Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To The Stores In My Area: Redone

Since posting the original post, I've been corrected on this by a number of people.  The issue with Fanta Zero being abused, soggy, cans leaking, etc. isn't really the store's fault.  The representatives from each major soft drink company handle the products all the way to the shelves.  Therefore, it's the individual company's fault, but the stores do need to know about it.

So to the stores in my area, make some noise.  Complain that you're being delivered unsaleable products.

And to the drink companies themselves: work the kinks out, get your acts together, and make sure this never happens again.

Also, this might be my shortest post ever with the rants tag.

Edit: Nope.  This one is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Quesadila Adventure, Part 1

Two things.  First, this post isn't about food, and second, the misspelling of "quesadilla" in the title is intentional.  Now, on to the story.

Off and on for the past couple weeks, I've been browsing the Minecraft forums' World Seed section, where people share interesting worlds and the seed you need to enter to generate that world.  Sometimes there's a challenge associated with a specific seed, like the 404 challenge, but most of them just highlight interesting terrain features and dungeons.  Coordinates of anything interesting are often provided.  Just in case you didn't know, pressing F3 in Minecraft will reveal, among other things, your current coordinates.

The latest seed I've been trying out is "Quesadila".  Without the quotes.  The forum thread highlighted the fact that it has two open-air dungeons right next to each other that you spawn very close to.  Other posters quickly noticed the giant floating island, also nearby the spawners.  I thought that sounded cool, so I popped it in and generated it.

This post is mostly written in a first-person narrative style, I guess proving that I can indeed write like this.  Very few fourth wall breaks should happen, ideally.  There will be at the beginning, but then it will transition and only maybe break once.  I do explain things using actual in-game mechanics though, so there will be words like "despawn", "stacks of clay", and other things that make it feel more like an account of gameplay than an actual real story.  Yeah, I'm not really a writer.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Minecraft 1.5

The long-awaited achievements/statistics/weather update has been out for a while now, and I've had plenty of time to play with it.  Chances are, if you play Minecraft, you've probably updated by now, but just in case you haven't (or you haven't yet gotten the game), I'll run over the major changes and my experiences with each.

Achievements are there to satiate the metagaming desire that gamers seem to have these days, but the way they work in Minecraft is different from other games.  Sure, one of the achievements is making a cake, but if you update and immediately make a cake, you won't get it.  There's a heirarchy you have to go through.

Upon spawning into a world for the first time after updating to 1.5, the game will flat out tell you how to get the first achievement: Open your inventory.  Doing this gets you the achievement, and lets you progress on and get the next one, which you get for chopping down a tree and picking up the wood blocks.  The next one is making a crafting table out of four planks, and then it branches out from there to crafting tools.  So basically, the achievements are the tutorial that's been notably absent from the game for so long.  All of the achievements are relatively easy to get, save for two of them.

The two that are harder to get than the others have special borders in the in-game achievements window: When Pigs Fly and On A Rail.  When Pigs Fly sounds simple in practice, but is tricky to get.  You'll need to ride a pig off a cliff, and have the pig die from fall damage.  So before you can even attempt it, you need to find a saddle in a dungeon.  Then you have to find a pig near the edge of a suitably tall cliff.  Toss the saddle on, ride, and discover that pigs are surprisingly reluctant to walk off cliffs while you're riding them.  This is where you either ragequit or punch the pig with your bare hands when it gets close to the edge, sending it off the cliff and getting you the achievement.

I racked my brain for a while trying to corral a pig while riding it, used all the blocks I had with me at the time, and couldn't get the pig I was riding to jump off the damn cliff until I punched it.  Don't use a weapon, you don't want the pig to meet its inevitable demise too soon.

On A Rail requires a large resource investment.  You need to ride a minecart for 1 kilometer.  This is where it becomes relevant that blocks in Minecraft are one meter in all dimensions.  So you just need enough iron for 1000 minecart tracks, and a minecart, right?  Wrong.  Riding that far is going to be difficult without a way of keeping the cart moving, and while you could just have it go downhill periodically to provide extra momentum, there's an easier way, though it needs more materials.  Another part of the update was Powered Rails, which when they receive redstone power, will boost a passing occupied minecart for 64 meters.  To craft those, you need gold in place of the iron, and redstone dust.  The hard part of the achievement is getting the materials and constructing it.  Then you can just hop in a minecart, start your journey, and if you set it up right, wait a few minutes and you'll have it.

I haven't attempted this one yet, but we've just undertaken a large-scale mass transportation project on my SMP server, so I'll probably build the branch of it that takes you to the once burning forest (which has an extensive cave system below it that I haven't fully explored yet) and grab the achievement then.  Oh yeah, wood no longer burns indefinitely.  It's a shame, because we had a huge burning forest on my SMP server that was started by lava touching a tree.  If you want eternal flames now, you'll need Netherrack.  I think this was a sad, sad 1.4 change, actually.

Of course, there's more to the update than just achievements.  I already mentioned Powered Rails, but there's also Detector Rails.  They essentially act as pressure plates triggered by a minecart moving over them.  They can be crafted in a manner similar to regular minecart tracks, but with a pressure plate in place of the stick, and some redstone.  Both Detector Rails and Powered Rails will provide redstone power to the next few minecart tracks, so you could conceivably have a Detector Rail followed by a Powered Rail and not even need to place redstone torches to power the rails.  One important aspect of Powered Rails I haven't mentioned is that if they don't have power, they will stop a minecart.  This makes them useful for building train stations, as you can easily hook up a button to power the track on demand and send yourself on to your next destination.

I made some Powered Rails pretty much immediately to enhance the minecart ride a friend of mine built.  Before this you just had to place a minecart near where the slope started and quickly right click to jump in it.  Now you can calmly set one down and hit a button to start the ride.  I haven't made any detector rails yet, but I probably will for the aforementioned mass transportation project.

The statistics do what you might expect them to: they keep track of various things you do in your worlds.  Everything from number of blocks mined with your diamond pick to the distance you've travelled by pig.  There's not much else I can really say about them, other than that there isn't a statistic for time spent looking at statistics.

Weather was something everyone's been waiting for on some level.  Ever since snowfall was removed from the game so long ago, mostly.  Now it can either snow or rain, depending on the biome you're in.  I haven't experienced snow yet, but I've seen some rain.  When it rains, it gets slightly darker, and there's the ambient rainfall sound.  Rain affects various things, such as putting out fires.  However, sometimes when it rains, there will be a thunderstorm.  When this happens, it gets even darker.  Dark enough for enemies to spawn during the day.  There will be periodic lightning strikes as well.  If a pig gets struck by lightning, it will turn into a zombie pigman.  I've also heard that if a creeper gets struck by lightning, its explosion gains more power and range.  I can infer that snowfall will put a snow layer onto blocks that can be shovelled to get snowballs, but I'm unsure of anything else it does.

Now, some other minor things.  Pigs that die by fire will now drop cooked pork chops.  This is handy for any hungry explorer that happens to have a flint and steel, or who might be short on coal/wood at the moment, or whatever the reason.

Ladders no longer work with a gap between each one like they used to.  I never liked that they worked like that to begin with, it just didn't look right.  Well, now it's finally fixed and people actually have to build proper ladders.  I did have to fix a ladder on my SMP server, and the ladder in my base in my main singleplayer world needs reworking now since you can't place ladders on glass...

This is technically from the 1.4 update, but I didn't really get a chance to play with it until now: There are also wolves.  They spawn naturally in packs, in certain biomes and rarely elsewhere.  If you give them bones, you can tame them, at which point they'll have a red collar.  A tamed wolf can be commanded to sit or stand by right clicking it.  They can be fed food to replenish their health, which is indicated by the angle of their tail, the lower it is, the lower that wolf's health is.  If you get a certain distance from your wolves, any that are standing will teleport to you.  Those that are sitting will stay where they are.  You may not want to bring them with you mining, as they won't avoid lava.  The best part: wolves will attack anything you hit.  Tag a skeleton and watch your loyal pack of wolves descend upon it.  Or genocide cows.  Sky, limit, etc.

Wolves are also pretty damn cute.  If you hold food, they'll turn their heads to one side.  If they jump in water and then get back on land, they'll shake themselves dry.  It's kind of fun just watching them run around while you just stand there.

It'd be nice if the achievements and statistics were uploaded to minecraft.net sometime soon, as I've already experienced a reset of mine due to a game crash.  Now that I've got When Pigs Fly, I really don't want to have to do it again, though I did build a nice corral on the server with an area you can push a pig into, block it in, and then ride it off the adjacent cliff for the achievement...

As for achievements I'd like to see, it'd be interesting if there was one for building a drowning trap at a dungeon, though I don't know how exactly the game would detect that.  How about building a library out of bookcase blocks?  Notch has already said he doesn't want achievements like "chop down 10,000 trees", but getting an achievement for making one bookcase block seems like not enough work is required.  Also, the Nether is completely absent from the achievements...  activating a Nether portal could be a decent achievement.  If you use your head it doesn't even require a diamond pick.

Anyway, the 1.5 update has been fun so far.  If you don't yet have Minecraft, get it now!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gas Money Rant

Gas is expensive.  Much moreso lately.  As a person who regularly drives people around, I feel it's my right to ask those whom I drive around to chip in and help me get the gas I need to continue driving them around.  I haven't really been exercising that right until recently.  Up until now I've been accepting other monetary transactions in place of giving me gas money, such as buying me food.  But there's one lingering fact about that.  The reality of it is simple: food in my stomach doesn't put gas in my car.

Some of the people I've been driving around have had a hard time accepting that I now want gas money from them.  Because I've never really kept track of how much I drive people around, I haven't been able to formulate a specific amount of money that I should expect from them, and for that reason I haven't been asking for it directly.  This will change soon.  I'm going to write a gas money accounting system and spend a fillup or two collecting data to see how much I really drive people around.  It is regular, it's every week.  But within that there are a few different groups that will each have their own "accounts" in my system.

Any driving I do that I wouldn't have done myself is going into one or another of the "accounts", and each time I fill up, I'll figure out how much each group needs to pay based on the percentage of the number of miles I drove since the last fillup.

It's kind of ridiculous to expect me to just continue driving people around with no monetary compensation.  Especially when prices are what they are right now.  $20 will only get me about six gallons, my gas tank is twelve gallons.  I don't expect others to pay for driving I do by myself, so of course I'll have my own "account" in the system.

I have a feeling I pissed off a friend of mine earlier because he was operating under the assumption that I'd be paying him back for $10's worth of gas that I'd considered to be a donation.  My gas tank was almost empty at the time, and I needed the gas to ensure we'd be able to continue driving around that night.  I asked, and he said he'd pay for it.  I timed mentioning it wrong, because I ended up having to buy myself food when we went out whereas usually he bought it for me.

I'm fine with driving you around, but honestly, I do it every week and if you don't feel like contributing to make sure it continues to be able to happen, I don't have to drive you around.  I'll stop stopping by your place before meetings and showings.  We've been getting to meetings way too early and showings late anyway, it'll be nice to actually get there when I want to for a change.  I have every right to expect gas money from the people I drive around, and it seems like everyone's taking it for granted that I haven't been exercising that right.

I'm not naming names, but he'll know who he is if/when he reads this post.

Most of my driving anywhere, period, is because of CAINE.  If I wasn't in CAINE, I probably wouldn't leave the house.  If I can't get gas money from individuals, I can always print up a nice little bill and deliver it to our treasurer at the next CAINE meeting after I fill up.  If the club doesn't have it in the budget (which I already know it doesn't), then people should start paying up.  Plain and simple.

Even if I was employed, I'd still expect people to help out.  I might go back to caring a little less, but that would depend on how much I made.  Right now, I need all the help I can get and it doesn't help that people are so adamant about not helping.  "But they're your friends, shouldn't you just enjoy their company and not charge them money?"  Friends help friends out, right?  I drive you places, you chip in for the gas I use to get you there that I wouldn't otherwise be using.  It's that simple.

I can bring my own food to game night anyway.  Why should hanging out with friends have to cost me money?

For the record, any time anyone buys me food, I'm grateful.  Even if I don't show that externally, inside I'm grateful.  I don't want there to be a misunderstanding on that part.  But as I said earlier, buying me food doesn't put gas in my tank.  If people really don't want to continue buying me food once it no longer means they don't also have to chip in for gas, so be it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

To The Stores In My Area

Please, please, PLEASE talk to your receiving staff.  They regularly abuse full pallets of incoming products that you're trying to sell.  I've noticed this mostly with the soda, but I can't rule it out for anything else, especially because I've seen abused packages of other things all over stores.

Every week I come into the store to get two or three 12-packs of Fanta Zero.  The past several weeks every single one of the 12-packs has been soaking wet.  I know that this can be caused by a single dropped package, but it makes the rest undesirable to purchase, as there is little to no way for the consumer to figure out which package is the damaged one before purchasing.

Even if you pick up the 12-pack and try to squeeze all the cans, this still doesn't work 100% of the time.  A representative from Coca-Cola did just that for me at Kroger last Thursday.  Today I open the first of those 12-packs to find that all the cans are covered in Fanta.  Going through the pack (which was still wet), I found two cans that weighed approximately a third of what they were supposed to weigh, yet both were completely sealed.  I poured out the two light cans and cleaned off the rest, but I shouldn't have to do that.

I have seen 12-packs on the shelf at Giant that have been taped closed.  This means that someone on receiving staff abused it so much that it opened up and cans came out.  Then they just put all the cans back in and tape it closed with packing tape and put it on the shelf like it's a saleable product.

What I'm asking is simple, and straightforward.  Make sure your receiving staff don't abuse products.  It will lead to a loss of revenue.  Being that all America cares about is money, that should be important to you.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Running Dropbox Headless

This article assumes that you have an Arch Linux server with zero GUI components installed (i.e. running headless), and of course that you want to link it to your Dropbox account.

I'm kinda wired right now, so apologies in advance if this is hard to read, hard to follow, or just plain weird.  Also, I skipped many of my usual editing steps like making sure capitalization is consistent.
  1. Don't even bother with downloading the Linux Dropbox client from their site.  Arch Linux has a PKGBUILD available in AUR for dropbox-cli.  So go grab that instead.
  2. Put the PKGBUILD in its own directory somewhere on your server (for the sake of these instructions, I'll use ~/dropbox-cli)
  3. If you've never used makepkg before, go edit /etc/makepkg.conf as root and change some stuff:
    1. If you know what CFLAGS you want to use, change that, otherwise, the defaults will work.  (You're not even compiling anything for this anyway lol)
    2. Go down to where it says "PACKAGER", uncomment the line, and then give yourself credit lol.
  4. Now, cd into ~/dropbox-cli
  5. edit the PKGBUILD file to remove the dependency for "dropbox".  Building the package with this dependency will cause a fair number of GUI-related dependencies to be installed.  Which will just eat up hard drive space unnecessarily given that you're running headless.  Also by "a fair number" I mean GTK.
  6. run makepkg -s.  The -s flag makes it get any dependencies you might need, which in this case will only be python2 if you don't already have that installed.
  7. after a short amount of time the package will be built.
  8. now type pacman -U dropbox-cli and hit tab to autocomplete the package filename.  Press enter and it's installed (if you ran it as root lol).  You're not done yet, though.
  9. run dropbox start -i.  Dropbox will download the one remaining piece of software it needs and then start.
  10. At this point it'll give you a link to visit to link this install to your account.  Go do that.
  11. Now.  Head on over to ArchWiki's Dropbox page.  There they have an init script you can copy/paste so you can have dropbox start up on system startup and terminate on shutdown.  Copy it, then open /etc/rc.d/dropboxd as root, and paste that shit in.
  12. It needs some modification, partly by design, and partly because, well, I dunno why.  Change the USER= line to set $USER to the username you're running dropbox as.  This is the modification by design.
  13. Change the PID= line so that the path to dropbox is /home/$USER/.dropbox-dist/dropbox
  14. Also, change the line below stat_busy "Starting Dropbox Service" to run /home/$USER/.dropbox-dist/dropboxd.  These are both the modification due to because, well, I dunno why.  My guess is that the locations in the original init script used to be correct but were changed at some point and that wiki page hasn't been updated yet.
  15. save that shit.
  16. now you can add dropboxd to the DAEMONS list in /etc/rc.conf if you want to.  Otherwise you get to run /etc/rc.d/dropboxd start and /etc/rc.d/dropboxd stop manually.
There you go.  At the very least, even if you don't want to actually run the client, you can use it as the "install dropbox on your other computers" step of Getting Started to get yourself a measly extra 250MB if you haven't yet installed it on anything else.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sakura Matsuri 2011 Edition

Timeline:

6:00 AM - woke up.
6:30 - done showering, getting dressed, etc.  Had breakfast consisting of maple & brown sugar oatmeal and a couple glasses of milk.
7:00 - Got in the car and left to go pick people up.
7:22 - Realized I forgot my cell phone, made the stupid decision to turn around and go back to get it.  I should have just met up with everyone then gone back past my house to grab it on my way out of the city.
7:45 - made it to where we were meeting, got people in car.
8-something - got $20 in gas money, tossed that into the tank.  Tank nearly full.
10-something - arrived at the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU metro station.  Noted that there were far fewer people there this year.  Normally it takes us 30-40 minutes to get our metro passes, this time it took about five.
10:45 or so - on the street, through admissions, hunting down food.
11:00 - obtained taiyaki, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki. om nom nom.  Then proceeded to walk around and look at the booths and stuff.
2:30 PM - we realized that except for the food, 90% of everything available at the booths is also available in the dealer's room at an anime con.  Got Beef Udon bowl.
3-something - we decided to go to Olive Garden.  We shuffled around rides with people since not everyone wanted to go, it ended up being just the white people going for food, and the asians/black people going straight home.  Just like last year.  I'm not trying to be racist or anything, that's just how it worked out.  Also, my car ended up being just me at this point, so no gas money for the return trip :(
4 or so - arrive at olive garden, party of 4 seated rather quickly.
5:00 - I discover through the helpful reminder of our waiter that the soups there are endless, ordered a second soup.
6:30 - we left, and I forgot to use the bathroom on the way out.  Grabbed my NOS out of my backpack though.
sometime - it couldn't wait any longer, had to find a back road where I could pull over and use a tree. lol
just before 9 - home.  NOS empty.  Gas gauge at 1/4 tank, but then again as my gas gauge goes down it gets more and more inaccurate, so I really don't know how much I have left at any given point in time.  At least it's inaccurate on the low side, meaning there's more in the tank than what it says.

Moral of the story: use the bathroom before leaving the restaurant so you don't have to use a tree.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mrs. T's Pierogies

I've been going to a local pub lately with some friends on a regular basis, and one of their menu items is a basket of pierogies.  Eating them reminded me of how awesome they were, so I started grabbing them from the freezer section.

There is a variety of, well, varieties to choose from.  Most of which, to no surprise, Giant doesn't carry.  I've had a few of them, but generally any of them should be good as long as you like whatever's in them.

They can be cooked a bunch of different ways.  You can boil them, bake them, fry them (and "sauteĆ©" is just a fancy word for "fry"), and even use a contact grill (like the George Foreman ones).  The way I recommend making them is frying them, but for convenience's sake, baking them is the way to go.

The directions for any method of cooking are simple and low on the bullshit I usually complain about.  The oven directions do tell you to flip them, but here it makes sense as they brown more evenly that way, for a more aesthetically pleasing snack.

A word of advice when boiling them: Adding frozen pierogies to boiling water can cause the pierogies to crack, and then you get to clean potato out of your pot.  Even though they tell you to do precisely that, I'd recommend putting them in the water before boiling it.  As an added bonus it'll knock a bit of time off of the cooking time.

The method I use for frying them is slightly different from the method listed on the box, but produces delicious results nonetheless.  Instead of using oil, I use a low-fat butter substitute (to be specific, Brummel & Brown).  The only real change, aside from continually having to add more of the butter substitute, is that you'll need to preheat the skillet with nothing in it (or with some drops of water so you can tell when it's warm).  Then it's just the rhythm of "flip pierogies, add more butter spread, wait" until they're golden brown.

They suggest frying them with sliced up onions, and indeed that's the way they're served at the pub we go to.  So if you want to go that extra mile and get an onion to slice up, there you go.  If you'd rather not bother with that, onion powder will suffice.  Add it just before flipping the first and second times, and you're good to go.

Depending on how you cook them, cleanup can be annoying just due to the number of dishes.  This is why I recommend baking them if all you're after is convenience.  That way you can just use aluminum foil and you'll only have to wash a plate.