Wednesday, January 20, 2010

TracFone update: Fucking dead zones

So I went out to hang out with friends today. A couple blocks away from my house, I had full signal. I had full signal all the way to their house, full signal while there, and full signal all the way back until I drove over the 250 Bypass when it promptly went to shit.

I live in a dead zone.

Which really sucks since the main reason I got the phone is so I could communicate better with said friends about said hanging out. For whatever reason they don't seem to like signing onto one or another IM service where I'm readily available at home, so I figured a prepaid phone would be a cheap way of getting in contact with them. But since I have no signal most of the time and a really shitty strength signal with no reliability the rest of the time, it won't work.

While discussing my predicament T-Mobile prepay was mentioned, but apparently their best offer (which you have to buy a "gold" membership for) is 15% extra minutes when you add minutes, whereas TracFone has a "double minutes for life (of your current phone)" card, and it pays itself back very quickly since it halves the cost of all the minutes you buy after that. Plus if I go on T-Mobile then I want a G1, which probably won't work with a prepaid plan because they probably hate to actually give out decent phones to people who have the gall to want to save money and not enter a restrictive contract with tons of exploitative fine print.

I guess what this means is I need to move out. Signal is awesome everywhere but here. I'll need to remember to test the signal wherever I look for a place to rent, just to make sure.

Kind of related: I love having none of my actual personal information associated with this phone. When you go to activate a phone on TracFone's site, at first they prompt you to surrender the goods, but waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down at the bottom there's a small link that says "Skip this step". I clicked it and completed activation, no account registration necessary, no private information surrendered.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Google Maps directions fail: Updated!

Since Sakura Matsuri is approaching and CAINE will be going again, naturally I remembered the previous troubles I've had with Google's directions to the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro station. So I re-searched the directions and lo and behold, they've updated them. Here's the brand new picture.

They're still not correct, but they're better. They still insist on directing you to the station itself, which as I've previously stated (and is evident from the map) is in the median of I-66. This means that the directions just sort of leave you on I-66 should you actually follow them. At least now they tell you to get off at Exit 62, and any moron can read signs and see that you just make a simple right turn to get to the metro station, rather than the endpoint directions given. The final destination is Saintsbury Dr., which can be reached without even touching Nutley St. thanks to the branch off of the exit ramp. Here's the brand new correction.

Just a little bit more...

Monday, January 18, 2010

TracFone: A rough experience thus far

I can't really say much about TracFone yet. Reason being: I can't get a signal in or near my house, and when I do, it's very weak and only temporary. Like right now, for instance. My phone had a small signal earlier that I used to call it from the house phone, but that's gone now.

I have an ethical issue with how they round up call lengths to the next whole minute. What's the point of displaying my remaining minutes with two digits of precision if those digits always read "00"? The one call I got through from the home phone to my cell phone deducted an entire minute for about a second long call.

Part of the signal issue is the network itself. Since TracFone doesn't have their own networks, they use the networks of other carriers, specifically T-Mobile and AT&T. The word around the internet is that AT&T is the preferred carrier for TracFone. Googling the SIM card's type (TF64SIMC4) tells me it's an AT&T card, as the T-Mobile ones end in T5.

I wonder how much of a signal AT&T customers (with real phones and not ones crippled by TracFone) get in this area. I live in the city and there's no signal? What is this, the 1970s? Does T-Mobile work better in Charlottesville?

Here's a photo showing my phone next to my mom's. I think this illustrates the signal problem more clearly than any words can. Due to the screens being at different angles it's hard to see the signal on mine, but since they're both Motorola flip phones the signal is in the same location on each. I did some color balancing to try and help, but it didn't so I resorted to putting red boxes around the area where the signal strength is shown.

I don't get signal. Main screen off.

Now I know the first words out of anyone's mouths will be "you're saving money, so you have no right to complain about shitty service". Fuck that. TracFone is about saving money. They should therefore want to provide good service, so that they build up a reputation for being a good inexpensive contract-free cell phone provider. I'm paying money, therefore I expect service. I'm not getting service. That's the bottom line. If they have no motivation to provide good service just because the consumers of said service don't pay much for it, one should wonder why they're going into the business half-heartedly. If their customers aren't satisified, they won't be in business long, regardless of how much money they make.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Virginia's new anti-smoking law

Finally, we can all breathe fresh air in restaurants. Smoking has been banned in restaurants across the state for a while now. I thought all was good, but the law has one exception: Smoking can still happen in a separate, ventilated room.

Seems innocuous, right? What do you think of when you think of a restaurant with a separate, ventilated room for smokers?

I think of a smaller space set aside for those less intelligent.

However, some restaurants are abusing this exception. One in particular is the Lazy Parrot Grill in Pantops Shopping Center. Their restaurant has three entrances, a bar, and some of the best wings in the city. Unfortunately, two thirds of their restaurant space is reserved for smokers. Those of us with a brain between our ears are exiled to the remaining cramped third of the restaurant.

It gets even worse. Their serving staff, whether they smoke or not (I don't know, I didn't ask) have to go through the smoking area to serve the higher lifeforms in the non-smoking area. This presents them with an unnecessary health risk.

This law needs to be amended immediately. It needs to require restaurants to devote no more than 50% of their serving space to smokers (this must be carefully worded to not have loopholes). It further needs to require an exit from the kitchen into both the smoking area and the non-smoking area. Last but not least, it needs to require separate serving staff for the smoking area and the non-smoking area; with no pay, treatment, or employment consideration penalty based on the server's preference.

Banning smoking isn't about taking away freedoms. It's about public health. People in America are notorious for not wanting the government to make their decisions for them. However, in most cases (this one included), those very same people don't have the requisite mental capacity to be making the decision for themselves.

On the other side (both the other side of Charlottesville, and the other side of the exception), Buffalo Wild Wings in Barracks Road Shopping Center is a fine establishment and thus gives non-smokers plenty of room.

Looks like I'll be going to Buffalo Wild Wings more often, because I want to support what's right.

Friday, January 8, 2010

i has cell phoen

But I'm not giving the number out to just anyone.

It's a Tracfone, so text messages cost me minutes. I.e. if I give you my number don't fucking text me. The phone itself is a Motorola w260g. Nice sleek black flip phone. No camera, but if I wanted a camera, I'd go buy a fucking camera.

Next step: get a job so I can buy a double minutes card and one of those 1 year/400 minute cards. Added in the right order I'll have a year of service and 800 minutes.

Can I still say "you kids and your cell phones"? I only ever really said that when people were talking about using cell phones do do things that pre-existing technology could already do.

Also when I got back from MAGFest I bought another bottle of rum. Rum is goooooooood.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I feel gypped.

Just before MAGFest I got a box of Tyson Fun Nuggets from the freezer section at Giant. They're chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.

The serving size and number of servings suggested that there were 20 in the box, and there were only 18. They came in two varieties, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Stegosaurus. The only problem: there were only three Tyrannosaurus Rexes and the rest were Stegosauruses.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

MAGFest 8 Report

This post is inconsistently sprinkled with pictures as they're relevant. None were actually taken at MAGFest, because I don't own a camera and gank my dad's every time I take pictures of anything.

Also the tense I use randomly changes back and forth from present to past tense. This is because I wrote the post as MAGFest happened. Deal with it.


Driving up went almost completely without a hitch. Trey (MAGFest's netadmin, lol) called Wednesday night asking me to pick up some PA speakers from Brendan's place but when I got there the door was locked. I said fuck it and drove the entire wrong direction on I-64 until I got to Ivy, then turned around and made my way up Rt. 20 to Rt. 3 and then I-95 to I-395 to MAGFest.

After getting my badge, shirt, program, room (free staff rooms yay!), etc. I set up my computer in the LAN room.

After that, a friend and I drove to a nearby ABC store and got some liquor, then bought some random soda to mix it with from the Giant next door. I ganked a glass from my hotel room, went back to the LAN room, and got pleasantly drunk on Bacardi Gold Rum and Cherry Coke Zero.

I have this weird ability to do better at games drunk than sober. It works for fighting games, it works for RPGs, and apparently it works for FPSes because I was tearing through things in Duke Nukem 3D.

If there are any major typos in today's transcript it's because I'm still drunk as I'm typing this. I hit my limit a while ago (I make a damn good rum and coke, so one was enough), so I'm getting more sober-er, but... I still have to use the backspace key occasionally.

The internet we have is kind of weird. Trey says it's 2Mbps symmetric, but sometimes it acts like it's 0Mbps symmetric. Blogger's post editor just started bitching at me because it couldn't contact, but it'll be fine in just a few seconds. Weird shit is weird.


So Jon St. John brought in the new year. I don't really remember exactly what he said (too lost in the awesome), but he started with some quotes in Duke Nukem's voice and then said "Thanks a lot for coming, or however you reacted... HAPPY NEW YEAR!" (You can see video of this here)

Everyone lol'd.

Also the earplugs worked out beautifully. I entered the New Years' Eve party around 11:30 PM and exited around 12:30 AM, and I'm not deaf. Being able to hear is awesome. One pair will last me all of MAGFest, and I have nine more pairs. NINE MORE PAIRS. That means I can make nine friends and save their hearing too. It's all about spreading the love, right?

Spent way too long playing Rock Band 2. For whatever reason there weren't any drums. Some songs would randomly make the game crash during loading. We could exit back out to the dashboard and restart RB2, but... it was still annoying.

Among the Guitar Hero and Rock Band setups there was a lone projector with DJ Hero on it. So I played it on Medium for a while. I'm not really into that type of music (mixups with samples and scratching and bullshit) but the engine seemed pretty simple. I cannot for the life of me figure out what Euphoria is for though. You accumulate it like Star Power, and the game's loading screens suggest that you can use it, and a button on the controller lights up when the screen says "Euphoria Ready", but nothing happens when I press the button.

The crossfader switch works really well though. It will snap to each of the three locations required for gameplay and the game seems to recognize it as being in the middle if it's still slightly off, which aids greatly. My only gripe is that I wish the turntable were a little more sensitive in recognizing scratches. My right wrist already has a latent tendonitis from improper mouse usage, and the distance I have to move the thing coupled with the length of most scratches aggravates it. I could try lefty flip or something, but I shouldn't have to.

Around 6:30 or so I went to the staff food room to see what was up, and because I had neglected to eat lunch. All that was left of the lunch stuff was bread, cheese, lettuce, and mustard, so I made a sandwich out of that. Wasn't too bad to be honest. Shortly thereafter they kicked us out so they could cook dinner.

Steel Battalion controller

I watched the people playing STEEL BATTALION on the XBox for a little bit. The game's controller is insane, it has two big joysticks, a gear shift, and three pedals, as well as tons of other buttons, knobs, and lights. Then I went over to where Guitar Hero Metallica was hooked up, took my opportunity to sit down at the drums, and confirmed that I like the World Tour drum kit WAY better than the Rock Band one. It just feels better. It's way more intuitively laid out as well.

When 8 rolled around I went back to the staff food room and got my dinner: a hamburger with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The room was so crowded that I took it to the tables nearby in the retreat wing to eat, where a large portion of staffers had overflowed from the food room.

After that I ventured over to the concert room for Rare Candy. There were plenty of nostalgic tunes, including some awesome Chrono Trigger music. Plenty of random merchandise was thrown into the crowd, I didn't manage to catch any.

Back to the LAN room I went. I noticed that some people were playing Unreal Tournament, after looking at it I decided it was UT2k4 and fired it up to join them. I didn't do too bad for using a trackball and what ended up being a kind of cumbersome keyboard location for jump that made it hard to jump and strafe at the same time.

I deathmatched for a while until UT2k4 started crashing. I had started seriously lagging by that point anyway, and my number of kills per match (goal: 25) had gone from 11 or 12 to 5 or 6. I actually wasn't last place, I was solidly in the middle. I kind of surprised myself.


After doing my first staff shift I went to the FREE HOTEL ROOM that I got for being staff (which was a new thing this year) and got some fucking sleep. You'll notice I didn't mention going to sleep yet, that's because I didn't until 4AM today.

Once I'd gotten a solid 8 hours of sleep I went into the game room and got my drums on in Guitar Hero 5. It's kind of crazy, I'm beginning to have thoughts of moving up to Hard. I'm not hitting everything perfectly on Medium, but I'm dying for a little more correlation between what I'm hearing and the notes coming down the screen.

At 6 PM (and this reminds me, I haven't eaten yet) I went to Events 1 for Jon St. John's panel. It started a little late because the Iron Chef panel ran long since they blew a circuit at the beginning. "Jon St. Panel" as it was called ran late as well, I get the feeling nobody really wanted it to end. After the panel he signed things for people (random things for free, or his special prints for $5), so I got Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition signed.

Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition autographed by Jon St. John

I dunno what exactly happened, but around 11 PM the breaker on the circuit my computer was plugged into popped. It got reset and life was fine, except to get my computer to turn on again I had to reset the CMOS. That in itself isn't that difficult, but:
  • I didn't have a screwdriver
  • My case has a nightmare of cables inside, making it hard to get to the jumper.
So I unplug a couple of things, set that jumper to the reset position for a bit and then put it back to the normal position, plugged everything back in and sure enough it fired right up. Then I got to go reset all my options in the BIOS:
  • disabled the floppy controller (floppy drive? lol)
  • disabled the dead onboard LAN controller
  • disabled the RAID controller (my case doesn't have enough room for the required hard drives to run RAID)
  • disabled the 1394 (Firewire) controller (I have zero firewire devices)
  • reset the system time and date
  • fixed the boot order (my BIOS puts Removable Storage and CD-ROM boot before Hard Drive by default)
  • set my BIOS password again (never go to a public LAN without a password on your BIOS, people are assholes and will try to hack your shit when you're not there)
  • enabled legacy USB Keyboard/Mouse/Storage support (due to a nuance in Windows XP, necessary for USB keyboard/mouse support on the login screen)
  • and some other miscellaneous things
I'm back up and running.


I went to the panels for That Guy With The Glasses and Angry Video Game Nerd. After that, I played a ton of arcade games. There's this difficult one called Ice Cold Beer, where you have two joysticks for controls. They control both sides of a metal rod with a ball on top of it, and you have to maneuver the ball around the holes (bubbles) to the one with the light above it. As you do this the hole changes and it gets harder and harder (that's what she said).

Yeah, that's right. An arcade game with no screen. Old-school, I know.

The effects of having MAGFest basically be an entire day longer began to show as the night wore on. At one point there were 6 people in the LAN room. The stupid part was people were still coming up to me and asking if the Counterstrike Source tournament was still on. My only response was "dude, if you want to have a tournament with 5 other people, go for it!"

What else could I do? I went around the room and plundered all the food people left sitting around.


GTFOed my free hotel room before noon and elevators be damned, I managed to make it down to the LAN room just before my first teardown shift began. We work pretty quickly, so it was about 99% done about halfway through my second teardown shift.

During those teardown shifts I packed my computer shit up, checked out my monitor and tower, and took all my stuff to my car.

Also during those shifts we took a little break to get recognized at closing ceremonies. Just before closing ceremonies there was an auction that I sat in for the last 15 minutes or so of. After all the serious stuff went by there came a call for random stuff, and one thing that got auctioned was the privilege of beating Kroze (the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series webmaster) with what I believe was a plastic sword (8 times, plus one more for good measure). That privilege ended up going for $200. Oh and all the proceeds from the auction went to Child's Play.

Anyway, LAN room was using the testing version of a barcode-based checkin/checkout system. Since it worked so well, it will probably be used for the rest of MAGFest at future MAGFests.

It's pretty simple: when you bring in your computer, you get a printed barcode label to stick on your badge. You check in important expensive items like towers, monitors, etc. that you don't want to randomly go missing. Barcode labels are printed for those, and you stick them on each item somewhere. When you want to check out, first the barcode on your badge gets scanned, then the system can get a list of everything you've got checked in. Pick an item, scan its barcode, and it's checked out. It's pretty neat, and is a lot less cumbersome than the "generate random ID, use label maker to print out stickers, bleh" system used previously.

After eating plenty of food at the after party in the food room I hopped in my car and drove back home. It's important to note that I did navigation to and from MAGFest entirely by memory of the route with help from signage. No Google Maps directions, no GPS, none of that shit. I still had a little tripup in Orange, but that's because Orange is retarded and doesn't say "HEY YOU MORON TURN ON CAROLINE ST. TO STAY ON ROUTE 20". At least I didn't have to deal with a train this year. Also in Orange there's a short stretch where Rt. 20 and Rt. 15 meet up. Both are north/south, but according to the signage if you're heading north on one you're heading south on the other. I'm still not quite sure how exactly that works.

I'm all set up at home, as you may have inferred from the wood floor background of the autographed Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition picture, and I'll probably migrate my shit back upstairs at some point. Another MAGFest come and gone. I can't wait for the next one.