It’s Only Been Two Years

I just discovered that a recent automatic upgrade to WordPress completely wrecked my blog. I don’t expect that caused anyone any major inconvenience, but it was a little embarrassing to have a giant PHP error message as my home page.

I think in the end it was a combination of some old plug-ins and my old theme not being compatible with the upgrade, but I only figured that out after spending an hour re-installing from scratch and then poking around in the database. Having spent that hour getting things working again, it seemed like some kind of update was in order, even if it’s a relatively content free one. It was also maybe getting a little depressing that the most recent thing was a story about Bad Boy’s furniture.

Our Bad Boy Saga

Beware: some whinging follows. If you don’t care to read the whole story, the moral is Don’t buy from Bad Boy’s Furniture.

Sometime near the end of last year we decided to buy a big screen TV. I forget why exactly we chose them. but we ended up buying a 46″ Samsung TV from Bad Boy’s Furniture in Kitchener. The price was entirely reasonable, though we were talked into shelling out an additional $100 (talked down from $200) for a 5-year extended warranty. Having had a previous TV replaced (by Future Shop) under a similar warranty, it seemed like a reasonable investment.

At the beginning of this December, slightly more than a year after we purchased the TV (so that the manufacturer’s warranty had run out), it developed a giant line down the center of it. It still otherwise works but it’s pretty annoying to look at, and so we called up Bad Boy’s customer service to get them to deliver on their “Solid Gold” warranty.

The beginning of our problems was that it took a month of calling and visiting the store before we were able to get “Jonalyn” to set up an appointment for a local repair company to come have a look. The repair guy told me what I’d figured out myself (it would be easiest to just replace the TV rather than repair it), but whatever. It then took another month to finally get an appointment for a replacement TV to be delivered.

Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t produce our television model anymore, so it needs to be replaced with a different model. Even though ours was a mid-to-high range model when we purchased it, it’s being replaced with the cheapest of Samsung’s current crop of 46″ televisions. I could probably have justified that to myself on the basis that the new TV still has all the features I used on the old one and the downgrade is the equivalent of a years depreciation on the old TV, but here’s the part where they really sell you on their warranty plan:

The 5-year warranty that we purchased doesn’t apply to the replacement TV that we’re getting, since it’s not the same TV, though Jonalyn happily assured me I could go into the store and plunk down an additional $200 to get a warranty on the replacement. Great. I’d phone them back up and argue with them, except that they don’t answer the phones, and I know they won’t return my calls until long after the whole issue is moot.

The extra frustrating part is that we bought the TV on a credit card that extends the manufacturer’s warranty by a year. We likely could have dealt with Visa and been done with this, but figured we should try and get our money’s worth and make Bad Boy deliver on their warranty promise. Two months of frustration later, I’m not sure I’m glad I bothered just out of principle. Since, presumably, Visa’s not going to cover this replacement TV either, if we end up with any more problems we’ll likely just end up having to replace it ourselves.

Since we’ve been dealing with all of this, I checked out Bad Boy’s on the BBB website and found they’ve got an “F“, the lowest grade you can get. I kind of figured that all furniture stores operated at a similar sleaziness level, but competitors like Leon’s and The Brick have ratings of “A” and “A+” (incidentally, is there a reason that the state-of-the-art for furniture store websites seems to have stopped advancing circa 2003?). Future Shop only got a “B”, but that’s still a long way away from “F”.

Argh!

Twitter

I signed up for twitter today. I can’t promise I’ll update it any more often than I update this site, but if you’re interested, I’m “JEllisonPrice“.

When you’re a late adopter, you get the dregs of the user name pool.

Merry Christmas from Future Shop

If you’re not an aficionado of fake plastic instruments, you could probably be forgiven for not knowing that there are no less than five different plastic drum sets on the market right now:

  • the original Rock Band drums (of which we actually have three sets, two of which were free [but equally problematic] replacements from EA)
  • the Rock Band 2 drums, much the same as – but of improved quality when compared to – the originals
  • the Guitar Hero World Tour set, which has one less drum pad but two cymbals, and whose quality varies depending on where in the production run they came from
  • the Rock Revolution set, which I mention only for the sake of completeness
  • the ION Drum Rocker, a $400 (CDN) deluxe set for the truly hardcore

We’ve been trying to decide on a set to replace our under-performing original Rock Band set, but the game manufacturers don’t make it easy with somewhat lackluster compatibility across games. The ION set seemed like the best option overall, but $400 was a bit (okay, a lot) more than we could justify spending on a set of fake drums.

Lo and behold, Future Shop has them on sale this week! $100 off! Alas, after much consideration, we decided that $300 was still a bit (okay, more than a bit) more than we could justify spending on a set of fake drums.

We were pretty much resigned to getting the Guitar Hero World Tour bundle until Cressa found an ION box with a sticker reading “Sell as Open Box” on it. Maybe for an open box they’d drop the price down to $250? Maybe I could haggle down to $200? Would $200 be too much to spend on fake drums? Were they a demo set? Had they already had the crap beaten out of them?

We asked the Future Shop Guy, who checked out the set and determined that they hadn’t actually ever been opened. Why they were marked as an open box was a mystery. As for price, he had to ask the Future Shop Computer.

$89. That is what the computer said. $89! Computers Do Not Lie. And so, as much as at that point the Future Shop Guy wanted to buy the drums for himself, that is how we got our brand new $400 drum set for $89.

I assume that whoever punched the info into the computer had no idea what they were doing. Or they were supposed to have been a demo set, only to be sold after thousands of ten year-olds had smashed them beyond recognition. At this point, I don’t really care.

They are awesome.

Lambda the Ultimate

A couple weeks ago I ordered the three “Schemer” books – The Little Schemer, The Seasoned Schemer and The Reasoned Schemer – from Amazon and have been working my way through the first one in my spare time. The books have a “dialog” sort of style to them that’s different than what you’ll find in most programming books, but so far Scheme is making a lot more sense than it did in second year university.

I breezed through the first several chapters without much trouble. I’ve already got a pretty good handle on recursion, though practicing it in Scheme gives you a different way to think about it than in something like C#. Even Currying – another topic I never really picked up on in university – was something I found was doing in my own code without actually calling it that. I was feeling pretty smart until the second half of the chapter entitled “Lambda the Ultimate” when suddenly continuations showed up and my head just about exploded.

In Continuation-passing style:

Instead of “returning” values as in the more familiar direct style, a function … takes an explicit continuation argument which is meant to receive the result of the computation performed within the function.

So instead of the “normal” function (+ x y), the CPS equivalent would be something like (cps+ x y k) where k is a function being passed in. The first version adds x and y and then returns the result, while the second adds x and y and then passes the value into the function k. I think.

Here’s a function for the Pythagorean theorem in “normal” Scheme:

(define (pyth x y)
 (sqrt (+ (* x x) (* y y))))

and here’s the same function using “continuation-passing style”:

(define (pyth x y k)
 (cps* x x (lambda (x2)
         (cps* y y (lambda (y2)
                 (cps+ x2 y2 (lambda (x2py2)
                           (cps_sqrt x2py2 k))))))))

Last night that second version meant absolutely nothing to me, though now having stared at it long enough to come up with this post, I think I’m starting to catch on. I’m still not clear on where using CPS is a clear “win”, but my brain hurts less now.

I think next up is the Y-Combinator. That could hurt some more.

It’s My Birthday…

… so I built another workbench. You can never have too many workbenches.

This one’s in the garage, so it’s a little less fancy than the previous one, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve been trying to work on something out there and really needed some sort of work surface, so it should be a big improvement. My dad came down and helped with the construction, and Cressa and my mom cleaned up the gardens that were growing out of control.

I used some plans I found online with some slight modifications; mine’s 6′ long, but only 30″ wide, and a tiny bit taller than 3′ (incidentally, it apparently confuses people who grew up with the imperial system when you write down 2.5′ to mean “two and a half feet”). We also skimped on the bolts when we got to attaching the top to the legs and only used two in each corner since they’re not actually supporting anything and they were a pain to put in.

New Year’s Catch-Up

So apparently it’s 2008. I don’t think I’ll make any resolutions about posting more or being more entertaining or anything like that, but hey, as of this posting my average for this year has shot up to a post every day!

After much confusion and many delays (enough that even the CBC reported on it… twice) Rock Band finally arrived about half an hour before we were heading up to Owen Sound for the holidays. Needless to say, it accompanied us there.

The 30-second review is that it’s really good. The guitar parts are generally easier than those on Guitar Hero 3 and aren’t too challenging if you’ve mastered any of the GH games, though the new guitar takes some getting used to. After using it for a while I think I prefer the new strum bar, though the new buttons are a little clacky. The drums work pretty well (though it looks like I’ve got a moderately defective red pad that needs replacing) and are a new challenge. I’ve just about beaten the solo drum career on medium and am getting reasonable competent on hard.

My major non-Rock Band-related accomplishment was building a new workbench with my dad. I found the plans online, and we did all of the shopping, cutting, assembly and had it mounted on the wall by the end of yesterday. I screwed up reading the plans for some removable cross-beams for the legs (removable so the whole bottom part can be folded up to make space) so the big hunk of wood across the bottom is temporary until I can make another trip to Home Depot. Other than that, everything went pretty smoothly and I’ve got a nice new workspace.

Is Rock Band Here Yet?

The best version of Guitar Hero is definitely the one where they combined the track list from the original Guitar Hero with the multiplayer and improved controls of Guitar Hero 2. Unfortunately, that version never actually existed and I’m left with the versions that were made and their individual faults (and of course, individual Awesomeness).

It’s sort of meaningless to complain overmuch about the track list for a Guitar Hero game since it’s so much a matter of opinion. I do think that Guitar Hero 3 has a better variety of songs (and, I think, more well known songs) than its predecessor, but I somehow can’t get into it to the same degree. I’m not sure if it’s the actual song selection, or the gameplay changes.

The songs tend to be a lot harder than those in the previous games; some of the final songs on expert have literally screens and screens piled full of hammer-ons. To offset the increased song difficulty you’re given a lot more leeway when hitting notes. It’s possible to get all the notes in some of the faster runs by essentially just mashing the fret-board. The end result is that you end up getting “perfect” passages that you know you don’t deserve, and the whole experience is a lot less rewarding than nailing an easier passage from GH2 but knowing that you had the timing down.

The battle mode in the game is pretty pointless. I can understand wanting to compete with your friends to see who the better player is, but there’s always been a face-off mode for that purpose. Battle mode introduces the concept of “weapons” that you can fire at the other player that increase the difficulty of what their playing or somehow impairs their ability to hit their notes. Once someone screws up enough, the game ends and the other person wins. In practice, matches usually last about 30 seconds and go to whoever manages to fire off a weapon first.

Despite my complaints, GH3 is by no means a bad game. If you’re a fan of the series – or especially if you own a console that was never graced with the presence of the first two – it’s still worth the purchase.

At least until Rock Band gets here.

A Few House Pictures (at long last)

I finally found all of the wires to hook the camera up, but it turns out we haven’t got a whole lot of good pictures of the house yet (and most rooms are still so full of boxes that I don’t really want to display them for the world to see).

Here’s what we’ve got, though (including a shot of Kitty and her new Kitty Condo).



No Rock Band Next Week

Rock Band (warning: Flash) was supposed to be out next week on the 20th but MTV’s now confirmed that the Canadian release date’s been pushed to December 17th. Theory one is that they need to print French instruction manuals/packaging; theory two is that since they can’t make enough to meet demand in the U.S. they’re diverting stock from Canada and delaying the release date here.

I kind of almost hope that it’s theory two, since the original Guitar Hero was delayed a month in Canada because of the French issue; if it’s the French thing again I have to assume that everyone involved is kinda slow. I mean it’s not like EA’s never sold a game in Canada before.

Anyway, we were also supposed to have a Rock Band/Housewarming party shortly after the release, but I guess now it’s just going to be a boring old Guitar Hero 3/Housewarming party.