but it’s a culture that I doubt I could embrace, although I certainly don’t put myself above making the occasional visit.

As would be expected of most places around this time of year, the place was decorated for the Holidays, and the speaker system was quietly playing a variety of assorted Christmas tunes, mostly of the traditional variety. It’s one of those things that most of the time you’d hear in the background in some store or at some party and not give more than a passing thought to (although I’m sure just about anyone would notice the stuff if someone was playing it in the middle of April or something like that, but that’s beside the point.) And in my case, most of the time that’s pretty much how it works. In this case, perhaps it was the fact that I was sitting quietly at the counter waiting for an order of chicken strips, or perhaps I was just trying to find something for my brain to latch onto besides its own static, but for some reason I started actually listening to the stuff. And when I did this, pretty quickly the stuff all started sounding incredibly cheesy.

Coincidentally, it was just about this time that one of the nearby waitresses (one who definitely fits the diner waitress archetype, who you could easily picture calling for the cook to flop two over easy with a couple of zeppelins and a moo juice at some place out on the side of Highway 23) was clearing off a table behind me, and made an offhand comment to nobody in particular that, to paraphrase a bit, she’d have to shoot herself in the head if she had to listen to this stuff for another month. This resulted in a brief conversation on the subject in which I largely agreed with the assertion (minus the shooting in the head part of course) and noted that if I had to listen to the same twenty syrupy Holiday songs on continuous loop for a month, I’d probably have to consider a similar course of action. Granted, the fact that I don’t have to listen to the same twenty songs on a continuous loop for a month does tend to mean that I probably have a bit more tolerance than that, but when you think about it, we’re long overdue for some new “classic” Christmas songs.

I mean this with no offense intended to the Bing Crosbys and Burl Ives of the world (or at least their estates and the presumably generous royalty checks they continue to get around this time each year,) but there’s only so many times you can hear Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Happy Holidays or any of the other vaguely generic holiday songs that seem to inhabit many a tinny overhead speaker in the grocery store around this time of the year before the whole thing just starts sounding incredibly cheesy. I mean, exactly when was it decided that the theme to the Charlie Brown cartoons counts as Christmas music? Sure, there’s the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special that shows up around this time of year, but there’s at least another 50 Charlie Brown TV specials that have been produced over the years (only a handful of which are Christmas-related,) making the connection tenuous at best. For that matter, you can count most of the stuff from the various “classic” Christmas specials to be thoroughly overplayed with the other Holiday stuff. Frosty the Snowman may be a perfectly fine song when you’re playing it in a Rankin-Bass special, but when you take that same song and insert into the background of a department store selling rather expensive clothing, it tends to feel a little bit out-of-place.

Again, I don’t have anything against the playing of Christmas or other Holiday music around this time of year (in fact, there’s quite a bit of it that I like, although most of that tends to be the more overtly religious stuff that might tend to be just a bit too politically incorrect for most public places), but I’m thinking it’s about time we as a society start seriously thinking about making some new “classic” Christmas music. It’s not like we need to make a big production out of it or anything, just come up with a few interchangeable baritones to do the lead vocals, put together a breathy chorus or two for backing vocals, add in a decent sized jazz band to fill in the instrumentals, and you’ve pretty much got all the ingredients. Throw together some bouncy lyrics about snowflakes, sledding, cozy fires, presents and falling in love (possibly even all at once,) and before you know it you’ll have some stuff that’ll find a place on grocery store PA systems and easy-listening radio stations for at least a good 50 years. Sure, there’s still plenty of established performers and bands out there cranking out a Holiday album or two on the side when they happen to need an extra swimming pool for Christmas, but most of that stuff seems to be surprisingly forgettable, and you hardly hear any of the “new” stuff that’s more than a year or two old. I suspect most of it will probably be finding its way to the Dustbin of Christmas Past long before we stop hearing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being played unironically in public places.

Sure, even if we do manage to replace all the old and overplayed stuff with completely new and inevitably soon-to-be overplayed stuff, eventually we’ll be right back to the original problem of annoying the heck out of waitresses in all-night diners. At least by the time that happens, it’ll all be someone else’s problem to deal with, right?

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