personal, blog, gaming comments edit

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on stuff I do in my off-time, so I figured I’d do a round-up entry to catch up.

Since Phoenix was born it’s been harder to get so-called “free time” to do much. Probably more accurately put: There are a lot of things I like to do, and I have a lot of time to do things if I can involve my toddler, but most of the stuff I want to do isn’t toddler-friendly so I don’t get to do it. I mean, toddlers plus RC helicopters equals disaster.

Jenn’s been helping out a bit trying to get me a bit more time to do stuff on my own. She’ll take Phoe to the zoo or something so I’ll get a chance to pick up some of the activities I used to enjoy but don’t get to as much anymore. What am I up to?

I’m switching up my comic book subscriptions. I’ve had a comic box at Things From Another World for many years and for most of those years I’ve subscribed to the same stuff. I’ve finally started getting caught up on my comic reading (“That 2011 Annual story was great!”) and some of the titles I’ve been subscribing to seem to have jumped the shark, so I’ve been trimming up the list. I’ve canceled Witchblade, The Darkness, and all of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer titles. I’ve been in on those from the beginning, but the stories are feeling played out and stale, and at $3 – $5 a pop, I can find other titles. I’m trying out a couple of new ones like Ten Grand, and I’m keeping Daredevil, Powers, and the myriad Grimm Fairy Tales titles.

I’m getting back into RC helicopters. A few years back I bought the original Blade CX coaxial helicopter from the local hobby shop to start getting into flying. It’s been fun, but I’m not very good at it, and it requires a lot of space with zero wind. Here and there I’ve been upgrading it, adding better blades and so on, but I’ve not really gotten it dialed in. I recently picked up a Blade MSR and a Spektrum DX6i controller and I’m starting to get back into it. The MSR is much smaller so it’s easier to fly indoors, though I still think I need to tweak some of the settings. I’ve also upgraded my Blade CX with a new receiver so I can control both helicopters from the one transmitter. All that, plus I got this monster battery charger so I don’t have the problems getting my batteries properly balanced/charged/stored and I’m good to go.

I’m having fun with frisbee golf. The weather has been really nice this summer so my team at work went to a local course and I played frisbee golf for the first time. I’m not very good, but it’s fun, so I’ve been back a few times since. I picked up a starter kit of discs for myself and one for Jenn. This is something Phoenix can participate in, too – we give her a disc and she throws it all over. (She also runs and fetches your discs after you throw them so you have to watch where they land because they’re not going to stay there long.)

I’m burning hours playing Skyrim. I got Skyrim for Christmas and started playing it a couple months back. That’s a time-sink, right there. It’s kind of relaxing and compelling at the same time. There’s just enough tedium to take my mind off the troubles of the day and enough missions to run that there’s always something to do.

I’m taking online bartending courses. I picked up a membership to Bartending College Online through Groupon a while ago and I’ve had fun watching the videos and learning the various techniques and recipes. I’m not going to quit and go be a bartender, but it’s fun to learn something new that doesn’t have to do with computers.

I haven’t gotten back into electronics with my Snap Circuits yet, but I hope to do that, too. Once it turns to Autumn and the weather goes to crap, frisbee golf will be out and I’ll see about getting into the electronics again. I really enjoy working with them, but about halfway through the exercises that come with the set I realized I don’t have a good grasp of the fundamentals, so I took a pause on it to read a book on the math and basics behind why the components behave the way they do and that’s where I stalled out. It’s not a book you want to read when you’re sleepy, but I think it’s important to understand the basics so I can go beyond what the pre-printed exercises show and maybe make electronic inventions of my own.

I’m trying to migrate my blog to WordPress. Subtext was fun while it lasted, but development on it has pretty much ended and I’d like to be on a supported platform. I honestly thought I’d use my blog as more of a hobby, someplace to try out new code and ideas, but there’s really not any plugin mechanism in Subtext and, while that was the plan, it never came to fruition. Rather than move to another smaller platform and go through the growing pains again (and possible abandonment of the platform) I’m trying to get into WP. That means I have to figure out how to export my content in WP format, though, which isn’t going to be easy.

I’m trying to get my images out of ImageShack. I had a paid account with ImageShack for a year or two to host my images and reduce bandwidth consumption on my hosting provider, but ImageShack randomly deletes or loses images all the time. Like, constantly. Links break, the images disappear… today I found that they’ve “lost” my blog skin images, so my blog doesn’t render right. I’m going to switch to a simpler/lighter-weight skin until I can get that fixed (probably until I move to WordPress – it was time for a change anyway).

vs comments edit

I tried to update to the latest version of NuGet in Visual Studio recently and failed. Miserably. The error I kept getting was:

The process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process.

Totally generic, not even any info about the file being locked.

Looking in the log, I see the following error:

7/29/2013 7:30:36 AM - Install Error : System.IO.IOException: The process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process.
   at System.IO.__Error.WinIOError(Int32 errorCode, String maybeFullPath)
   at System.IO.__Error.WinIOError()
   at System.IO.File.InternalMove(String sourceFileName, String destFileName, Boolean checkHost)
   at Microsoft.VisualStudio.ExtensionManager.ExtensionManagerService.AtomicallyDeleteFiles(IEnumerable`1 filePaths, Boolean justMarkForDeletion)
   at Microsoft.VisualStudio.ExtensionManager.ExtensionManagerService.DeleteDiscoverableFiles(IInstalledExtension extension)
   at Microsoft.VisualStudio.ExtensionManager.ExtensionManagerService.UninstallInternal(IInstalledExtension extension, Boolean forceDelete)
   at Microsoft.VisualStudio.ExtensionManager.ExtensionManagerService.CommitInstalledAndUninstalledExtensions(IEnumerable`1 installedExtensions, IEnumerable`1 uninstalledExtensions, IEnumerable`1 packComponentChanges)
   at Microsoft.VisualStudio.ExtensionManager.ExtensionManagerService.BeginInstall(IInstallableExtension installableExtension, Boolean perMachine, AsyncOperation asyncOp)
   at Microsoft.VisualStudio.ExtensionManager.ExtensionManagerService.InstallWorker(IInstallableExtension extension, Boolean perMachine, AsyncOperation asyncOp)

Again, no info about which file is locked.

I used ProcMon.exe to figure out the sharing violation was happening on NuGet.pkgdef in the new installation of NuGet. Of course, it was happening at exactly the wrong point in the installation process, so I ended up with 10 or 15 nearly-installed-but-corrupted copies of NuGet.

I’m pretty sure this has to do with our antivirus software holding a lock just a little too long on the file, but who’s to say. I just needed it fixed.

Here’s how I fixed it.

  1. Close all instances of Visual Studio.
  2. Go to your global Visual Studio extensions folder. NuGet doesn’t install in your per-user folder; instead, you’ll see it in Program Files. Something like: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 11.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions
  3. Look in that folder. You will see a lot of randomly named folders like “sdjfksiov.djd” and so on. Most (if not all) of those are NuGet. You’ll want to be aware of which ones are NuGet and which ones aren’t, particularly if you have other extensions installed. (You can tell if it’s NuGet because it’ll have a bunch of NuGet.*.dll files in there. If you don’t see NuGet stuff in there, you’ll want to keep it.)
  4. Rename that Extensions folder  to something like: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 11.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions_RENAMED
  5. Download NuGet directly from the Visual Studio extension gallery.
  6. Execute the downloaded NuGet.Tools.vsix file you just downloaded. Don’t do it through Visual Studio. Just double-click the .vsix file to install it.
  7. NuGet should successfully install. As part of that install, it will create the Extensions folder again, so you will once again see C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 11.0\Common7\IDE\Extensions
  8. Open up your renamed extensions folder and move all of the non-NuGet extensions into the new Extensions folder.
  9. Now open Visual Studio. You should see the new version of NuGet installed and working.
  10. You can delete that renamed Extensions folder once you’ve verified everything is working.

I fought with this for a long time. Enough that I corrupted my whole VS install and had to pave my machine and fully reinstall. Hopefully this will help other folks that see the same issue.

One additional note: My local user account isn’t an administrator, but when I need to do admin operations I can provide credentials. This process seems to require you’re actually running as an administrator account. Simply providing credentials to elevate the privileges didn’t work for me.

UPDATE FOR VS 2015 - THIS TRICK MAY OR MAY NOT ALWAYS WORK: After installing VS 2015 RC1 I found this problem started happening with many more extensions besides just NuGet. I’m not sure if VS 2015 extensions install differently or if more extensions have just adopted the way NuGet installs. There’s also the added challenge of add-in dependencies.

For example, the “Powershell Tools” extension immediately had an update after install. I tried this, but found that “Powershell Tools” relies on another add-in also being installed, so having an empty extensions folder doesn’t work. However, after locating the dependencies and making sure those were all in place, I still ended up with the file lock error. I never did find a combination of actions that could work around it.

I effectively can’t update any add-ins after they’re installed in VS 2015 RC1 on the machine with the guilty antivirus software. Installing on a VM without the antivirus software, everything works swimmingly.

UPDATE MAY 8, 2017: After a lot of research I found that this was caused, for me, by the McAfee Endpoint Encryption full-disk encryption product, not the antivirus. The lack of antivirus in my initial tests was a red herring; the VM I tested with also did not have the full-disk encryption product running. This problem was acknowledged as an issue in this McAfee KB article. The solution if this is what’s causing it for you is to tell full-disk encryption to exclude devenv.exe and VSIXInstaller.exe. Note the KB article doesn’t mention VSIXInstaller.exe; that’s an omission in the article.

Here’s a registry snippet to tell McAfee Endpoint Encryption to exclude these files. Once you do that, reboot, and the problem should be solved. I’ve tested this on Windows 7, Windows 2008 Server, and Windows 2012 Server. YMMV; I’m not responsible if your stuff breaks; disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer.

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


Well, I made it to 37. And, in the usual internet custom of blogging something reflective and profound when your birthday comes around, well… here I am, jumping on the bandwagon, contributing my part to that large batch of published information in the category of “Well, It Matters To Me.”

I don’t really feel 37 mentally, though my hair is more gray now than it’s ever been, so it’s starting to show externally. I don’t exercise like I should (because, frankly, it’s boring as crap) so I’ll claim being out of shape as well.

But I feel like I’ve done a lot, or at least enough to satisfy my definition of “a lot,” so I think there’s something to be said for that. My daughter, Phoenix, is now two and a half and the energy she exhibits puts tropical storms to shame. I think in that respect keeping up with her is something that keeps me young, though it keeps me exhausted at the same time.

I go to the chiropractor every month and I was mentioning to him how I always figured that I’d get into better shape as she got older. You know, she starts out as a baby and doesn’t require too much of my energy, but as she gets older and I have to keep up, I’d gradually get stronger and in better shape and everything would work out. “That’s, uh, that’s really not how it works,” he said, as he caused my spine to make a pretty awful cracking noise.

I think the biggest thing I’ve found as I get older is that I have a lot less time. When you’re young and single, you can just put your shoes on and head out to see a movie. You can go to the comic store on a whim and hang out for a couple of hours. Want to do a total dungeon siege in Skyrim? Go for it. You won’t be neglecting anyone and as long as you have a pizza, you’re set to go.

Now I’ve got a loving wife and a crazy kid. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Seriously, they’re the best people I know and I can’t imagine life without them. So keep that in mind when I say this: There are times when I feel like I’ve lost something of myself and that my time feels a bit “held hostage.”

I still make it to the comic store, but it’s more monthly than weekly. I don’t hang out as long. And I’m having to become way, way more selective about what I read – not because of budget, but because I don’t have time to read. I spent a couple of magical hours a week or two ago finally getting to read the 2011 annual for one of the comics I get and reading through a full year-and-a-half of stories for another comic.

Evenings? Fuhgeddaboudit. Get home, toddler’s already there. You gotta be daddy from the time you get home until 8 when she goes to bed. You might get a reprieve if you hand her the iPad (she can figure out Netflix herself and find something to watch). Between 8 and 10 it’s nice to have an adult conversation that won’t be interrupted by a toddler, so it’s husband time. Usually that means you can do something that doesn’t require too much attention while you watch a movie together or something like that. But it’s not much. Nothing where it’d require any actual focus.

When I do get time, it’s an exercise in extreme time optimization. I might get, say, four hours while Jenn takes Phoe to the zoo. What do I do? Well, I really would like to go eat at this restaurant that Jenn’s not so into, but that means 15 minutes there, 30 to eat, 15 minutes back – nope, that’s an hour of my four. Skip eating, I have no time for that. OK, let’s say an hour of reading comics, 30 minutes of failing to learn guitar using Rocksmith, an hour to try and actually make headway in Skyrim… you get the idea. It’s a near minute-to-minute itinerary. And there are so many things I want to do. I want to learn electronics (got the books, got some Snap Circuits…). I want to make a little movie with the Muppet Whatnot Jenn got me. I’m taking online bartending classes (just for fun, not for career change). I have comics to read, home media center stuff I want to work on… you get the idea. That doesn’t even count the little things around the house that need to be fixed/re-painted/etc.

I just haven’t the time.

Maybe that’s really what it means to get older. You just don’t have the time anymore, so you have to really prioritize and just give up on some of the things you’d rather do.

But the good stuff is really good. Watching Phoenix just get into the Batman is Brave! book (and want to hear it over and over) is awesome. Hearing the crazy stuff she comes up with – words and phrases I had no idea she knew – is amazing.

So, here I am. 37. I’m not sure this is where I envisioned myself being, but it’s not a bad place to be. I can’t really say I have a “five year plan” because, I mean, I don’t know what I’m eating for dinner tonight. I don’t even remember what I ate for dinner last night.

And maybe that’s OK.

gaming, xbox comments edit

When Xbox One was first announced the whole game licensing thing, admittedly, had me a little worried.

I don’t buy stuff from iTunes because the DRM has always been a pain in the ass. I have an iPod, my wife has an iPod, we each have our own separate user accounts, and making sure that music or videos that I buy are playable on her device is just a huge pain.

I have a few Kindle books, but I find that Kindle DRM is also a pain in the ass. I buy a book, my wife wants to read it… and it’s (of course) not one of the books that’s “eligible” to be loaned to someone. The publisher or whomever has locked it down. My wife has to physically borrow my Kindle to read it, which means I can’t read any of my other books. That’s crap.

We have two Xbox 360s at my house - one upstairs, one downstairs. My wife and I each have an Xbox Live account. Sometimes I want to play a game upstairs while she plays a different game downstairs (or vice versa). Sometimes we buy two copies of a game so we can play each other

So when I saw that there was this whole licensing discussion going on, I have to say, I headed for anti-DRM territory and got sort of scared.

However, it was pretty early and the details were sketchy. Some of the stuff sounded like the same crap - “Anyone can play your games on your console - regardless of whether you are logged in or their relationship to you.” That’s how the Xbox Live Arcade works now, where it gets licensed both to your user account and to a particular console. That doesn’t account for the multi-console household like we have, which makes some things really hard. If I buy some Rock Band tracks on one console, but we want to play on the other console… I have to be logged in. Having had the red ring of death three times, I’m no stranger tothe stupid “license transfer” process to move from one console to another. Seeing this come back with “even more move toward digital-only content” had me scared.

I also got scared by the notes about trading in disc-based games. “…Publishers can enable you to trade in your games at participating retailers.” That sounds like Kindle to me. Book publishers can allow me to loan people my Kindle books but almost none do. Why would I believe game publishers would be any different?

Some of the stuff did sound pretty cool - the “ten-person family sharing” thing was actually pretty great. I could buy a game, play it, and loan it to my uncle in the next state without having to mail him a disc. They had also figured out how to give your games to other people when you’re done with them, which is also pretty slick.

The once-every-24-hours-phone-home thing didn’t bother me a bit. I don’t play many online/multiplayer games, but I’m always connected to the network and I’m always signed in with my profile. It doesn’t bug me if they want to run a ping once a day. I’m sure it’d be connected to other services more often than that for other things anyway. I know a lot of folks were worked up about that one. I think that’s a mountains-out-of-mole-hills thing, but that’s just me.

But I guess that’s all kind of moot now, since they’ve changed their tune. We’re basically going back to the original model, which doesn’t hurt my feelings but does make me wonder what could have been. It sounds like there are some folks who are pretty disappointed that we’re going back to same-old-same-old and I’m a little disappointed, too, but probably not as much as this guy on Gizmodo.

I think the problem with the Gizmodo point of view is that there were a lot of hopes listed about things that could have been with the new licensing model but no actual concrete facts. Let’s address each of the points in that article:

  • Each game you buy would be tied to your account: That’s not necessarily a good thing. I mentioned the trouble I’ve had in the past in properly being able to loan Kindle books and in the XBLA content I’ve purchased. I think this is a fixable problem, but it wasn’t addressed in the original communication.
  • Publishers could create hubs to resell games: “Could” is a key word there. We’ve heard no intention from anyone that it would happen. And I’m not super interested in going to each individual publisher’s hub to resell stuff. What happened to the free market?
  • Publishers could make money on resold games: That is true. I’m not convinced that’s a benefit to me.
  • New games could be cheaper because publishers will make that money on resold games: Again, “could” is a key word. I’ve yet to see a console release where games for the new console were cheaper than the previous generation. What’s the impetus to lower the price?
  • You’d get a better return on your used games: That sounds like it’d be up to these hypothetical markets we have no information on. It’d be possible, but no guarantees.
  • We know this is possible because of Steam: I think there are a lot of factors that went into making Steam what it is today. FWIW, I’m not a Steam user or a PC gamer. It’d be nice to see other examples of similar marketplaces working - one example is not sufficient evidence beyond proving something is technically possible. Michael Jordan has a 48” vertical leap. I don’t see a ton of other folks pulling that one off.
  • Sharing games would have been cooler: I’ll give them this one. That 10-person family sharing thing sounded neat.

I’m not sure going back to the “old way” was the right choice, but maybe pulling a few things back? What if you had the 10-person-sharing-plan AND a “five-console-ownership” plan? I register the two consoles I own, my wife registers those same consoles, and now the games will work on those consoles OR with the people on my plan? Honestly, that’d be perfect. You might get people abusing it, registering consoles they don’t own, but they’ll do that with the family plan anyway.

Or a guarantee that I can trade in disc-based games rather than “publishers can allow me to?” I want full control over the content I purchased. It’s mine. Once you throw “publishers can allow this or that” into the mix, all bets are off. I’ve stopped listening because you just rented me content instead of selling me content.

I think the real failure here was in the communication about the licensing model. We got a couple of press releases with some bullet points but no real detailed information. Particularly around the resale hubs and so on - all that was talking-head-level-stuff, no real concrete… anything. I think a lot of fears could have been assuaged by just having those details ready up front. Can you show me one of these resale hubs? Can you give me any idea about where prices might start in there? What have publishers actually said about this stuff? There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt there, and I think it fueled the masses. They should have been ready with a ton of details, but they weren’t, and now we are where we are.

What I’m curious about is if they’ll “phase in” the new model. Start off with the old, but then add components in one at a time. You can buy a disc-based game, but if you buy a digital game… now you have that 10-person-sharing-plan - a benefit of going digital instead of disc. Get people used to some of the cool parts without doing the “rip-off-the-bandage” approach to changing it up. I don’t see why they couldn’t.

I love the Disney Parks Blog. They post interesting stuff (if you’re a Disney fan like me), particularly if you’re into behind-the-scenes things.

Today’s post on Mickey and the Magical Map is cool and tells you about how they put that show together.

Seeing some of that behind-the-scenes stuff reminds me of a time back when I was younger, maybe… I don’t know, 10? There was some sort of promotion going on at a local department store. I think it was JC Penney, but I don’t remember exactly. They had some Disney character artists touring through and they’d give little demonstrations every hour and show you how to draw the characters.

I remember being really excited to see it, sitting on the floor in front of a small raised platform that had a chair and a drawing table. A bunch of other kids had gathered around, too, and we were all anxious to see what was going to happen.

Eventually a lady came out and talked all about drawing the characters - how you could imagine all of them as basic shapes, then sort of “tweak” the shapes to get a little closer to what you wanted. Donald Duck’s head is basically round, while Chip and Dale’s heads are more oval. That sort of thing. Looking back, it was all sort of basic drawing techniques - putting the cross-shaped guidelines on the head to place the eyes and nose, and so on. Simple stuff when I look at it now, but so inspiring and magical when you’re young, watching your favorite characters basically materialize in front of you from some simple pencil marks.

The artist gave her drawings away to the audience members as she finished them. I remember wanting one really badly but not getting one, being jealous of the kid in front of me who got the one of Chip.

I also got an opportunity back in college to work for a short amount of time at Will Vinton Studios. It was really cool to see the little sets that the stop motion animation was done on, how the cameras and the figures all came together to create this magical moving picture. I ended up writing some conversion tools for Kuper motion control cameras to help integrate computer animation with physical camera movements so computer animation and clay animation could coexist. I don’t know how useful it was, but I heard they liked it and used it quite a bit.

I still love seeing that stuff. How the animation is done, how the shows are put together… and when I see it, and remember, it makes me wish I was part of that magic. That I was helping to put on the shows, or create the animation, or make that happen for other people. My friends Sheldon and Jason are doing that, and I admit it makes me a little jealous.

Hey, Pixar… need any remote developers in Oregon?