General Ramblings comments edit

This weekend was a nice relaxing one, which is a good thing, since we’ve got our weekends pretty much booked solid between now and the wedding. It’s amazing the number of things that you really can’t do in the evening when you get home from work.

Saturday Jenn and I picked up a fairly difficult puzzle from the store and spent some time together watching movies and doing the puzzle. It was nice to not have to run around and do things, and we enjoyed spending some time together working on the puzzle. It’s been a while since we just sat and worked on something like that.

Sunday Jenn got bored, which is pretty normal for Jenn. Jenn, bless her heart, is a very binary sort of person. She’s either hungry or full, but never in between. She’s either entertained or bored, but never in between. Sunday was a “bored” day, so we started talking about different things to do. We ended up going to Bike N’ Hike and Bike Gallery to look at different bikes (since we don’t actually own any).

Bikes are damn expensive.

Granted, I haven’t had a bike since I was a kid, so I really had no concept of how much bikes cost, but I was thinking maybe a couple hundred bucks, tops. Turns out you can get a super low-end bike for that, but if you want to ride it in any reasonable capacity, you’re probably looking at the $300 mark. Plus helmets. Plus a bike rack for the car so you can take the bikes out to a place to ride. I don’t see us starting this one up for less than $750, which is far more than I anticipated. Needless to say, while the trip was educational, it ended in disappointment for Jenn as we did not get bikes. Perhaps later in the year, or early next year. The wedding and the sprinkler system and the house repainting and all that… too much drain on the budget for bikes right now.

After we got home from the bike hunt, I finally sat down to play some Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, which I got for my birthday but hadn’t cracked it out of the plastic wrap yet because of the whole broken Xbox 360 debacle.

GRAW rocks. It really does. It’s just hard. Super hard. See, I’m used to the first-person shooter like Halo where you just bust in with your machine gun and start blasting away. GRAW requires you to peek around the corner and scout stuff out. If you just run in, you’re going to get killed. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different way to play and it takes a little getting used to. On the other hand, it forces you to get more into the game and pay more attention to what’s going on. You can’t barrel around the corner, you actually have to stop and plan your route to the destination because you don’t want to walk through ambush points or anything. Totally sweet.

Anyway, I played that for a couple of hours while Jenn entertained herself putting together the flower girl basket for the wedding. Fine and dandy.

Had some dinner, watched V for Vendetta (decent, but somehow… lacking… maybe I just wasn’t into it at the time), and went to bed a half hour early.

The house painters are here this morning, doing their thing. Technically they’re just painting the trim since I have vinyl siding. Of course, I have to be here, since the front door needs to be painted and I’m not just going to leave the house unlocked all day. Sooooo… working from home.

General Ramblings comments edit

If you open a can of Coke and decide it’s a good idea to pump some coffee in it to try to make “homemade Coke Blak,” don’t stir it. Coffee + Coke + stir = volcano of Coke foam.

Yeah, I’m a dumbass.

gaming, xbox comments edit

I love the Xbox Live Arcade. Being able to get five-to-ten-dollar games that are fun to play is a great idea. I dig it, Jenn digs it, everyone has fun.

The way it works is you sign in to Xbox Live on your Xbox 360. Once you’ve done that, you can navigate over to the Xbox Live Arcade section and you can buy cheap, fun games using “Microsoft Credits.” The game downloads to your console, and you play. Simple enough. I buy games, Jenn buys games, we play, it’s great.

That’s the key, though - we both buy games, and we both play. There’s no point in me buying a copy of Frogger, storing it on our Xbox 360 hard drive, and her not being able to turn the thing on and play. When I buy the game, I’m buying it so we can play. And that’s how it works by default - if I buy the game, anyone who signs onto my system can play the full version of that game. Sweet.

My Xbox DVD drive stopped recognizing discs recently and I had to send it in. I got it back yesterday, and the first thing I did was pop in a disc to something, just to make sure it all worked. It did, and that was cool. Then I switched over to the Arcade. That’s when the problems started.

Somehow all the games I bought were no longer available for Jenn to play. All the games she bought were no longer available for me to play. I mean, they physically showed up in the menu, but they all appeared as “trial versions” even though we had paid for them.

After much screwing around, I figured out that if her profile was signed in at the same time I was trying to play using my profile, everything was unlocked; sign her back out and the games she bought instantly become trial versions for me again. That’s patently unacceptable - I can’t keep signing her on just so I can play. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s dumb.

I looked at the “Usage Restrictions” you see when you download any game from the Arcade. It kind of explains what I was seeing, but until you experience it, it doesn’t fully make sense.

I called Xbox Live support to find out what to do. After spending literally an hour on the phone (about 45 minutes of that on hold while they were sorting things out trying to figure out how to address the situation), it turns out that the DRM they use on Xbox Live Arcade is all sorts of messed up.

When you buy a game, it’s associated with your user profile. It also automatically authorizes the console you purchased the game from such that anyone who plays that game on that console is unrestricted. (Don’t buy games at your friend’s house and stick them on a memory card to bring home, you’ll get nailed by this.) If you transfer the game from one storage unit (the hard drive) to another (a memory card), the DRM is changed so only the person whose profile purchased the game is authorized to play - they need to be signed in to Xbox Live for the game to be unlocked.

I’m not sure if this happens if you do something like originally download the game to your Xbox hard drive, take the hard drive to your friend’s house, then bring it back home. Does it recognize that you removed the media? Do you lose the machine-wide authorization? I don’t know, but I’d be interested in finding out.

Anyway, what the Xbox repair people did is send me a new console, not just replace the broken DVD drive. So the console itself was “new” according to the DRM, so it was like I bought a game somewhere else and brought it home.

How is this getting resolved? You’re going to love this.

First, you have to create a new gamer profile and make it an Xbox Live “Silver” membership. It’s free to create that new profile since the “Silver” membership is free, but there is a heck of a lot of data entry for contact information, not to mention the fact you need to give it an email address and password so it can sign on - just like a real profile. The representatives on the phone will tell you it doesn’t matter what email address you give it, but from experience I know they send account notices and such to that email address, so it should probably be legitimate. Of course, that means if you don’t have your own domain and/or can’t figure out how to set up email address forwarding then you’ll need to create a new, dummy Hotmail account or something. Super convenient.

Once you have the dummy gamer profile set up, Microsoft will credit that account with enough credits to go in and re-purchase all of the games you previously had unlocked. Getting that credit to come through takes eight-to-ten business days.

I asked why you can’t just credit one of the existing gamer profiles so you can re-purchase without going through that hassle. Apparently there’s something in the system that knows if you’ve played the game or not before and the account you re-purchase the games through can’t have played the games you’re re-purchasing. I’m not sure if that’s a technical misunderstanding on the part of the technicians or if that’s actually a legitimate issue. Regardless, the dummy profile thing was the set of instructions given to me by more than one technician during the call, so that’s how it’s going.

I’m not a big fan of Apple’s iTunes DRM, but the notion of authorizing/de-authorizing a machine might have come in handy here. Like I said, I dig the Arcade, but now I’m reluctant to buy anything. What happens if I want to get a second Xbox 360 for a different room? I can’t take the game up there because it won’t be authorized. Even if I wanted to accept that as a limitation, Jenn couldn’t take the game to the other room because I’d need my profile signed in so she could play.

Argh! You’d think that not having to fuss with a game disc would be easier, not harder, but it’s exactly the opposite. I can take the game disc to my friend’s house without having to fight DRM. I can get a second console and play the game disc on either one without having to screw around signing in profiles or setting up dummy accounts.

The only exception I’ve found to this odd DRM rule is the Hexic HD game that comes standard on Xbox 360 hard drives. It was unlocked for both of us from the get-go, even after we hooked up the new console, so I’m guessing there’s just no DRM attached to it.

Come on, Microsoft, I thought you were smarter than this. We just want to play the games we bought. Let us play.

*UPDATE * (Minor clarification) - The Xbox that the repair facility sent me back was a different one than I sent in; they didn’t actually replace the drive in my broken Xbox, they just sent me a new/refurbished one. Had they sent me my original Xbox, I may not have run into these issues.

coderush comments edit

I’m looking at ways I can update CR_Documentor to add Sandcastle support. I think it can be done, but it’s not going to be cheap. I think there’s actually quite a bit of refactoring to do since the thing has evolved in a way that the rendering engine is pretty ingrained into how things work. That’ll have to get isolated so I can determine how to write a rendering engine as a more pluggable entity. I started doing some of that in the last version of CR_Documentor and it looks like it’s time to finish that job.

I think the hardest thing is going to be figuring out how Sandcastle ends up rendering the various entities in documentation. What does a list look like? How do all the different members of a class render in the preview window? That was the hardest part of getting NDoc emulation up to speed, too - reverse engineering the XSL transformation that NDoc does in order to stream HTML. Keep in mind that when NDoc or Sandcastle renders the HTML, they have complete, ready-to-run XML they can just transform via XSLT; when I render the doc in CR_Documentor, I have to query the code and do a lot of processing to get the information the compiler gives those other products for free. (I wish it was as simple as an XSLT transformation!)

I tried at one point to create the XML the way the compiler does - by querying the code and creating all of the various elements and such - then doing a straight transformation, but it’s really slow. The true source of performance trouble is the fact that every time DXCore reparses the current document, CR_Documentor updates the preview (that’s the beauty, right? real-time previews?)… but if I have to do a lot of re-generation of XML and re-transformation every time that happens, there’s a lot of slowdown and a significant delay in the preview update occurring.

No, it gets generated by code, since that’s the fastest way to go, which means a lot more work. I do want to get Sandcastle support in, it’s just not going to happen overnight. We’ll get there.

home comments edit

Ever since we moved into our place we’ve thought about getting an irrigation system. The yard is oddly shaped in front (we’re on a corner lot) and there are some pretty inconveniently located parking strips that need to be tended to. That nets out to a lot of frustration running around moving sprinklers and a spotty lawn - green in the parts that it’s convenient to water, dead in the parts you “just can’t reach.”

I’m not sure what financial genius decided that the year we’re getting married is also the year we should get a sprinkler system (probably me), but that’s exactly what we did. We contracted with Dennis’ Seven Dees to get this done, after getting several quotes. We weren’t disappointed.

From the second they got there, you could tell they knew exactly what they were doing. It took them about a week from start to finish, and aside from the spots where they re-seeded and mulched to replace the grass from the trenches (it’s too hot to lay down sod - it’d die), you can’t even tell they were here.

Here’s a backyard panorama of the trenches in place (click for a larger version): [Backyard with trenches dug in - click for a larger

Pretty crazy. Then here’s the finished backyard (click for a larger version): [Backyard finished - click for a larger

Not too shabby, eh?

I’ve also got to compliment them on their service. At every step, they had everything totally under control. Permits with the city, getting utilities marked, scheduling when things had to be done… everything was totally taken care of, and that gave me a lot of confidence in them.

Anyway, I’m stoked. No more manual lawn watering, so hopefully this thing will green up a bit. I’m glad I went with these guys and would totally recommend them to anyone looking for landscape work. We’ll be using them for winterization of the system and probably for any future yard-related stuff we need done.

Check one more thing off the home improvement list!