We nearly ruined the Holidays for millions of people…

You know things have taken a very bad turn when, as you arrive at the office on a Monday morning, there is already a stack of empty pizza boxes. As a matter of facts, it was probably the worst issue we had in probably five years. This made my bug feel like a walk in the park.

As it turns out, someone from a big credit card association decided that they were above petty things like system stability and not messing up Christmas season, and proceeded to create a massive bug in their system. For nearly two and a half days, transactions did not included the information for what currency in was made in. Was it in Indian Rupee? Maybe it was in Euros? How about Mexican Pesos? Nobody knows!

I pulled three consecutive 12 hour stints to help people more knowledgeable than me make our system work. It was not fun… Things were rather bleak on Tuesday night when the decision was made to dump half the files we received that day. We also decided to dump a whole day of the test environment. There was one brief moment of levity when, while skimming through a file to check data integrity, I found a transaction for a Youtube Red subscription. That was funny.

The most perplexing thing was the way managers and executives interacted. When the executive were in their conference room, the mid managers were all optimistic and soft, telling people that they understood that we were dealing with complicated system and “take your time” and all that. Then they would leave for five minute, come back surrounded by suits and start yelling at everyone and tossing everyone in charge under the bus. I have no idea what they were trying to achieve, because all the happened was a lot of wasted time.

Last I heard, we were back on track and processed everything and only once, so good on us. Clients are going to be pissed at us for a while, especially since the card association guys told our clients that it was our fault that they were not getting paid because we could not process their garbage transactions…

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A confluence of random things, late November edition…

Last week, in my Thanksgiving post, I made a passing joke at the scandal that recently plagued Star Wars Battlefront and EA surrounding the way the game had a “pay to win” microtransaction system. That jostled some memories and reminded me a of game that I played a few years ago called “Mighty Quest for Epic Loot”.

The concept was quite interesting, half the game was a dungeon crawling RPG, while the other half was a level designer, like Dungeon keeper. The idea is that you would design your own dungeon and raid other people’s creation. At the end of each dungeon you would get experience points and other resources that would allow you to upgrade your dungeon and your character. Surprisingly, this formula worked!

That is, until you reached the third tier of dungeons. At that point, the required amount of resources take massive swing upward making the game extremely slow paced. You were then left with the following choice: play levels over and over again for hours on end to slowly grind your way to the next level or pay real money.

It seemed very clear that the first five or so hours of the game where designed to get you hook and that the moment you started to get competitive, the would severely throttle you to get you to pay up. A bit of a shame really.

Anyways, I was curious to see what ever happened to that game, only to discover that it no longer existed. The servers where shut down over a year and half ago. I am not actually sure how I feel about that. I am sort of sad that they did not bother to fix it, since there was a decent idea at the core of the game, but then again it was such a blatant attempt to rob you of your hard earn money, I sort of glad that it failed.

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I went to Holland center this past Saturday to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Concert. The orchestra would perform the music live while the movie was playing. I do have to admit that the movie was a bit distracting from the fact that the orchestra was playing but it was a nice evening all around.

Watching the first Harry Potter film for the first time in forever made me feel nostalgic and made me want to read the books again. I figured that I could just walk into my local used book store and stumble into piles of them. Surprisingly, that did not happen, and despite searching thoroughly through all the book shelves, I couldn’t find even one of the seven books! Fine, I Thought, I guess I’ll just go to Barnes and Nobles and just buy a boxed set. Even more surprisingly, they did not have a single Harry Potter book either… To the internet then…

There is a problem however. If I am going to order them online, might as well get the proper versions and not the the botched, Americanized versions. Despite the fact that we live in the year 2017, a year where you can unlock your phone by looking at it and order things on Amazon via voice command, it is not possible to order the UK version of the books directly on Amazon.com. I had to go on Amazon.co.uk and pay $15 for international shipping and it will take three weeks to get here! Ugghhh….

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Talking about books, I finished reading the book that inspired “Blade Runner”, and I have to say that I am disappointed. The rule of thumb is the book is much better than the movie but it seems that this might be an exception. Now, the book and the film have very little in common other than the general plot, main character and setting. Unfortunately, the plot of the book takes a massive dive in quality toward the last third of the book where a bunch of unrelated plots all come together into a nonsensical ending.

Turns out that the android, instead of trying to increase their lifespan, where actually plants from the corporation in order improve the androids and make them undetectable to humans. Why? Who knows, it is never explained. Rachel, rather then being the conflicted android who wanted to be human, is this calculated and manipulative femme-fatale character that reports to the corporation to improve the androids. The popular philosophy that centered around empathy turns out to have been made up and no one seems to care because they are completely brainwashed by it.

The ending is the biggest joke of them all. The book ends with Deckerd having massive breakdown and hallucination after learning that Rachel had killed his goat. He ends up finding a fake toad and returns home, where everything just goes back to the same old routine… What?

The film does a far better job at making a coherent narrative and likable characters and proper villains. It is a mildly interesting book but not one that I would recommend reading.

Happy Thanks Giving!

I know it’s a bit late in the day but hey, I was busy not doing anything, I wanted to share what I was thankful for this holiday season.

I am thankful for EA screwing up their microtransactions in the latest Battlefront so badly that the government of Belgium and Australia have declared in-game loot boxes to be gambling. I have always hated in game purchases, even cosmetic stuff, and EA has really been pushing hard for more and more in-game monetization. The main issue is that these microtransaction have negative effects on the game mechanics, often creating arbitrary roadblocks that you either have to grind early levels to collect enough resources or pay up with in-game purchases. These recent announcements are probably not going to make any differences with current industry trend but it is a good sign that there will be more public pressure if they continue with loot boxes.

On a more realistic note, I am thankful for my coworker for being awesome and supportive for the past couple years, my boss for being cool when I made my first big mistake a few weeks ago, and big thanks to my family for being supportive as always.

Also big shout out to the guys from my local comic store for being awesome and starting off the weekend with fun banter.

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.

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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.

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.

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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:

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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…

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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.

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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.