Archive for the ‘life down here’ Category


New Chapter

16 May, 2008

Today was kind of a big day, kind of a sad day. My last day at Rockstar New England (formerly Mad Doc Software). I’m leaving to take a new job at Electronic Arts Vancouver. Yes, big news indeed. For those who knew me in Boston, farewell, and for my friends in Vancouver… I will be kicking you in the shins very soon!

So one chapter is ending, and a new one is beginning. I actually expected the last one to be longer. I didn’t come out to Boston thinking it would only be a year and a bit. It looked like such a good opportunity… an AI position at a company that specialized in AI. For a while, it was great, I was up to my eyeballs in AI problems, and loving it. But I haven’t touched anything AI related in almost 9 months, and there was a big fat nothing on the horizon either… so I had to ask myself, why am I still here? Clearly, it was time to move on.

A friend at work asked me yesterday, what was the one thing I would end up missing the most about the US? Truth is, there is no “thing” I will really miss. Not that I disliked the US… that wasn’t the case at all. Honestly, there are many more things here that are the same than are different. It’s nowhere near as foreign an experience as, say, living in Japan!

But I will miss the people. I had more fun with the people I worked with here than I’ve ever had anywhere else. I can think of times I laughed so hard my stomach ached. I will definitely miss those folks, and I should count myself extraordinarily fortunate if I have half as much fun at EA as I did at Mad Doc/Rockstar.


Orange Juice

1 April, 2008

Once or twice a week, a bunch of us from work will go out for lunch, often to Mexican food place called On the Border (though Fuddrucker’s is also popular).

Which leads to a peculiar thing I’ve noticed. I typically order orange juice, which shouldn’t be that unusual, but much of the time, the server is unable to understand me. I usually have to repeat it, and even if not, the server will check to make sure. “Orange juice?” “That’s right.”

We did an experiment one day, where Josh ordered my orange juice, and I ordered his Dr. Pepper. The server understood him, no problem. Damn it! That means the problem is me. I’ve tried making a point of enunciating clearly… after all, those two fricative consonants (ge and j) together could be confusing, and I’m sure it often rolls off people’s tongues like one word. “Ornjooss!” But trying to speak it clearly hasn’t helped much.

I have a theory though, that what really throws them off is that I say please. Not “orange juice,” but “orange juice, please.” Most people don’t say please when they order food here, I’ve noticed. So my suspicion is that that extra bit at the end confuses the issue. Dunno. But I get to experiment with it on a weekly basis, and it has become a subject of some amusement among my coworkers.

No, it’s not my Canadian accent!


Where Streams of Whiskey are Flowing

23 March, 2008

If there was anything that annoyed my friends in college, it was my ardent love for the Irish folk-punk band, the Pogues. It was the most godawfulwonderful stuff I’d ever heard and probably still is. The frenetic accordian music, the gritty lyrics, Shane MacGowan’s drunken slurring and the random screaming all combined to bring out the wildman in me, and I loved it.

You remember that foul evening when you heard the banshees howl
There was lazy drunken bastards singing Billy is in the Bowl
They took you up to midnight mass and left you in the lurch
So you dropped a button in the plate and spewed up in the church

More than anything, I wanted to see the Pogues live. But then in ’91, the Pogues threw out their lead singer and songwriter, Shane McGowan, for being an incorrigible drunk. It was a window closing… though I might someday see the Pogues, they would never be the same without their frontman.

the pogues

Some years ago I did get to see Shane MacGowan and the Popes live at the Commodore. At the time, I thought that would be the closest I would ever get to experiencing a full-on Pogues concert. But then a few weeks ago, I saw that the Pogues would be playing a concert in Boston. I knew it would be the Pogues without Shane, and I debated whether it would really be worth it… but I had seen Shane elsewhere, and I figured this would be my opportunity to see and hear the rest of the original band. So I bought my ticket and waited for the day.

I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
Kissed a girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

On the way to the Orpheum, I played some Animal Crossing on my DS. I fished a bit, and ended up catching… an old boot. Somehow, that seemed like an appropriate omen. It was going to be an awesome show.

The wind it comes down and I can’t stand the chill
That comes to the streets around christmas time
A bugger to the nation and I haven’t got a penny
To wander the dark streets of London

I arrived at the Orpheum, which is kind of like what the Orpheum in Vancouver would look like if it were to suffer several decades of neglect. But that gives it a fair amount of character, so I give it a firm nod of approval. I bought a pint, found my seat (only 6 rows from the stage) and settled in.

There was a screen to one side of the stage, showing commercials and blurbs about upcoming shows. Then they showed a panel, “The Pogues,” and listed the band members. Right at the start was Shane MacGowan. Could it be? Could he be back with the band again? I didn’t dare let my hopes get up… for all I knew, someone had just grabbed the names off one of the earlier albums and didn’t know the difference.

I sat through the opening act, and then, finally, the Pogues came on stage. Sure enough, it was a grizzled Shane who staggered on stage with his glass in hand. They launched straight into Streams of Whiskey, and then Broad Majestic Shannon. I was on my feet and dancing up a storm for the rest of the show.

Did you keep a watch for the dead man’s wind
Did you see the woman with a comb in her hand
Wailing away on the wall on the strand
As you danced to the Turkish song of the damned

The show was great. Shane sounded as harsh as ever, and the rest of the band was solid. They played mostly early stuff from the first two albums (Red Roses for Me, and Rum Sodomy & The Lash) with only a few songs from later albums, which suited me just fine. They never took any breaks, but Shane did occasionally stumble offstage to let Spider Stacy, Philip Chevron and Andrew Ranken each sing a song of their own.

Well Jimmy played harmonica in the pub where I was born
He played it from the night time to the peaceful early morn
He soothed the souls of psychos and the men who had the horn
And they all looked very happy in the morning

They played all the songs I would have wanted them to. The crowd roared along with them for Body of an American, and I bounced around like crazy during Sally MacLennane. It was great! We each have a few bands that we absolutely have to see live before we die. For me, the Pogues was the biggest name left on the list. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance again, and it makes me shudder to think I almost passed it by this time, not knowing the whole band had reunited.

What a great show. And I didn’t even understand a goddamn thing Shane said all night.


Rainy Saturday

8 March, 2008

It’s pouring down rain today. So of course, I went out for a walk in it. = D

I had to go to the Post Office anyway, to get my tax forms. It’s only about 4 blocks away, so it would be ridiculous to walk, no matter how hard it’s raining (and it is raining pretty hard). Besides, I love weather. The more weathery it is, the better. Even though I was soaked before I even made it to the corner, it’s really more about the experience than it is about comfort.

As I was walking, I noticed that all the little birds were sheltering under parked cars. Which got me thinking… isn’t that the kind of place cats would go to get out of the rain too? Presumably, the cats and the birds aren’t under the same cars, sharing some kind of uneasy truce until the weather lets up. So there must be some cars with birds, and some cars with cats. Cat cars and bird cars. How organized, how civil. Maybe the birds can peer across the street at other cars and see cats glaring back at them.

I spent most of the morning programming up a storm. Now that I’m basically done my S.T.A.L.K.E.R. mod (maybe I’ll post a link at some point), I’ve started a new project. This time around, it’s my own game, from scratch.

It might seem strange that after programming all day at work, I’d want to come home and program some more. But the two experiences are totally different. At work, I’m often working within a huge, pre-existing code base, making small additions or fixes. On the other hand, when I work on my own games, I get to start fresh and write everything. It’s like the difference between driving in city traffic compared to roaring down a wide open stretch of highway. I learn different things from those experiences too. At work, I see the solutions that other people have come up with for certain problems, and get to see the results and weigh their merits. On my own projects, I have to come up with solutions for everything myself. I get to decide how everything works, in a much more hands-on, experimental way.

I like that when I start a project at home, I get to start out by writing reams of code. At work, I seldom create new functions and almost never create new classes. When I start an independent project at home, I might write a dozen classes in a day. Er… sorry for the programmer-speak. But the gist of it is that doing my own thing at home is often a much rawer act of creation, and a lot more satisfying.

Anyway, all of this is in its very early stages. It will be a while before I even have enough going on that I can start posting screenshots and talking about the game. But the important thing is that I’ve started it, things are proceeding at a good pace, and I’m having fun. = ]


More Snow! Yay!

2 March, 2008

It snowed again this weekend. The weather prediction was for a big dump of several inches (that’s lots and lots of centimetres) but in fact, it only lasted a few hours and didn’t amount to much. Still, it was great to get up in the morning and see the world turned white again, with big, fat flakes floating down.

I always like it when it snows. I’ve noticed that puts me at odds with most of the people around me. When the snow starts coming down, I hear people groan and complain about it. They hate driving in it, they hate walking in it, and I suspect that even aside from that, they’d still just hate it on principle. But when I look out the window and see lots of snow falling outside, my heart just leaps.

One of the things I was looking forward to, when I moved to Boston, was full-on, proper winters with lots of snow and cold weather. I have to say that I’ve been let down in that regard. Both last winter and this one, it has snowed now and then, sometimes some big dumps, but it doesn’t take very long to warm up again and melt away, so that all we’re left with are a few crusty, dirty snowbanks.

But there’s still time. It’s only the start of March… we could still get a serious blizzard before we’re done. So there’s your challenge, Old Man Winter. Is this really all you’ve got? Bring it on, I say. There’s still time to impress me. I want more than a metre of snow, I want it to fall steadily for at least 48 hours, and I want the temperature to stay well below freezing for more than a week. Can you do that? Do you still have it in ya? Bring it on, I say.



29 January, 2008

Two interesting things to mark. First, I have now been in Boston for one year. It doesn’t feel like that long… but in some ways it feels like I’ve been here for longer than that. The second is that I finished updating my reading list. Only now it’s the “Reading List – 2007” since I’ll have to start a new one for the current year. And yes, I’m already behind on updating the list for 2008. =P


This and That

8 December, 2007

Sorry I’ve neglected to post for the past week or two. Things have been pretty busy at work, lots of overtime again as we work on finishing up Bully for the Xbox 360. But all of that is behind me now – I started my xmas holidays today. I’m taking a glorious, well-deserved 4 weeks off. I fly out to Vancouver tomorrow, and then on to Prince George the following Saturday.

I should also report that I have had my first encounters with the American medical system. I will now unfold a litany of terrors!!!

Not. Actually, I don’t have much to complain about. It all started with some pain, inflammation, discoloration and finally an obvious infection in my big toe. I will not provide photographs. Since I didn’t have a doctor yet (this is my first medical complaint since arriving here) and couldn’t arrange an appointment in short order, I took myself into a local Emergency room. Where there was no line up, no chaos, and I was seen to immediately by a nurse and then a doctor who informed me I had an ingrown toenail. But enough about the toe. What I found interesting was that the capacity to serve (with medical care) seemed to outstrip the need for it… they were able to treat me immediately and could have treated more people in the same time.

Then this week, I went to an actual doctor’s appointment. I had to wait a while for the appointment (the earliest the could book me was a week and a half after I called), but once I got there, again, I had the same impression. The doctor did not seem to be rushing between patients – instead, he spent a fair amount of time with me and chatted about random stuff like his college basketball days.

All of this is in stark contrast to my visits to doctors and Emergency rooms in Canada. There, you could always count on having to wait several hours in Emergency (my last visit, with a bleeding injury, involved a 7 hour wait). My visits to the doctor involved being shuffled into one of a battery of examining rooms through which the doctor then rotated as rapidly as possible, spending no more than a few minutes with each patient unless it was absolutely necessary.

Now, two more obvious differences. I had to pay a nominal user fee in each case. The Emergency room visit was $50, and the doctor’s appointment was $15 (with the rest being covered by my medical insurance, of course). And yes, I have medical insurance, which not all Americans do. However, it’s significant that in Massachusetts, everyone is legally required to have medical insurance, and for people with low incomes, this insurance is subsidized so as not to be a burden. So in fact, everyone here has access to the same level of care that I received (unless they’re refusing to buy insurance on principle, which apparently some are).

To be sure, there must be many other factors underlying the differences that I’ve noticed. But it’s just interesting to find, given what a sacred cow we’ve made of our universal Medicare, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that meets any move to allow privatization, that the American medical system is actually pretty friendly, competent and more than able to meet the needs of its patients.

In other news, I’ve updated the Reading List again.