Friday, October 13, 2017

My Halloween Movie List

I love this time of year as it means that ski season is just around the corner. It also means that we get to start the extended Holiday season that includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. It also means it is time to start watching Halloween movies. Now I am not a big fan of scary movies and so when I think about Halloween movies, I think about fun ones. So with that preface, here is my list of Halloween movies that I enjoy.

Hocus Pocus - This is more of a fun movie than a scary one. Yes there are 3 witches that run around terrorizing a small New England town, but it is more comedic than horror.

Ghostbusters - I prefer the original as it brings back fond memories of my youth. Once again, this is more comedy than terror.

Casper - I used to come home from school and watch the old Casper cartoons. The movie is much better done and is a good way to celebrate Halloween.

Pirates of the Carribean - The original film got released in the summer of 2003, not even close to Halloween. However it is a very well done ghost story that ties into one of the classic rides in Disneyland. That makes it a good addition to my list.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - This film's original release date happened after Halloween but ultimately is a movie about witches and wizards. In my opinion, that makes it a great Halloween movie. It has a few scary parts but is mostly good entertainment.

Looking at this list, I realize that most of these movies are for children. I guess that makes me a big kid and I'm fine with that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Adventure Vacation

I spent the first part of the week down in Zion National Park with my youngest daughter. She is out of school for a fall break and wanted to do something adventurous while I needed a short break from work. I had her set up the itinerary so I took care of the hotel. One of the hikes she wanted to do is called, "The Subway," and requires a permit in order to hike it.

The Subway at Zion National Park
As I left all of the itinerary planning to my daughter, I didn't worry about the technical things like the equipment we would need or if we would need help shuttling between the start and the end of the hike. We entered the lottery to get a permit the Monday before our arrival. If we didn't receive one, we had a backup plan. On Saturday at 1pm, my daughter received an e-mail from the National Park Service congratulating us on being awarded the chance to hike "The Subway." The next day we stopped by the park's visitor center to collect the permit.

In talking with the Park employee, we discovered that we needed to get dry suits as we would be swimming in very cold water to get through the hike. We would also need to do some repels during the hike but had all of the necessary equipment. We also needed to set up a shuttle as we would drop our car at the exit and take the shuttle 7 miles up the road to the beginning of the hike.

So what does all of this have to do with computers and technology? While we could look all of this up on the Internet, once we left the hotel at 6am on Monday morning to begin the hike, we couldn't rely on technology to help us get through the hike. We had no mobile phone service nor Internet. Furthermore the conditions for the hike can change from day-to-day and so none of the sources we looked at told us we would need wet suits or dry suits. We only got recommendations for them. However when we collected our permit, the National Park Service told us it was a requirement to have one or the other because of the nighttime freezing temperatures. I'm glad they required it as the rented dry suits came in handy during the hike.

We had a wonderful adventure on Monday and really enjoyed the hike. It took us about 2 hours to get through the beginning of the hike where we carefully navigated our way through an alpine forest and across Southern Utah's famous slick rock. It then took us 3 hours to exit the subway. When we look at how much time we spent actually in "The Subway," it was 4 hours of fun. Amazingly that time felt like only 15 minutes. We had a lot of fun and I recommend the hike.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Scary Thought for Halloween

This morning I answered a one-question survey about what is the most scary Halloween character. A number of the usual suspects could be chosen. As a child, a monster would have definitely have made the list. Now that I am an adult, the most scary things in my life are much different. I am scared of things like getting extra random screening at the security in the airport or having the IRS decide I didn't pay my fair share of taxes. I am also afraid of illnesses like cancer or Alzheimer's disease.

If I stop to think about monsters, the scariest one on the earth today is man. Think about the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and it has totally stolen the spotlight from natural disasters like hurricanes Irma and Maria. This has me rethinking several of the projects I am researching at work. I am helping to build some really fun technology, but in the wrong hands, it could be used to do much more scary things than any mass shooting to date.

Artificial Intelligence is one of the subjects I am researching and still think it is pretty stupid. However there are some areas where great progress is being made. Pull out any of the latest smartphones and try to take a picture of someone. The first thing you notice is that someone's face gets highlighted so you can provide a name or tag to be used by Facebook or some other social media site. This means that a tiny device that fits in your pocket knows the difference between a person and a random object. Now couple that with acoustic analysis where a couple of speakers can tell the direction that person's voice is coming from. A number of toy-robot researchers are using this technology to create robots that look at who is talking in a group of people. All of that seems pretty harmless and fun, right?

Now let's take that same technology that can recognize faces and knows how to aim at a person. I don't want to elaborate any more as I don't want to give anyone any ideas. However my realization this morning left me with a sick feeling in my stomach and the thought that while it isn't quite SkyNet from the Terminator movies, it is moving in that direction. Perhaps I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the scary uses of Artificial Intelligence. Monsters are not the things scaring me this Halloween season.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Software Quality vs. Getting it Done

Yesterday I had to be at our San Francisco office for some meetings and arrived shortly before lunch. My office in San Mateo has a cafeteria and so I didn't know what my lunch options might be in that office. Sure I could have walked around and found something quite easily but I wanted to catch up with an old work associate and so I sent him a lunch invitation e-mail. He had the time and so we headed to his favorite place and caught up.

We didn't go any place fancy and I appreciated that. A simple meal is all I needed. We got to talk about the differences between the two offices that belong to the same company. Even though he is doing similar things as to when we worked together, there is a different feel to it. When we worked together, my friend felt like he could do the job correctly and fine-tune the software he created. In the new environment, he feels like there is more of a push to get something out and working. It doesn't matter if it is not optimal, it just needs to work. He mentioned that he appreciated being able to create quality software and not just quantity.

If you talk to a software developer, his or her code is never really finished. It just gets good enough to use. Therefore a healthy balance needs to be struck when creating software. Programs need to be created and they need to work. They also need to be put out in a finite amount of time. So if you see a video game release date moved to a further date, you can be sure the development team is wrestling with getting the product into your hands as a consumer but also making sure it meets minimum quality requirements.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Looking Forward to Red Dead Redemption 2

The second trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 was recently released and has me excited about the game. After watching the new footage, I immediately called my friend that used to work for Rockstar Games and asked if he had a way of getting me a discount copy of the game. While I would be willing to pay full price for the game, I also try to leverage my contacts in the video game industry to help me get good deals.

Red Dead Redemption is a special game to me. It showed me that playing video games in the evening can be much more rewarding that watching television. After several weeks of playing the game nightly, I felt like I was losing a friend when the game ended. In the trailer for version 2 of the game, there doesn't seem to be any connection between the two games other than they both take place in the western United States in the mid 1800's. Someone explained to me that the new game is a prequel. I'll be very interested to see how the two games are related.

The only bad news delivered in the trailer is that the game will not be ready until the spring of 2018. With all of the anticipated game releases between now and Christmas, that is probably a good thing. I can still be disappointed though.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Video Game Review: Uncharted 3 Drake's Deception

Monday evening I finally finished playing Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception on my PlayStation 4. This is a game I started playing with my son over Christmas last year but didn't have time to finish until now. Rather than pick up where I left off, I started over a few weeks ago. I'm glad I did as I had forgotten a number of the controls. Besides, the beginning of the game is a lot of fun and worth playing over again.

I have mentioned that I am a fan of the Uncharted series of games and really looked forward to finishing up the original trilogy. I have to say that my favorite of the 3 is the last one. I felt that Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2 were the same story with just a bit different window dressing. I think that 2 did a much better job telling the story than 1 but they had a lot of similar elements. Uncharted 3 continues to share some of those elements but also has a lot of new elements that increased my enjoyment.

I felt like the end of both Uncharted 1 and 2 required me to fight some pretty difficult battles with superhuman monsters. Naturally I would die and have to restart the battle.  Eventually it got rather tiring and only my desire to finish the game kept me playing. With Uncharted 3, the end battle also felt difficult but I didn't have to worry about superhuman monsters. I will confess I didn't make it through without dying once or twice, but the battle felt more natural and I enjoyed it significantly more.

Uncharted 3 is part of the Remastered Uncharted Collection game available for the PlayStation 4 and has an ESRB rating of T for "Teen." There is some mild language and violence but I have and would allow my teenage boys to play the game. If you have a PlayStation 3, you can find the game for that platform relatively inexpensively and it is definitely worth the price.

Now that I have finished Uncharted 3, I will take a bit of a break and play a different type of game. Playing the same game series one after another can lead to a bit of a burnout. Once my next game is complete, I am really looking forward to Uncharted 4 and will play that.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Product Hype

Apple just released some new products this week. A friend of mine caught me in the gym and commented about how the reporting on the iPhone is not really that objective. I had to agree with him to a point. I have come to the conclusion that iPhone reviews come in only two flavors: lovers and haters. Lovers talk about all the merits of the new device and think it is the greatest invention ever. Haters talk about how there is nothing innovative about it and how other smartphones already have those features.

It is important to look at all new product reviews and try to figure out if the author is a lover or a hater. Some reviewers have been burned by products in the past and try to dissuade anyone from buying anything from the manufacturer ever again. Other reviewers are simply looking to get free products and will say nice things about mediocre products.

I have yet to see much of anything about Apple's new phones but am not really looking. I currently have 3 different smartphones and am not in the market to replace any of them. One of my phones is an iPhone SE and it works just fine for me. My other 2 phones are both Android ones and also work amazingly well. Given the $999 price tag for some of these new phones, I'd rather spend the money on a better laptop and get a cheap phone. You may think differently.