November Double feature! Office Stuff! Video Games!

So the past week was an exciting week, because I accomplished two thing that I have never done before. I have caused my first major bug at the office and I finally beaten one of the video game that defined my childhood, the original Crash Bandicoot. Now those may not seem all that interesting to some of you but hey, not every week gets to be the week where you beat your personal best time for the half marathon. Appreciate the small things, you know.

Now, there is not a lot to appreciate when causing a bug in your software, especially in the industry that I am in. So what happened? The gist of it was that we had files that an empty field that would cause a program to crash. We figured that we could add a check upstream a catch when that field was empty and get rid of that specific entry in the file. I was given a file that contained an example of such an entry and assumed that the file was an input file. After all it had the correct layout. So I did my magic on the code, tested it with said file and all was well. The faulty entry was rejected as it should have, and nothing else was different. All good! Right?

Well the thing was that the file was actually an output file and the field we checked gets populated inside the program. By placing my check at the top of the logic flow, pretty much every single entry on the file would get rejected…. Ooops.

But Alex, don’t you have test environments? Shouldn’t you have seen that something was wrong? Well, our test environment is junk. I checked and while we should have seen the same issue in the test environment that occurred in production, my faulty program made no difference in it. Junk data came in, junk data came out. Hard to pin point a fault in a system that is entirely faulty to begin with.

We were able to recover all the data and rerun the old version of the code, so I am not in hot water. I will have to explain to bunch of people why and how I screwed up but that should not be too painful.

*****

Forget about all that work related nonsense, tell us more about the good stuff! Why, thank you imaginary reader! I did not realized that you cared so much about PlayStation 1 games.

Growing up in the late 90’s, there are two game franchise that I have very fond memory of: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. I don’t think there have been any games since that have matched their level refinement when it come to action/platforming. I have spent countless hours as a kid trying to get everything single collectibles in every level but there was always that one game that just relentlessly defied by attempts to beat it: The first Crash Bandicoot game. The third one was my favorite, I knew like the back of my hand and could probably beat it in my sleep. The second one was a bit tougher, lacking the double jump made getting some of the jumps a bit hard (like getting to the secret exit in Air Crash…). The first game however had the harshest level of difficulty a game can ever have: no save feature.

In the original game, the only way to save your progress was to complete one of the bonus rounds that you could find in certain levels. As you progress through the game, the levels would get tougher and so would the bonus rounds. Also, you only had one try at the bonus round, if you failed, you had to restart the entire level! As a kid I managed to go up to the level Road to Nowhere and never managed to beat it. Very disappointing.

When the games were re-released on the PlayStation network as PSONE classics, I ended up downloading them to my PSP and played through them while I was in college. I did manage to go quite a bit further but hit a stumbling block. There was a bonus round in the level Chemical Plant, right before the Pinstripe boss, but the next level with a bonus was Slippery Climb, which was incredibly hard. In order to make any progress I would have needed to beat Chemical Plant, Pinstripe, a Bridge level that was really annoying and make it through Slippery Climb, something that I never managed.

Finally, Earlier this year, Crash Bandicoot N’sane trilogy was released. Complete remake and modernization of the original games. Now, they made a major change to the original game that made it much easier: the game autosaves after every level. That being said, the levels are not any easier.

One thing that I notices through this run through of the game is what made it so hard. Crash 2 and 3 had a whole collection of enemies that served as the main obstacle while bottomless pits were more secondary to the level designs. In the first Crash, it all jumps and tricky platforming. There are the occasional enemy but they are more distraction than anything.

After many grueling hours of failing jumps and stupid deaths, I finally achieved 100% completion! Ah, the satisfaction of finally seeing a game that I have played for so many years bite the dust… I might even put the effort in getting all the time relics that were added, but I think that I will spend more time doing Planet Coaster stuff.

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Winter is coming… and Thor…

Ah yes, November, November, the 5th of remember… No wait, that doesn’t sound right.

The First weekend of November, where everyone rushes to clean all the Halloween decoration and put Christmas decoration instead. You know that we are mere weeks away from non stop Christmas Jingles and reruns of “It’s a wonderful life”! Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas season, it’s just that I don’t get why people are so intense about it.

There is one things that I know for sure is that November and December are probably the least productive month of the year for me. It seems that for the third year in a row, I am having a very light work Schedule. Of the three project two have no finalized requirements despite the fact that we are already in testing phase and the third has yet to be approved by the client, which means it currently have the very optimistic install date of 2049. I might have to go to my boss and see if there is any thing he can give me.

Thor Ragnarok came this week end, and it was quite good. It falls in line with the current trend of Marvel movie with lots of jokes and lighthearted moments that the first Guardian of the Galaxy made very popular. I miss the more somber movie from the Winter Soldier/Thor 2 phase, where you did not have a joke break the dramatic tension every five minutes. They did address a very important fact for the upcoming infinity wars, which made me very glad. The crossover with Doctor Strange felt a bit out of place, but it does what it needs to do well enough.

I used to do the Thursday night screenings for new Comic book movies but I started to do Sunday morning instead. I find the crowd on Thursday night to be too inconsistent. Sometimes it is full of nerds and you get a good experience (like when I went to see Age of Ultron), sometimes you get a bad experience. I don’t remember which movie it was but the row in front of me were clearly drunk and were more interested in their Apple watch than the film, which was very distracting. Sunday morning is usually families and old people, most the room will be empty and most importantly, tickets cost only $5! I just wish that I could skip the adverts and movie trailers…

Thursday Night Taco ride…

Some of my coworkers came to me the other day and proposed that I join them for what they described as a “short fun ride” that would involve Tacos and booze. How long was the ride? 20 miles? How hard could that be?

There was maybe one or two moment of trepidation in my mind a few days before we were supposed to ride. I figured that since I can run for 13 miles, I should be able to ride 20 miles despite the fact that I haven’t ridden any serious distances ever. I like to live dangerously.

sdr
The proper way to transport a bike…

So the plan was to meet up near the trail head at around 5:00/5:15 pm and start ridding at 5:30 pm arrive for tacos around 7 pm. My colleague also made the interesting proposition that knowing that we should meet up at 5:15, and the drive to the meeting point takes 25 minutes, he should leave at 5 pm…

I am a punctual person, so obviously I got there at 5:05. So let’s take a guess, what are the chances that my colleagues made it on time? Here is a hint:

cof
Pictured: my bike. Not pictured: my friends’s bikes….

As it turns out, it was not entirely their fault. Apparently there was big crash on the highway and they got stuck in traffic. Then it took them another 20 minutes to get things together, so did not start ridding until like 6 pm.

Thursday night taco ride are supposedly quite popular, but since it was quite cold that day we did not see that many riders. Knowing that it was not going to get any warmer, I packed a thermos filled with some heart warming tea (earl grey, hot). My colleague decide that they would rather get drunk than to stay warm, and decided to pack beers. They kept complaining about how cold they felt when I was happily sipping on my tea.

We stopped halfway to Mineola at what they called “Margaritaville” for drink and share stories about the unfortunate places we have dropped our phones. I think one of my friend actually had a second beer and seemed to be buzzed already… A sign for things to come I suppose.

The last four miles to Mineola were nice and easy since it was all down hills, though it was getting dark pretty quickly. When I asked how good the tacos were my coworker assured me they were ” the worst in the world”… definitely drunk already…

sdr
The fabled taco place…

Since this week the Halloween taco ride, pretty much everyone in the restaurant were in costumes. The tacos were actually very good and the margaritas are, as it turns out, not my thing. Two of my coworker drank a whole pitcher between the two of them, I had trouble finishing the one glass I had. I would have left the restaurant around 8:45 but my intoxicated friends insisted on having another beer (on top of all the other drinks they already had) and we ended up staying until 9:30.

mde

The ride back was somewhat miserable. It was dark, cold and for the better part of three miles, I was alone. The two less intoxicated ones raced off while the really drunks one were struggling behind me. I nearly fell into a ditch when both my legs decided to cramp at the same time. We regrouped at the deserted Margaritaville where the others decided they were going the call the boss the next and pretend to be sick, which sounded a bit childish even after a couple drink.

We didn’t make it back to our cars until 11 pm, which was later than I had hoped. I am glad that my car has heated seats because my legs were getting quite numb. Surpsingly, I did not feel that bad the next day. No stiff leg or anything. The two drunkard looked a bit hungover, unsurprisingly.

It was overall a lot of fun, though I feel that if some of my friends were less preoccupied with getting drunk, it could have been better. I’ll try to join my coworker again during the spring, when we won’t have to worry about freezing to death or night setting at 6:30 pm.

Finally done with that stupid project!

You know that big project that I was very scared about? Turns out that it went extremely smoothly. Staying at the office until midnight was not fun but hey, better safe than sorry. That did give me time to do random things during the day, like get new licence plates, get a proper pair of headphones… It almost felt like an extended weekend.

Thursday night was mostly spent verifying that the new files were reformatted to the new layout. Wait until the job runs, check it returned a good code, open the file, check the layout, and if everything was formatted correctly, put a check mark on the plan verification checklist. Very boring and tedious stuff… It did give me time to catch up on some podcasts and even start on a 4×4 Sudoku (I only got a couple numbers in…).

We did find a bug earlier in the week but nothing too hard to fix. How we managed to not notice that this issue was there despite months of testing? Who knows. It is probably due to the fact that is was part of a rarely used section of the code.

Friday night was when things could very bad and actually went very smoothly. Came in around 4:00 pm and no issues to report. Awesome. The only thing mildly exciting that happened was when we found an issue with one our files, which we did not actually fixed until Sunday morning (because we did not really need to). I was extremely please with how smoothly everything went. I did stay until midnight but my boss did tell me that I could have left half an hour early. Someone on my team did some math and determined that we deleted over 210,000 lines of code! Refactoring code, no one likes to do it but you’ll be surprised how bloated software can become.

As far as I know, none of the other teams had issues either. We had one team who though they found an issue but turns out it was on their side. So what now? What does one do after spending a year an a half on the same project? Not much. Got a couple project for January but the designs are not finished yet. At least the stress is gone.

 

Blade Runner 2049: the Cuphead of movies…

This past weekend was the New York Comic Con, and unlike the past couple years, I did not get to go… So no exciting photos of New York and stuff. Very disappointing, I know. To be honest, would I rather have saved a few days to go to to the Comic Con and not do the awesome trips that I did this year? Probably not. No problem then.

So what have been doing rather than spending time in an overcrowded convention center? Nothing too exciting. I started playing the somewhat notorious game Cuphead. It has been making rounds on the internet as another proof that so called “video game Journalists” are nothing but talentless hacks that suck at video games.

Now to be honest, Cuphead is a pretty tough game and it’s not like a 5 years old could pick up the controller and beat the game without dying. I would consider myself well versed in the genre of action platformer and I died more than I like to admit on the first few levels. That being said, it is not as hard as some website make it sound. It did not take me “hours and Hours to beat the first boss (or 10 minutes to beat the tutorial).

If I look at my steam library, it says that I played 2 hours (probably closer to 2.5 hours in my estimate) and I beat the two run & gun levels and two of the bosses, and I can get to the final phase of the other three bosses of the first world. Cuphead is not a complex game, all the bosses are highly predictable, you just have to pay attention and learn the patterns, something that some people seem to have trouble with. Remember “Usus est magister optimus“.

I also went to see the new Blade Runner movie the other day. It was very pretty and they did a fantastic job at recreating the cinematography of the original, with long shot of the scenery and long sequences without any dialogue. If only they had spent as much time on the script though, because Wow was it a boring movie.

I am not fan of the first movie but at least everything felt like a neat package. The pacing was slow in the original movie because there is not a lot of plot to go through and the movie is punctuated with a lot subtle character moments. Blade Runner 2049 tried to keep that same type of pacing but because its plot is all over the place, it goes really slow for way too long then switches to hyper speed because they need to throw the plot at you to keep the movie under 5 hours long.

The villain is cartoonishly villainous, even saying cliches like “you don’t know what pain is yet” and killing a replicant for no reason other than showing he is the bad guy and that you should hate him. I think that fans of the original might be dissapointed with this new installment but then again it is rare that the sequel is better than the original (except in video games).

I continue to play RollerCoaster tycoon and here is the  park I have finished last week:

Trinity Island 2

Another week, another boring day at the office…

So there’s this project that I have been working on for the past year and a half, and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Next Friday is Judgement day. We either go through the install without too many hitches or the thing goes pear shaped and I’ll have a couple sleepless nights fixing what ever needs to be fixed.

So far, everything seems like we are in good shape. No major bug fixes were required since we started the integration test and only a couple tweaks for efficiency has been made to the stuff that I worked on. The only really big problem we faced was during the Client Acceptance Testing (or CAT for Short) where we had a bunch of stuff go down, because the code change management tool failed completely… Turns out that the old and outdated tool that we are using (and failed to replace after the lead developer of the new tool left) was not design to handle the amount of stuff we are trying to push… Joy…

I am really excited to be done with this project but there is nothing I can do to make it happen any faster. So far my current daily routine is answer emails and wait for people to come to me ask questions they should have asked a month ago. “Hey Alex, what happens if I only give the attribute and no country or associations?” It will return an error code and empty outputs, as you should be able to tell from just looking at the code, there is an entire section about checking input parameters! “Hey Alex, I think I found bug in your code. Can you make it so that our code doesn’t crash by removing your error flags?” No. That is how it is supposed to work. Deal with my error codes. “Hey Alex, why does the new code not return the same thing we have in production? Your code must be wrong!” No, the production code is wrong and has not worked properly for the past decade. I fixed it (I am not making this one up! This actually happened TWICE already).

What is my trick to relax after a long day of endless pestering? Roller Coaster Tycoon. Lots of Roller Coaster Tycoon.

There is something hypnotizing to this game. Once you are in the groove of things, hours just start flying by, especially when your start making more money than you know how to spend it. I only finished the first few scenarios so far but I remember this game being harder. I don’t mind steamrolling through the goals, and seeing how far you can push the park before the end of the scenario.

SCR10
This one is only good at two things: making people puke, and making so much money!

The only issue with this game is that it does not always close properly. Every once in while, I have to do a quick Ctrl+Alt+Del to get control of my computer back. Oh and the screenshots are in the ancient .PCX format…

For those wondering, I have played Planet Coaster and yes, it is amazing. The thing is that I spend way to much time messing with scenery. I have a park with probably 30 hours of game time but it only has like six rides in it.

In order news, I got a jury summon today. Since I am not an american citizen, I am automatically disqualified, which is somewhat disappointing. On the one hand I don’t want to get stuck in it where I’ll have to use what’s left of my out of office allocation, but I am mildly curious about judicial proceedings. I guess I’ll have to wait until after I get naturalized, whenever that will be…

 

It’s the end of the world!!!… Supposedly…

So today is the day, guys! Supposedly, the secret tenth planet of the solar system, Nibiru, is completing one of its 65 million year orbit and is going to kill us all! How exciting. I know all those theories about the end of the worlds are complete bunk but I find them fascinating. I always wondered what goes through the mind of the people that come up with them. I am sure that a number of them are nothing more than con artists that see an opportunity for a quick buck, but there has to be a number of those wackos that believe what they are blathering on about.

Personally, my favorite end of the world fad was the Y2K bug. Everyone was so scared that every computer in the world was going to exploded or something because programmers were lazy and made most date calculation based on a two digit integer with an implied 19 in front of it and that date would roll over to the year 1900 or 19100. Those were simpler times, back when I believed that floppy drive was an essential part of any computer.

Then second best has to be when they started the LHC and people were scared that it might create a black hole and destroy the earth. I was at a Summer camp and we had this plan for an end-of-the-world pizza party with some of the counselors but then we forgot. That was disappointing, though seeing the reaction of some the other students when we explained what could have happened was entertaining enough.

Looking at Wikipedia’s list of predicted end of the world, it seems that the upcoming ones are a bunch of theological related stuff, which is far less exciting than secret planets and polarity shifts based apocalypse. It doesn’t list the Apophis asteroid, so I guess that it was written of the books for good. Oh well…

*****

In other news, I did run the Omaha Half marathon last Sunday and it was a blast! Unlike last year, we did not start late because of a shooting, which is always nice, and it was a bit cooler as well. I had a goal this year to do the race in less than three hours and I made it! 2 hours, 59 minutes and 25 seconds! (the website list us at just over 3 hours for some reason). Barely under three hours but that’s good enough for me. This year’s medal was extra bling, with a cool gold finish to it, and it is slightly bigger than last year’s!

Last year I finished in 3 hours and 24 minutes, which means that this year i was 13% faster than last year! That is a nice improvement, though I doubt that I can replicate that next year. I am sure that I can improve my time if I continue to train, but won’t be as drastic as this year. Maybe I’ll run the marathon next year… or the one in Hawaii… That would be cool, Hawaii is great place for a Christmas vacation.