Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ship it now, test it later

There's a question on StackOverflow entitled "What real life bad habits has programming given you?", which is quite hilarious for programmers. Answers include things like thinking 256 is a nice round number, wanting to use Ctrl-F on an actual book, or starting to count items at 0 and ending up with one less than everyone else.

This may seem unrelated, but bear with me. Shortly after Ryan was first born, I decided that children, particularly babies, were badly designed:

  • babies need to eat, but don't know how right away, and frequently spit up what they've already eaten or refuse to eat. It takes years before a child can even make himself a bowl of cereal.
  • babies need to sleep, but getting them to go to sleep (or stay asleep) can be challenging. When Ryan was a baby, he wouldn't go to sleep by himself; we had to walk with him until he fell asleep in our arms and then gently put him in his crib. If he wasn't sufficiently asleep (read: unconscious), he'd wake up and you'd have to start all over. Sometimes we'd have to walk with him for 45 minutes before we could go back to sleep ourselves.
  • babies can't roll over for a few months after they're born, can't crawl until six months, and can't walk for the better part of a year. Baby deer are walking within minutes of birth.
  • children are self-centred. They have tantrums when things don't go the way they want, even if the circumstances are beyond anyone's control, or if getting their way would inconvenience or even hurt others. Older kids have been known to give their parents attitude (and I'm one of the lucky parents whose children have reached that stage), and teenagers sometimes take "attitude" to a whole new level.
  • some babies in the animal kingdom are on their own from the moment they are born. Others are under the care of their parents for a few years. Human children frequently live with their parents for twenty years (sometimes more), or about 25% of the average human lifespan.

Despite these challenges, parents continue to love and nurture their children, so obviously parents are generally better designed than children. However, children turn into parents without having been "re-designed", so it occurs to me that the real problem is not with design, which means it must be implementation. Obviously babies are born before they're really ready — before all the bugs have been worked out, before things have been streamlined and optimized.

The real problem is that babies are shipped while still in early beta.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Games people play

I read an article on BoingBoing today called "The case against Candy Land". The author writes (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) about how video games are far more educational for kids than some classic board games like Candy Land, where whether you win or lose depends entirely on the random arrangement of the cards, and not on any skill on the part of the player. If I play chess with my six-year-old, I can almost guarantee that I will beat him every time, because I have some skill at the game — very limited skill, admittedly, but more than him, which is all that matters. If we play Candy Land, however, he is just as likely to win as I am, since no skill is necessary. You don't even have to know how to count. In particular, there are no decisions to be made.

I have noticed this with my kids' games as they get older. The older the kids at which the game is targetted, the more decisions they need to make to be good at the game. As a kid, my sister and I played a card game called "war". You shuffled the deck, then dealt out half the deck to each player. Each player turned over a card and whoever had the higher card won both cards. When you run out of cards, you take the cards you've won, shuffle them up, and keep going. If you both put down the same card, that's a war. Each player deals out three cards face down, then turns one over, and the same rules apply. First one out of cards loses. It didn't take long before I got completely bored with this game because even as a kid I realized that nothing I did mattered. There were no decisions to be made. Other than the speed at which I could deal the cards out or turn them over, there was no "getting good" at war. Candy Land is the same, as is snakes and ladders.

A game like Sorry or Trouble, or a similar game we like called Aggravation, also involves counting, but some decision-making as well. When you roll a one, do you bring out a new piece, or move an existing piece one space? If you have more than one piece out, which one do you move on any given turn? If you have the chance to either take someone out ("Sorry!") or move one of your pieces into your safe area, which do you do? I really noticed the difference when playing snakes and ladders one day with Gail and Nicky. The phone rang and Gail went to answer it, asking me to play for her. I did and after three or four turns, she returned. It had never really occurred to me before, but that's when I realized that the outcome of the game was going to be exactly the same whether I played her pieces or she did.

Ryan is starting to figure this out. There are some games, like snakes and ladders, that he used to like but doesn't like so much anymore. I'm sure if I asked him, he couldn't say specifically why; he'd just say that it's a game for younger kids and he wants to play older kids games. I'm sure that the real reason is that he realizes at some level that what he does has no effect on the outcome of the game. When playing snakes and ladders once, I told Ryan that I could write a computer program to play this game and it would be just as good as any human player. I think he was impressed by that, but someday he'll realize that it's really not that impressive. It's not that I can do it because I'm a great programmer — I couldn't write a similar program for Monopoly, for example — but because it's purely an algorithm with no decisions. Pick a random number from 1 to 6, move that many squares, go up a ladder if you're at the bottom and down a snake if you're at the top, and repeat until you get to the top.

As you get older, you get into games where more decisions are necessary, from Uno to checkers to Monopoly to backgammon to the game where all you do is make decisions, chess. In fact if you get to a point in a chess game where you don't have a decision to make about what to do, you may be in check and are very likely in deep trouble.

Of course, this doesn't mean that games such as Candy Land serve no purpose. They teach things like playing nicely with others, taking turns, and how to win and lose graciously. But if you're over the age of 6 and looking for a challenging game, Candy Land may not be the one for you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Rock needs a Brian

A couple of years ago, the Toronto Raptors hired Bryan Colangelo as their new president and general manager. Colangelo was a successful GM in Phoenix, and is widely respected throughout the league. He replaced Rob Babcock, a rookie GM who did a lousy job with the Raptors and made them into a laughing stock. Hiring Colangelo was seen as a very important move for the Raptors, showing that they were willing to spend the money to hire the best person to rebuild the team, regardless of how much it cost.

This past month, the Leafs hired Brian Burke as their new president and general manager. Burke was a successful GM in Anaheim, and is widely respected throughout the league. Ignoring Cliff Fletcher's brief stint as interim GM, Burke replaced John Ferguson, Jr., a rookie GM who did a lousy job with the Leafs and made them into a laughing stock. Hiring Burke was a seen as a very important move for the Leafs, showing that they were willing to spend the money to hire the best person to rebuild the team, regardless of how much it cost. (It also showed that they were willing to give Burke complete control over the hockey operations, something that Ferguson did not have.)

The Toronto Rock currently have Mike Kloepfer as general manager. This is his first such job in the NLL (i.e. he was a rookie GM when hired), and he has done a lousy job with the Rock, turning them into a laughing stock. Superstar Colin Doyle was traded away because he didn't get along with rookie coach Glenn Clark — this before Clark had ever coached an NLL game. In return, the Rock got Ryan Benesch, who went on to be named Rookie of the Year in 2007. But Benesch was inexplicably benched for the last two games of 2008 and the first two games of 2009, and then traded to Edmonton for draft picks. Once in Edmonton, Benesch admitted that he had also had disagreements with Clark, and so he was also shipped off. The inescapable conclusion: "Disagree with Coach Clark, and you are outta here. We got rid of Doyle and Benesch for doing it, so don't think your job is safe, regardless of how good you are." The Rock are in trouble if Luke Wiles or Lewis Ratcliff (or, God forbid, Bob Watson) have issues with Clark. I wonder if Rock management has considered the possibility that if both Doyle and Benesch had issues with Clark, maybe it's Clark who should have been fired?

See a pattern here? In all three cases, a rookie GM took over and screwed up the team. In two of those cases, he was then fired and replaced with someone who is successful and respected. And the guy's name was Br[i|y]an. We can only hope that the Rock will follow the same pattern (even though they're not owned by MLSE like the other two). So who's the Rock's Br[i|y]an?

The best GMs in the league right now would have to be Darris Kilgour and Marty O'Neill. Darris (who's a helluva coach as well) is likely a Bandit for life, and I can't imagine the Rock being able to lure him away from Buffalo, so count him out. Marty O'Neill has been named GM of the year for two straight years. He's the original GM of the Minnesota Swarm, and they have improved every year. It's likely that O'Neill won't want to leave Minnesota while the Swarm are still improving, so until they've peaked he's not likely going anywhere. Now, it's possible that having my vote to win the west this year is not what O'Neill would consider to be the aforementioned peak, so he is probably out until at least the end of this season.

Would the Rock follow their fellow Toronto teams and grab a name from the past (Cliff Fletcher, Don Matthews, Cito Gaston)? There are three former Rock GMs currently in the NLL: Ed Comeau in New York, Johnny Mouradian in San Jose, and Terry Sanderson, who's an assistant coach in Calgary. It's unlikely they'd go back to Sanderson (who'd immediately trade for Josh again) since they only fired him two seasons ago and replaced him with the current guy. Comeau was never really given a chance — after only six games, he was fired and replaced with Sanderson. Mouradian is the only real possibility here, since he is the only one who wasn't fired; he left to become the San Jose GM and coach. He's since been named GM of the year and inducted into the NLL Hall of Fame.

Other possibilities:

  • there is a Brian that has experience in the NLL — Brian Silcott. He's never been a GM, but he has been an NLL and MLL player and MLL head coach, and he is the VP of the Portland LumberJax.
  • Brian's brother Kurt Silcott was the GM of the both the Buffalo Bandits and the Calgary Roughnecks. He's currently employed by the Knighthawks, though not as their GM.
  • Jamie Batley was GM and head coach of the Chicago Shamrox, and has also been the coach of the Colorado Mammoth.
  • Chris Hall was the head coach of the Calgary Roughnecks for several years, though he's never been a GM.

I know! I have the solution. It's foolproof. Hire Whoopi Goldberg and have her channel the spirit of the late Les Bartley. She'd have to change her name to Brian first.

Update: Less than four hours after I posted this, the Rock have fired Glenn Clark and hired Jamie Batley as head coach. No mention of replacing the GM, and no mention of what's happening to assistant coach Jim Veltman.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The planet's really bad now because of the Dark Side

For any Star Wars fans out there, like me, this video really made me laugh. It's a video of someone who hasn't seen Star Wars ("I've seen bits of it") telling the story of Star Wars. Her retelling of it is very funny, but the animation is priceless.

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Another stupid trade

The Rock made another stupid trade today. 2006 2007 Rookie of the Year Ryan Benesch, who the Rock received in the Colin Doyle trade, and solid defender Derek Suddons were sent to the Edmonton Rush for a couple of draft picks. Benesch was benched for the last two games of last season and the first two of this season, but during the off-season, Rock GM Mike Kloepfer was quoted as saying that there was no problem with Benesch, and he was an important part of the Rock's future. Guess not.

I don't understand this move at all. First off, Benesch had a great rookie year (did I mention he was Rookie of the Year?) and his numbers did drop last year, but it's not like they fell off substantially. He was still the third leading scorer on the team. Good defenders are never flashy and don't put up big numbers, but Suddons was one of the better defenders on the team. And yet all the Rock get in return are two draft picks? Granted, next year's draft is said to be one of the strongest ever, but still, you never know what you're going to get with draft picks. And now, what do the Rock have to show for getting rid of Colin Doyle (who, incidentally was recently ranked number one on's top 50 players in the NLL)? Chad Thompson, Cam Woods (traded for Kevin Fines) and a few draft picks. Thompson is decent and Woods is a very good defender, but I'd take Doyle over them any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I didn't have a problem with the Wilson/Wiles/Hoar trade this past off-season, but after the Doyle/Benesch one, this one ranks right up there with the dumbest trades in Rock history.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Movie Review: Eagle Eye

We watched Eagle Eye the other night. I was looking forward to it since it looked like a pretty good action flick and from an action point of view it certainly fit the bill. From a plausibility standpoint, however, it was just way the hell out there. I understand about suspension of disbelief and all that, but holy crap.

Without giving away too much, some of the things the lady on the phone is able to do are just way beyond belief. She can control every cell phone and security camera in the country, not to mention street lights, construction cranes, subways, and even the demo TVs at Circuit City. At one point Jerry (Shia) turned his phone off, and within seconds, the phone of the guy sitting next to him on the train started to ring. To make that work, she'd have to:

  • have a high-quality camera in the train car
  • use it to take a picture of the guy's face
  • use facial recognition software to figure out who the guy is, with an accuracy of one person out of 350 million
  • find that person's cell phone number

Or maybe she could analyze the GPS coordinates of every cell phone in that area and figure out which one was physically closest to Jerry's. Which is off. On a moving train.

In another scene, she kills someone by somehow causing a power line to break. The broken wire falls and fries the guy. Even with complete control over the power grid, how could she cause a power line to break? And assuming she could do that, how could she do it in such a way that she knew that it would fall and hit the guy, who happened to be running at the time? Later she has Jerry and Rachel rob an armored car for a briefcase with a time-release lock that they risk their lives several times to try and protect. And when you think about where they are when it opens and what's in it, you realize that there were a thousand simpler ways to do it, all of which are less likely to fail that the one she chose.

One of the reasons she needed Jerry in the first place (to impersonate his twin brother) is moot, since the FBI would have revoked all of his security codes once he died. This part did make me wonder, however, if the real-life military (or CIA or FBI or whatever) would give top secret clearance to someone who had an identical twin, just for this reason. Their fingerprints and retinal scans would differ, but their DNA would be identical. Don't know about voice prints or even how accurate voice print identification is.

Anyway, LaBeouf was pretty good, though his character seemed unnecessarily abrasive at times. If someone put $750,000 in my bank account and filled my apartment with stolen military stuff and then I was arrested because of it, I might decide that being a dick to the FBI agent who's interrogating me would be a bad idea.

Having said all that, I have to say I did enjoy it. There were lots of car chases and explosions and overall, it was fun, if silly.

On a side note, I cannot watch a Shia LaBeouf movie without thinking he looks like Wil Wheaton:

Shia LaBeouf Wil Wheaton
Shia LaBeoufWil Wheaton

Geek humour

How cool is it that my StackOverflow reputation is exactly 4k? Answer: very cool.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Harry Potter-a-thon

On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, Gail and the boys and I had a Harry Potter marathon. We watched all five movies back to back, and Gail had fun making Harry Potter-themed snacks. We're all big fans of the Harry Potter series, but as with Star Wars, when you see a movie enough times and get to know the characters well enough, you start to notice little things that don't make sense. I have fun coming up with these things. These are not a knock on the movies — I know that they are fantasy and that they don't need to be 100% realistic to be enjoyable, in fact, any fantasy movie that's 100% realistic isn't really fantasy, now is it?

Philosopher's Stone

  • Hagrid says about Gringotts "ain't no place safer! Not one! 'cept perhaps Hogwarts." Rrrrright. Hogwarts is guarding possibly the most important and valuable object in the wizarding world, and three eleven-year-olds — including one who's only known about the wizarding world for less than a year — are able to get by the traps. Not to mention the fact that when Harry finally does arrive at the end, Quirrell is already there, which means that he got by all the traps too — and Harry had help, while Quirrel did it by himself. Hey, bang-up job on those traps, Hogwarts professors.
  • Nicolas Flamel has had the stone, presumably in Gringotts, for well over 600 years. Why did they decide to move it to Hogwarts? Ron makes a good point about keeping a creature like Fluffy in a school. Surely they suspected that Voldemort might try to steal the Stone, so why bring it to Hogwarts and put the students in danger?
  • To get into the room where Fluffy is guarding the trap door, Hermione performs a simple "alohomora" spell. Shouldn't the teachers have magically locked that door so that simple spells wouldn't open it?
  • Similarly, if the restricted section of the library is truly restricted, surely the gate should be magically locked.
  • When Voldemort tells Quirrell to kill Harry, why does he attempt to choke him? Why not just use avada kedavra? And why is he able to touch Harry's throat, but turns to dust when Harry touches him? Quirrell says he tried to kill Harry a number of times previously as well — why use a complicated curse to make Harry's broom fly all over the place and not just use the killing curse? He had plenty of opportunities...

Chamber of Secrets

  • If Hagrid was at Hogwarts when the Chamber was opened fifty years ago, that would make him between sixty-one and sixty-seven years old at the time of this film. Does Hagrid look that old to you?
  • On a similar note, Professor Dumbledore had a fairly long grey beard in the fifty-year-old flashbacks. My beard has a fair bit of grey in it, and if I hadn't shaved in ten years, it could be that long, so it's possible that Dumbledore is as young as forty in the flashback, but likely older. That makes him at least ninety now.
  • Gilderoy Lockhart is a fraud, and yet he takes a number of opportunities to perform spells in front of people, with disastrous results. If I were pretending to be awesome when I really wasn't, I'd try to avoid performing in front of people, lest my inadequacies be publicly displayed. Why would he choose to try to fix Harry's broken arm? Why would he choose to start the dueling club when he knows he can't fight? For that matter, why would he take this teaching job in the first place?
  • Speaking of the dueling club, Snape says "perhaps it would be a good idea to teach them how to block unfriendly spells", to which Lockhart answers "An excellent suggestion!" and then doesn't do it. He picks two students and basically says "go!" without any advice on what to do.
  • Why do some "expelliarmus" charms flick the victim's wand away harmlessly (Lupin on Snape) while others (Snape on Lockhart, Harry on Snape) knock the victim twenty feet back?
  • When trying to stop the flying car, Ron pulls out his wand and taps the steering wheel saying "Stop! Stop! Stop!". He's been around magic all his life — does he really think this will work? I know it's a plot device to have him break his wand, but it could have been done better.
  • Is "eat slugs!" really a spell, or did Ron just say that out loud and then do a non-vocal spell, something they don't learn until sixth year?

Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Fred and George said they took the Maurauder's Map from Filch's office during their first year, which means that they've had it since before Ron arrived at Hogwarts. During that time, if they had looked up the Gryffindor dormatories, they'd have seen the name "Peter Pettigrew" on the map because Scabbers lived there. Either they never looked up the Gryffindor dorms in that time (which seems unlikely), or they never thought it weird that the name of a person who they didn't know kept showing up in the Gryffindor dorms.
  • Sirius got past the dementors and into Hogwarts, presumably, because he was an animagus and turned into a dog. Are dementors really fooled by animagi? The Maurauder's Map isn't. Wouldn't this mean that any animagus sent to Azkaban could simply transform and walk out?
  • Hermione says something like "Bad things happen to wizards who mess with time". If that's the case, why would a professor give a time-turner to a thirteen year old witch just so that she could take extra classes? Doesn't this seem dangerous?

Goblet of Fire

Order of the Phoenix

I've only seen this movie two or three times, so I don't really have any comments about this one. One thing I do want to mention is that the character of Luna Lovegood was perfectly cast. She is exactly how I pictured her when reading the books, seemingly kind of ditzy, but sweet and strangely wise. She's got the right dreamy sort of look and voice.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Updated NLL predictions

Since I posted my predictions of the NLL East and West divisions, there have been a few changes in the league. The team rosters have been released, a number of players have announced that they will not play in 2009, but most importantly the Chicago Shamrox have ceased to exist, and their players scattered to the four winds in the umpteenth NLL dispersal draft. Here are my updates to my previous comments:



All the rumours I've read about Craig Conn say that he'll be ready for action mid-January, so me might miss the first two or maybe three games. If he's fully recovered and as good as he can be, he's a big addition for the Rock. The Rock also picked up Bill McGlone from Chicago, and I know nothing about him. He had 40 points in 16 games in 2007, which is hardly MVP-worthy but pretty decent, though his production dropped by 50% in 2008. Goaltending is still a concern. I watched the first game of the season, and the Rock's offense looked pretty solid, even without Conn.


They've lost Brett Bucktooth, possibly for the year, and I forgot that they will now have Sean Greenhalgh, who missed all of last year.


So much for "not many changes". Grant is still gone, but so now is Scott Evans, and the Gaits reunite once again as Gary's twin brother Paul is the new head coach. As far as I know, Paul has zero pro lacrosse coaching experience, so that will be interesting.


Athan Iannucci had surgery in the off-season, and from what I heard, was supposed to be out for a couple of games at most. Now there are rumours that he should be back mid-season, and I've read at least once that he may be out for the entire season. Losing the reigning scoring champ and league MVP is a pretty big blow.

Also Peter Jacobs retired.


They were going to be a pretty decent expansion team anyway, and now adding former Goalie of the Year Anthony Cosmo makes them even better. Jake Bergey chose to sit out the year rather than play with someone other than the Wings. I think this is odd, considering the Wings have twice left Bergey unprotected in expansion drafts, and he was chosen by Boston each time. The first time he was traded back to the Wings, this time he decides to sit out. Perhaps the Boston GM shoud have given Bergey a phone call before picking him?


Ummm, gone.


Losing Iannucci is major, so Philly is no longer my pick to win the division. I'm a little more optimistic on Toronto and a little less on Rochester. Chicago was last anyway, so that doesn't really affect anything. Boston got better, but I don't think they improved enough to put them into the playoffs. End result:

  1. Buffalo
  2. Philadelphia
  3. New York
  4. Toronto
  5. Rochester
  6. Boston



One thing I missed that's different about 2009 for the Roughies is the return of captain Tracey Kelusky, who missed half of last season. Shawn Cable is not on the roster, but he only played 7 games last year (for 5 points), so that's not much of a loss points-wise. Avery was released, so it's only Campbell and King in goal.

San Jose

Much-hyped rookie Paul Rabil has been signed, so add one to the list of potential offensive stars on the Stealth.


The only change here is that Dallas Eliuk has now officially retired. No big surprise, and he wasn't going to be playing anyway.


No changes.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The NLL season is on...

...and the Rock are tied for first overall! And that's after the game! A few thoughts about the game:

  • Great that we could watch it for free through!
  • The video quality wasn't any worse than the $7 B2 games from last year, I didn't think. Not bad in a small window, but not really watchable full-screen for any length of time.
  • Nice to see the Rock offense spread around — hat-tricks by Manning, Biernes, Wiles, and Ratcliffe. McGlone's goal was very nice, and Manning's seeing-eye goal to win it was nice too. Crosbie with 6 assists, Ratcliffe with 5, Wiles with 4.
  • No Craig Conn. No big surprise.
  • More of a surprise: no Ryan Benesch. He was benched at the end of last year, but Mike Kloepfer said during the off-season that there's no problem with Benesch and that he's a big part of the Rock's future. Then he doesn't play the opener. An upcoming trade, perhaps?