…and Wii! (A Review)

After much anticipation and a rather odd name change, Nintendo’s next generation console has finally arrived.  A few brave souls endured the frigid Memphis “fall weather” as well as the slings and arrows of Best Buy staff and customers in order to ensure that one of these delicious little consoles would fall neatly into their frostbitten hands.  I was not one of those but I *did* get up HELLA early Sunday morning to  roll the bones in the craps game that is 0-day console acquisition.  Lady Luck was nice enough to blow me a kiss and I walked out of the store with a Wii, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Call of Duty 3 and Red Steel.

The Wii
The out of the box experience was somewhat similar to that of an Apple product.  Once the WiiMote sensor, the RCA cables and power supply have been connected to the console, the initial setup is intuitive and relatively painless.  If you wanna pop a disc in a go for it you can without the need for a messy patch download. If you want to try out some of the online content, grab your DS and fire it up because you’ll have to wait a while.  Now it could be that Nintendo’s servers were just getting slammed on launch day, but it took me quite a while to download the online updates.  At launch, the only “channels” available are the Disc channel (Wii/GC games), the Mii channel (your own anime-cute avatar) and the Shopping channel.  Future channels include the Forecast (local/global weather) and News channels.  While I personally do not plan on getting my daily news feed from my Wii, I am interested in seeing how these features work.  Even though the online content is a bit spotty at the moment, the games play exactly as they should.

Wii Sports
This is the end-all be-all BEST title to be included with a console since Super Mario Brothers for the original NES.  I am not a very athletic guy, but knocking virtual baseballs out of the park with nothing more than my WiiMote had me giggling like a schoolgirl for hours.  It is as satisfying as rawking out to “Ace of Spades” on Guitar Hero.

Zelda: Twilight Princess
I am not a Zelda fanboy.  Honestly, the only Zelda game I ever played was the original, so I am not down with the history of Hyrule.  The game starts with a few miniquests to help you get familiar with the WiiMote and the nunchuck.  Animation is good, but not great – I am betting on the fun factor of this game to render the graphic quality to a non-issue.  The dialog leans more towards engrish than english but it does it’s job which is to clumsily introduce plot points.  I have not hit the combat system yet, but I promise to post a more complete review once I have had more time to spend with this title.

Call of Duty 3
To be perfectly honest, this title sparked my interest more than any other.  The thought of playing a FPS with the new control scheme kept me awake a night – maybe with a WiiMote I would be good enough to actually play online with other humans!  There is a bit of a learning curve with the WiiMote/nunchuck controls (hand to hand combat makes you feel silly and you *will* look like an idiot) but practice makes perfect.  The game itself is exactly what I have come to expect from the CoD series – lots of fun.  Out of all of the titles I have played, Call of Duty 3 has the best graphics so far.

Red Steel
I don’t think that I really have anything to add to some of the existing early impressions of this game.  The control scheme is BRAND brand new and I have a feeling that unless you are this man you will have similar problems executing the incredibly elaborate Wii-Foo that is required in order to smite your pixelated foes.  At the moment, I am not the ninja for the job, but I plan on putting in a lot of practice over the coming holiday.

So there it is.

Your thoughts?

IT: When to leave your job

Anyone who works in Information Technology knows that satbility is not a hallmark their chosen profession. Neither, it seems, is good management. I recently spoke with a younger colleague who was working at his second job in as many years. He lamented that things at his new company seemed to have such promise from the start but eventually everything about his workday – his manager, the clients, the hardware/software he was expected to use to work miracles – had devolved into the same conditions that lead him to hit Dice nine months ago. He asked me if things ever got better.

Are there any project managers out there who actually have a clue as to what their technical staff needs to complete projects?
Do clueful managers exist?
Will I *ever* find a company that does not insist on having their developers adhere to a 9-5 work day?
Most importantly – how long should I give my employer before I start shopping my resume around again?
Over the years I have consulted with several different companies, from SMB/SME’s to global enterprise-level corporations and have come to learn to spot the signs that things may not be going as well as the shareholder’s report would have you believe.

1. No more free coffee
When they stopped offering free weekly massages I didn’t complain. I was usually too busy to take advantage of them. When they took our Herman Miller chairs I didn’t mind – those things have so many points of articulation that trying to get them properly configured was a time consuming exercise in frustration. When they asked that we ensure that our systems were powered down at the end of the day so they could save money on the power bill I actually thought that it was a proactive, forward-looking synergistic action item that would help to assert our goal-oriented, results-driven deliverables. But when they took the coffee…
Now I’m not talking about hand-picked Columbian coffee that was served to us by barristas on loan from the local Starbucks – this was your standard generic foil packages and run-of-the-mill non-dairy creamer. When management determines that they can no longer afford to spring for a cup of joe for their employees it is time to move before they start considering toilet paper to be a ‘frivolous luxury item’.

2. Technical people are asked to do things WAY outside of their job description
It is bad enough that software architects, network engineers, programmers and help desk workers are all looked at as “computer people” and are, sometimes, asked to do several different jobs all at once (i.e. database administrators being expected to install and configure a PIX). What is *really* concerning is when technical people are asked to take on other mission-critical job responsibilities within the company. For a few years I worked as a consultant for a software company. I would assist our clients in getting the most out of our software and took an active role in implementing our tools and, on occasion, assisted in their system architecture. Our department had access to several different databases, application servers, operating systems, development tools – whatever we needed to be able to stay absolutely current. One day we were all asked to attend a training meeting. A sales training meeting. Management had determined that out of the entire company our department had the *most* contact with our customers and wanted to make the most of that. The speaker was a high-pressure sales specialist who didn’t so much teach sales as he taught social engineering. Luckily, I had already read a pretty good book on the subject so I was able to spend the entire class time updating my resume. It turned out that my hunch paid off – everyone that I knew from that company smelled trouble and moved on shortly after we were expected to help augment sales.

3. Mission Statement of the Month
This is not usually something that occurs in larger companies. Most big corporations can take years to even decide on a new mission statement, let alone take any real action towards making it happen. But if you spend more than a few hours every month sitting in ad-hoc meetings so that the CEO can let everyone in on your company’s “new direction” then chances are you need to jump ship before it sinks. A friend of mine works for a small advertising company as a software developer. A few years ago he began putting together a small set of reporting tools that would let clients track page hits on their web sites, responses to mass emails, host little surveys, etc. His project was mostly done under the wire until management realized that other companies were making big bucks selling this type of service. What management did not realize was that those “other” companies had an entire team of developers, database administrators, QA testers and graphic artists, not to mention a project manager who listened to their clients and had an understanding of what was/was not possible with current web technology. During the next “quarterly meeting” (which, according to him, seemed to occur once a month) he was shocked to learn that the ENTIRE future of the company was going to rest solely on the success of this little tool that he had written. Forget the fact that this company already had spent a vast amount of time and money positioning itself within the print ad industry. Never mind the fact that they had more photoshop jockeys than technical staff. Now, everything was on him. Of course, he would not be getting any additional resources. After all – he managed to do this much on his own, why should they mess with a sure thing? After a few months, they realized that this little tool was not the future of the company and decided to do something else (”Concepting”, I think he said). The quarter before the CEO announced that they would be providing more “marketing consultation” and less “busywork” (i.e. the things that clients pay for).
The point to this story is that companies that exhibit this behaviour usually do not last very long. If the company is confused as to what it does, how do you think that company’s clients must feel?

I’m sure that there are other great points out there and I’d love to hear your tips on how to spot a sinking ship. If you’ve got some good ones let me know.

Salon Infidelity

Courtney came in to my life about two years ago.
We met at the mall one Saturday afternoon in August. I didn’t quite know what I was looking for when I found her but I knew what I was NOT looking for. I’d had enough of inconsideration, painful and ultimately unfulfilling experiences and wanted something new – something fresh. After our first encounter I knew that she was the one.

No, Courtney is not my lover.

Courtney is my stylist.

I never had to explain anything when I went to see her – I could use abstract keywords like, “Spikey metrosexual – professional, but still young and a bit edgy” and she would know exactly how to take care of me. While she worked, we would talk about music, relationships, life… After the cut, she would take me to the back and rinse the clippings from my hair, gently massaging my scalp with her long nails. She always did an excellent job with my hair, but lately I’ve been wondering what it would be like to try something new.

Last week I cheated on her.

It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with Courtney, it’s just that I wanted to see what else was out there – play the field, shake things up a bit. My infidelitious desires led me to book an appointment with a “Art Director” at Toni & Guy at the mall. I found it funny that the senior-level stylists were referred to as “Art Directors” – it was like having your deep-dish pepperoni with extra cheese brought to you by an “Italian Cuisine Transportation Engineer”. When I walked in the first thing that I noticed was the music – stale EuroTrance being ripped from a Shoutcast station in the UK. Courtney’s shop *always* has good music. New wave 80’s mixed with ambient dub. I told the receptionist (her real title was probably “Client Relations Greeter” or something equally as insipid) that I was here for my appointment with the “Art Director”. She took my name, glanced at her book, smacked her gum and said that it would be a few minutes. I looked around the place and wondered who would be cutting my hair. I hoped that it would not be the middle-aged guy with the Fabio hair. As I waited, I began to feel the first pangs of guilt. “What if Courtney sees me in here?”, I thought, “How would I explain myself?” Just then I was introduced to the person who would be responsible for a good portion of my appearance. She was a Vietnamese woman in her late 50’s with crayola-red streaks through her cookie-cutter mod hair. Before she even introduced herself she took one quick glance at me and said, “You hair good. Come – shampoo.” I was led to the back of the shop where she dunked my head under a stream of less than tepid water.
“You like Barton Springs?”, she asked, rapid-fire. “I go there on weekend. Some say it too cold but I like cold. Shock at first but I get used to it.”
Her hands did their best to redirect as much water as possible away from my head and directly into my ears. As I sat there, the only thing I could think was, “Courtney uses warm water and is MUCH more gentle.”

After the shampoo I was directed to the chair where she asked what kind of shampoo I usually use. I told her that I use the cheapest stuff I can find because a) I’m a straight male and b) I have short hair. She then launched into a sales pitch for the Bedhead (product line owned by Tigi, the parent company of Toni & Guy) shampoo and explained why I *must* use ONLY use THAT SHAMPOO and NO OTHER. I think that it might have involved the earth ceasing to rotate if I used a product which promoted waxy buildup around my follicles, but I tuned it out and instead thought about how Courtney would be telling me about her latest weekend adventures.

The Art Director asked how I’d like to have my hair cut. I explained to her that I wanted something short, easy to manage and something that helped me look young. She didn’t understand. I asked if she had seen MTV within the past year, she said that she did not own a TV because it was bad for your soul. I pointed to one of the patrons who was leaving and said, “Kinda like that”.
“Oh no,” she said, “Your hair too straight. I know – I give you good cut.”
While I may not be a barber, I do understand what clippers do and how to use them.
Apparently she did not. I mentioned that she could just use clippers (set to 2) to trim the sides but she refused and continued with her shears.
“I do this eight year”, she boasted. I wondered if giving your kid a bowl cut at the kitchen table can be counted as valid work experience.
She launched into a flurry of activity that I had never seen outside of cartoons. Her hands were everywhere at once, grabbing the blow-dryer to remove the hair clippings from my face, snipping a bit here, squirting leave-in conditioner into my eyes, brushing hair off of my neck, snipping some more, razing for texture, etc.
As she worked, she continued to attempt to sell me on the different products offered at the counter. “Courtney never tries to sell me crap”, I thought.
When the whole thing was over I realized that I had just spent an hour and forty-five minutes listening to bad music and sales pitches for over priced styling products to get a haircut that I could have gotten for FREE with a 4-yr commitment to the US Armed Forces. She whipped the apron off of my body and disappeared to the front of the shop.
Dazed, I stood up and brushed myself off. She met me at the counter with an armload of products. I politely explained that I had absolutely no need for ANY of the crap on the counter and simply wanted the bill so that I could get back to work. The total ended up being MUCH more than I had anticipated. I was told that I was being charged the standard rate for services rendered by an “Art Director”. Grudgingly, I pulled out my wallet and handed them my credit card. As tacky as it might seem, I did not tip because there is NO WAY that I will go back.

Getting a bad haircut from someone other than your regular stylist is like cheating on your significant other and getting Chlamydia. There is no way to hide your actions and you also have to deal with the humiliation for a few months. How will I explain this to Courtney the next time I see her? Will she still treat me the same way she did before? Will she continue to personally give me the post-cut rinse or will she shove me off on one of the shampoo girls?

The entire experience has left me older and wiser. I guess I never realized how much I appreciate having a good stylist who knows how to make me look good. That’s it – from now on, she’s the only one that will cut my hair.

Episode IV – A New Hope

For me, that was how it all began. Sitting there in the darkened theatre with my father watching those words scroll up into the blackness on that impossibly large screen. When you’re four years old, most things are impossibly large. Like the future. Back then it was as vast as the universe that Lucas threw on that screen and twice as full of wonder. It was cool.

As I got older and the future got smaller, some of the wonder started to vanish. Like Episode I, the future turned out to be boringly predictable, completely lackluster and full of shittily-rendered racial stereotypes. Most of the magic was scaled down to the level of cheap parlour tricks or replaced with low quality gadgetry. The future got pretty lame.

Someone once told me that the oriental game “Go” could be seen as a symbolic representation of the future. Before the first stone is placed on the board, the possibilities are almost endless. A million possible outcomes. Once a piece is in play, the possible outcomes are reduced significantly. Each time a move is made, the end result becomes more predictable. The possibilities decrease exponentially. Not only is it easier to guess how the game will end, it also becomes harder to change the outcome. Unless a careful player can find a chink in their opponent’s armour, they are doomed.

Recently I found that chink; that loophole. That fatal flaw that The Powers That Be is hoping I have overlooked. Very soon I’ll be able to start over – to become someone new. Imagine that for a second – the chance to start everything over. An opportunity to be who you want to be. I see my chance and I’m *not* going to let it get away.

The future just got cool again.