Please wait while Windows calculates how it can suck even more.

The Ultimate in SuckIt should come as no surprise to anyone that I lasted about a nanosecond before I broke down and bought a new computer (cat does not come standard). (Actually, cat does not come, period). It’s way more computer than I need — it’s way more computer than most shuttle launches need — and it was way too expensive, but somehow those facts don’t make it any less awesome. Just looking at it, I get a tingling in my extremity.

Keeping up the theme of needless excess, I bought a copy of Windows Vista to install on it. Mac OS X, Vista under Boot Camp, with a Parallels installation to get access without rebooting — it was going to be sheer operating system perfection. Remember that this was before I knew I was going to be working full time at a videogame company, back when I was actually going to have the time and desire to play videogames.

The thing about Vista is that it kinda sucks. I kept hearing how it was supposedly a rip-off of OS X, but I don’t really see it. It’s more like if Donald Trump got a hold of Windows XP. “We’re gonna make it very classy. Get a load of those transparent window borders and tell me that doesn’t make for the finest computing experience there is.”

Back when I was working on an Xbox game, the joke was that Microsoft kept demanding more flair: gameplay was secondary; what mattered was just cramming as many visual effects as you could into the game. It looks like Microsoft extended that same philosophy to their new OS. The fact that you can’t even tell which is the active window is irrelevant; it’s far more important that it looks like glass!

Normally I wouldn’t bitch about gratuitous visual effects; OS X basically pioneered that field (and I still spend minutes dropping widgets onto the dashboard just to see the ripple effect). But even when they’re not actually getting in the way of UI usability — like the active window thing — they’re really all that’s apparent to the user in the upgrade. It just feels like you’ve broken compatibility with most of your existing apps just for the sake of a billion new notification messages and windows that you can see through.

And they still can’t make a standards-compliant web browser. Seriously, how long is it going to take for them to just give up and go with every other browser available?

So it’s kind of garish and ugly, but mostly usable, so it shouldn’t matter all that much since I only use it for games and the occasional work-related task, right? Well, as it turns out, I completely missed the news that you need to buy the most expensive version of Vista in order to run it under virtualization software like Parallels. XP has no such limitation. And, Parallels doesn’t let you boot from your Vista boot camp partition, so if you want to have Boot Camp and Parallels, you have to do another install, which requires another Windows activation. Which I can’t do, because it violates the EULA.

Luckily, Microsoft is there for me: thanks to their innovative Windows BendOverAnywhere program, I can upgrade my copy of Vista to the ULTIMATE MEGAWEAPON version for the low, low price of $158. Which means the secondary just-for-games OS would end up adding over 200 bucks to the cost of the computer. But at least I’d be able to run it under Parallels… or would I? Paying that cost just gets you a download, because you’re only allowed to do it on one machine. And the Parallels VM counts as a separate machine. So installing it there gets me my virtualization-unfriendly version of Vista. Which won’t activate, because it thinks I’m trying to install it on a new computer. (Who knows what would happen if I needed to do a clean re-install of the OS. I’m guessing I’d need another $150 every time I wipe my hard drive?)

(Meanwhile, Parallels is sending me e-mails asking me to send them 40 bucks to upgrade to their newest version, which may or may not solve my problem. Does it let you run off the Boot Camp partition instead of requiring a separate install? No one will say definitively. You can try asking them for support… if you can find their secret forum that isn’t linked from their main page, only from Google searches. And no representatives are on hand there to answer questions. But at least I know that the new version can indeed run Quake 4, so that’s a relief.)

It’d be nice to ask somebody at Microsoft whether the software they’re charging me a couple hundred bucks for will actually run on my machine in the configuration I want. After going through ten pages on their customer support site, I finally get to a page that says it will let me e-mail somebody. As long as I enter my product key, and they determine that the key is valid for support; otherwise it’s $60 per “incident.” I enter the product key, out of pure optimism, and it takes me to a Microsoft SQL Server error page.

So as it stands now, I’m somewhat screwed. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop, so I can determine exactly how much money I’ve wasted. It’s either going to be the cost of Parallels and its upgrade, or the cost of Vista and its upgrade. Until then, it means rebooting the machine every time I want to play a game, at which point it hardly seems worth the effort. Maybe I’m supposed to be spending even more money on the Mac-native versions of these games? Or maybe finding a cheaper and more worthwhile hobby?

I should make it clear that I’m not enough of an Apple fanboy to say that they don’t suck. They do, but in a slightly different way. I’ve complained about the $125 they charge for every yearly OS upgrade, but at this point, all of that seems quaint. As Jon Gruber pointed out in an insightful post on his Daring Fireball blog, Apple is primarily a hardware company, not a software company. And as such, where they truly suck is in the hardware.

It’s all beautifully designed, of course, even the cheese grater. But there’s that deviously-planned obsolescence built right into every one, from the iPod batteries with the lifespans of mayflies, to the exploding laptop batteries, to the laptop latches.

Almost one month to the day after the warranty on my Mac laptop ran out, the latch broke (from what I read on the internet, it’s a very common problem, partly because the latch is ridiculously over-engineered). I put off getting it repaired until now, because I knew that phone support would be useless — the second you connect with a real human, they ask for your credit card number or try to sell you AppleCare. So I finally made an appointment to talk to a Genius. Forty-five minutes after my appointment time, said genius looked at my machine’s serial number, typed it into a database, and told me that it’d be $326 to get fixed. She referred me to a place across town that could probably do it for cheaper. When I got there, they said that they usually ship those repairs directly to Apple and that it’d cost me $426 including parts and labor.

And still, the Apple aura is so persuasive that I sit here typing on a ridiculously over-priced machine that could very well explode at any moment (or more likely, will explode exactly on April 19, 2008), and the only thing I can think of is bitching about Windows.

Update: Man, what’s the computer world coming to when a guy can’t make an over-long, whiny post bitching about cost and incompatiblities anymore? The day after I wrote this, Parallels released the new version of their software. Hidden among the new features is what I think is the most valuable one — being able to use your BootCamp Vista partition. Meaning no additional activation, no copying software over, just the ability to use your Vista stuff within OSX without rebooting. I’ve installed it with no problems, and so far it works mostly like I wanted. (Direct3D isn’t working for me at the moment, but it could very well just be a configuration thing I missed).

Having a piece of software work as advertised, and provide greater compatibility between rival operating systems with a minimum of hassle (if not a minimum of cost)? That sets a very bad precedent for the industry.

To the Moon!

Not only is the honeymoon over, but I think a trial separation is in order. The fan on my MacBook Pro is making grinding and clicking noises that get gradually louder, culminating in an ear-splitting crescendo about 20 minutes after boot-up.

The thing has run ungodly hot ever since I got it, but what with all the reports of Apple logos burned into users’ thighs, I just assumed that was standard operating procedure for the MacBook. Now I have to wonder, Fox News-style, Could Improper Ventilation Be Putting My Data at Risk?

Now I’ve got to limit my computer access to 5 or 10 minutes at a stretch until I can get the thing back to California and back everything up. Then take it to the Apple Store and have one of their geniuses inflict their attitude on me.

Apple sucks.

Maybe I should get a new iMac.

Helpless, Damp, and Warm

TiVo LogoThese days when I’m watching my stories, they all start out with the reminder that I could be watching them in glorious High Definition. Why wouldn’t I? I blew a ton of money that could’ve otherwise gone to a charity on a television that was state of the art for at least two weeks after I bought it. And DirecTV makes entering the HDTV generation easy!

Well, easy if you buy a $600 HD DVR with TiVo. And a two-year service agreement. And the additional antenna to pick on-air HD signals, which because of an FCC ruling, satellite providers like DirecTV can’t duplicate. And you may or may not be able to get the $200 rebate on the DVR if you’re an existing customer; I’ve asked four different people (including a confused woman on DirecTV’s call-in customer support, who didn’t know what I was talking about and had to read the website along with me).

And you may or may not be able to find a unit other than through the company directly, as I discovered when I went to two separate Best Buy stores (I wanted to use a gift card, to help soften the blow) and finally was able to chase down somebody to answer my questions. They didn’t know the answers, and it was irrelevant since they were out of stock on the DVRs and weren’t expecting any more.

Because of the break-up between DirecTV and TiVo, they’re now pushing their own separate brand of DVR. But only for the regular models; they’re still selling the HD version using the TiVo service, until they can come out with their own HD equivalent. But they have just launched a new satellite to support MPEG-4 broadcasts of HDTV — which the current HD DVRs can’t work with. So if you buy one now, you’re spending 400 to 600 bucks on something that isn’t guaranteed to be compatible with the service that may or may not launch sometime this year. Possibly.

I looked into EyeTV and other ways to use a computer as a DVR, but haven’t found one that works with satellite providers. Plus the only computer I could spare is the mini, which isn’t fast enough to record HDTV.

The whole business is just giving me flashbacks to when my brother would chase me down the hall, tackle me to the ground, and tickle me until I peed myself. It’s at the point where even I have to take a step back and just say that the whole business is ridiculous. A stupid amount of effort and money for something as dumb and frivolous as television.

In other entertainment frustration news: I lost interest in “24” sometime around the middle of the third season, and I didn’t watch any of last season. But I’d read that the premiere of season 5 was spectacular, not to be missed and all that, so I set it up to record. When I got back from LA and settled down to have my socks metaphorically blown off by the gripping adventure, I found a “partial recording” of the last 30 minutes of the two-hour premiere.

I started trying to piece together what had happened, and as far as I can make out, the TiVo decided to record “Iron Chef” and “Harvey Birdman” over the first hour and a half of the premiere. Except that I can’t find those recordings; they only show up in the recording history. It’s almost like the TiVo knew it’d done something bad and was desperately trying to cover its tracks. I still can’t tell what happened, since it’s supposed to be set up to avoid stuff like that. I can only guess that it’s upset about the whole DirecTV deal and is lashing out at me. All I’m saying is I don’t need my DVR giving me no lip.


It’s 2 AM Pacific and I’ve been up for about 23 hours. The only things still keeping me awake are frustration and the cryogenic conditions of my bedroom. I’ve had about eight different American Airlines representatives thank me for my patience about eleven times, but what they don’t seem to realize is that the last of my patience got used up about eight hours ago, when they told me the carry-on bag that I haven’t seen since Monday was going to be finally arriving in Orlando on Wednesday night at 7:53, 54 minutes after my flight back home was scheduled to leave. Which explains why I was standing outside SFO in Walt Disney World shorts and an Animal Kingdom Lodge T-shirt at 1:30 AM in 50-degree San Francisco September weather, writing blog entries in my head to prevent the onset of hypothermia.
Continue reading “AAssholes”

Speaking of Foul…

I make “I’m getting old” jokes all the time, but I’m usually not all that serious about it. But I’m starting to wonder how much truth there is to it after days like today. I just don’t spring back from minor ailments the way I used to be able to. Okay, that’s inaccurate, because I’ve never exactly been a paragon of good health and proper nutrition; instead I’ve always been somewhat like those guys you read about in turn-of-the-century novels who were “wan and sickly” which explains why they spent so much time indoors becoming educated about Arts and Literature.

But still it seems like I can remember a time when getting sick didn’t knock me out for an entire day. Last night in mid-“Alias” recap, I started getting the feeling that something I ate wasn’t just disagreeing with me, it had serious problems with me as a person and wanted out of the relationship immediately. So not only was I up until the wee hours (so to speak) reading magazines (as it were), by the time I was finally able to get it all out of my system and get to bed, I was completely exhausted and ended up sleeping until late afternoon. And of course, this being summer in San Francisco, it’s dark and gray outside, which just drives home the point that I missed out an entire day. Before, I always blamed this on stress, or crunch mode, but now I’ve got to figure I’m just not as young as I used to be.

I Hate LA

Man, does LA ever suck. This isn’t the usual Bay Area-resident-bitches-about-LA routine, either — I’m talking about a deep-seated rage. I hate the heat; it’s not like the clean oven-baked heat of the desert, or the muggy womb-like pressure-cooker warmth of the southeast, but an oppressive sinus-clogging misery like being in a stinky convenience store hot dog rotisserie that hasn’t been cleaned in months. A big, black cancerous palm-tree-covered tumor lodged in between me and Disneyland.

So as bad as I thought it was going to be driving to E3 on 3 hours of sleep, turns out it’s even worse driving 6 hours and going to E3 on no sleep at all. Around 6:30 AM it occurred to me it’d be better to get a plane ticket and rent a car so I could sleep on the plane and/or take a nap first, but I figured that’d be too expensive. Luckily, the friendly LA highway patrol saw to it that I could enjoy the long drive and added expense by pulling me over right as I got through the Grapevine. For speeding. Because my 4-cylinder Volkswagen takes all those hills in the Grapevine blazing fast, almost as fast, even, as the 10 million people who kept passing me.

The CHP guy said I “stood out” not because of the broken headlight or broken windshield which I have yet to replace, but because I “threw cigarette ash out the window.” Not a cigarette butt; I’d been careful to use my ashtray for once so as not to get pulled over for littering. Pulled over because of ashing out the window. Which of course is understandable, because you don’t get that pristine, clean-room environment that is the LA freeway system by throwing small bits of white dust around randomly. Worst was how he tried to act like he was doing me a favor: “I decided to save you some money by only putting down 78, but you were really going over 80.” My ass. I drove on and of course immediately lit another cigarette, out of pure spite. No more flicking, though — I just held the thing up to the window and let the breeze from all the cars zipping past me take care of the ash.

Then it was a good 45-minute drive from Glendale to the convention center in LA traffic, $20 for parking, and then The Videogame Industry and all its gory excess. It only took 10 minutes to get a splitting headache, and by 4:30 the soul-crushing despair had won out. I started to doze off on the 45-minute-for-15-miles drive to the hotel, don’t even remember checking in or lying down, and just woke up at 9:30 PM, missing the chance to meet up with Mac or do anything. So it’s a dinner of cookies and peanuts from the vending machine while watching Cartoon Network in the hotel room. Truly I am a High Roller.

Also, the hotel only serves Pepsi. God, I hate LA.

A General Malaise

Huge dark clouds were looming over the bay for the longest time today, until they finally broke and pissed all over the residents of a city dealing with the beginnings of its post-traumatic stress disorder.

And I spent the day just coming up with over-dramatic lines like that. The weather put a damper on my plans to “see San Francisco,” so I spent the day wallowing in self-pity, staring at the inbox that didn’t fill and the phone that didn’t ring. Occasionally interrupted by a mournful, dramatic sigh.

But on the bright side, there’s only so much of that even I can take, so once that was over I was able to come up with a plan:

  1. Get my shit together.
  2. Do the stupid stuff that I always planned to do when I had more time, like working on the website and learning Japanese (I really think so!) and seeing more movies so I’m not such a cinema illterate and I’m not wasting all that Netflix money.
  3. Stop spending so much time online. It’s a huge time-suck, it’s generally unhealthy and depressing, and unless you make the effort to see people face-to-face, the relationships just end up being shallow with no real solid ground.
  4. Quit smoking.

I’ll get around to that last one.

What was that all about?

Well, I’m blaming last night’s little panic attack episode on a combination of job stress, lack of sleep, and reading my friend’s very dark and cynical short stories right before I tried to go to bed. And, of course, the typical self-indulgent whining. But hey, this is a blog, after all.

Job situation is almost somewhat looking up: a ton of bugs got magically whisked away from me today, and the end is (supposedly) in sight. I’m already planning what I’m going to do with my time off. It involves sleeping, seeing more of the city, going out with friends, and the sweet, sweet healing power of booze.

Plus, Rachael got me tickets to the Pixies concert in Berkeley later this month! How much does that rock? Well, it rocks a good bit. And it rocks hard. This time I’m going to stop concentrating on how old I am and just focus on how old they are now. A while ago my friend Chris pointed out that Frank Black is looking more and more like Divine every time he sees him. Ha ha! Take that, so-called rock “legends!”

Plan for tonight: watch Mulholland Drive while waiting for the Tylenol PM to kick in. Seeing a David Lynch movie while under sedation. What could possibly go wrong?

Desperately Optimistic

Well, if this is a journal, and the whole point is for me to become a better writer, then I guess I have to write down the bad stuff as well as the good.

I’m always hearing from people that I’m grouchy, or surly, or cynical, or hard to read, when I think anyone who really knows me knows that I’m completely the opposite. Several years ago I got into a nasty fight with someone whose opinion I had previously respected, and he told me “you’re just so hard to read.” I stewed on that for a while, and eventually told my friend Bret, and he replied, “No you’re not! You’re like a wire! A tightly-pulled wire. The slightest disturbance just vibrates throughout the whole of your being.” Finally, someone who gets it! I wish he and I talked more.

Usually, I think Candide was a cynic. This isn’t just the best of all possible worlds, this world is pretty freaking awesome on its own, no qualification necessary. There’s just so much beauty and wonder in the world, and so many people who do good things so easily, without giving it a second thought. I’m desperately optimistic; clinging to the idea that everything is going to be okay despite all evidence to the contrary.

Except when I can’t. Because now I’m thinking that everything I’ve assumed or taken on faith is wrong. And I was a sap for believing it. The people who I always assumed had it all figured out, are just as miserable as everyone else. Not only was I naive to believe I could have all the things I wanted; I’ve been wanting the wrong things. Nobody has that perfect life. Nobody accomplishes anything. Nobody is truly happy, or even content, because there’s always someone else to pick away at it, or that desire that’s always just out of reach. Each of us is completely alone, doomed never to have true insight into anyone else, only passing time with each other to kill time until we’re dead. And as proof of that, everything here can be dismissed as self-indulgent, whining, crap instead of genuine emotion, or even a genuine panic attack.

I’m not sure what brought this on, whether it was job stress, or lack of sleep, or too much sleep, or staring at myself too long in the mirror tonight, or something I read before trying to go to sleep, or realizing that this year has passed without my paying attention to it, or going outside and seeing the fog roll in just over the roofs of the buildings as if it were pressing down on everything, or worrying about the election, or wondering whether next year would be the same as this one.

All I know is that I’m looking at a picture of myself from 15 years ago. And I’m back in Georgia at a friend’s house, and I’m holding my puppy, and we’re both smiling, and I vividly remember that day, and how I hadn’t started smoking, and how I had so many dreams of what I was going to accomplish, and whom I was going to love, and how I was going to raise my kids, and the kind of man I was going to be, and I wish to God I was back there right now.

When the Child was a Child…

On the drive into work this morning, I kept thinking about Wings of Desire for some reason. It’s really a beautiful movie overall — very European in that it has absolutely stunning sequences but kind of meanders and doesn’t hold together all that well, plus it has an American TV personality (Peter Falk) playing himself (more or less).

Still, while I like the central love story and the theme of angels wanting to live as humans, what really got me was the opening. There are scenes of people all over Berlin living lives of “quiet desperation;” we hear their worry and their stress in voice-over. And then, we see strangers walking up and putting a hand on their shoulder, and their thoughts turn to hope and peace. And we see that there are angels all over the place, watching over us all. It’s just a beautiful segment, both in concept and in the way it’s presented.

I think the reason I was reminded of it is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’ve always had someone appear for me at the moment I needed them the most. Every time I’ve hit a low point, I’ve had someone come along and pull me out. Every time I’ve been lonely, or hopeless, or just hating myself, someone has appeared and talked me through it, or took my mind off of it, or just said, “You know what? You are who you are, and that’s fine. It’s no big deal. Everything’s going to be okay.” And most of the time, they didn’t even realize what they were doing at the time; how significant it was.

No, I haven’t been drinking tonight. Why do you ask?