Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thoughts on a New Rig

Thoughts? Currently, total shows as $1304.90.


CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply
CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply
Item #: N82E16817139006
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
-$30.00  Instant
$10.00 Mail-in Rebate Card

ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
Item #: N82E16827135204
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

EVGA 01G-P3-1465-AR GeForce GTX 465 (Fermi) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card
EVGA 01G-P3-1465-AR GeForce GTX 465 (Fermi) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card
Item #: N82E16814130555
Return Policy: VGA Replacement Only Return Policy
-$25.00  Instant
$40.00 Mail-in Rebate Card

CORSAIR DOMINATOR 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TR3X6G1600C8D
CORSAIR DOMINATOR 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TR3X6G1600C8D
Item #: N82E16820145224
Return Policy: Memory Standard Return Policy

Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
Item #: N82E16811129066
Return Policy: Limited Replacement Only Return Policy

Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5
Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
Item #: N82E16822136319
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
Item #: N82E16813128423
Return Policy: Standard Return Policy
-$10.00  Instant

Crucial RealSSD C300 CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1 2.5
Crucial RealSSD C300 CTFDDAC064MAG-1G1 2.5" 64GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
Item #: N82E16820148357
Return Policy: Limited Replacement Only Return Policy
-$10.00  Instant

Intel Core i7-950 Bloomfield 3.06GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor BX80601950
Intel Core i7-950 Bloomfield 3.06GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor BX80601950
Item #: N82E16819115211
Return Policy: CPU Replacement Only Return Policy
-$5.00  Instant

Monday, December 06, 2010

Winter Metal

We got our latest computer upgrades at work. This means I have to re-download my favorite music using my Zune Pass. Thankfully, a ton of the music I like is available for download on Zune, so I can build a new music collection really fast. It also provides an interesting view of my music whims day-to-day, and as Smart DJ shows me various bands I've never heard of (or forgotten about).

A month in, I have 3.24GB of subscription music, and picked up the following bands (in rough chronological order).
  • Poisonblack
  • Sentenced
  • Dark Tranquility
  • Iron Maiden
  • In Flames
  • Scorpions
  • Scar Symmetry
  • Lacuna Coil
  • Beseech
  • Kamelot
  • Raintime
  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Firewind
  • Die Trying
  • Jag Panzer
  • Labyrinth
Pretty standard so far, but we're only a month in. The collection gets more and more interesting as Smart DJ goes on its random kicks (like that one time it decided my music taste was "sexy female lead"), or as the mood at work motivates various music selections (when Amon Amarth is first reintroduced to the collection, it might be a good idea to steer clear of me for a bit).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snowocalypse 2010

It’s snowing (and sticking), and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! Amber is of course delighted, but I am less eager to embrace the winter months.

Snow in of itself isn’t too bad. With a bit of common sense, driving is just a test of patience. However, Seattle only gets snow every few years, which combined with a large transplant population from warmer locales means that roads can become a living nightmare to navigate. Reports already say that the main highways are filled with people chaining up and driving 20MPH; there’s been less than 1 inch of snow so far! If past snowfalls are an indicator, the next inch will result in cars being abandoned in the middle of the road en-masse, and what little bare pavement remains being littered with fragments of shattered tire chains. The side roads are worse… you’re either stuck waiting for the hordes to clear, or dodging sliding vehicles who don’t understand that you don’t stop while climbing icy hills.

So, despite the relatively light snow, I’ve hunkered down, prepared for four months of isolation. But its not so bad; a fire is burning, the poodle and Stratovarius are keeping me company while I work, and the FiOS Internet (unlike Comcrap) is still going strong. I think I may just survive.

Evening Update: apparently I was wise to avoid the hint of powder. #snOMG tells it all. Entire highways shut down by jack-knifed busses. Airplanes missing the airport. Apparently, my fellow Eastsiders just abandoned their cars en-masse! The entire transit system is slated to shut down tomorrow. Ahhh Seattle.

Morning update: Some videos.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Knotty Blog is up

For those of you bored of my ramblings (or lack thereof), Amber's got her own blog up at A much better read, especially for those interested in pet ownership and pet grooming. It's very pink.


Saturday, October 02, 2010


Yes, I have joined the Minecraft craze, and it appears that I’m not alone. People who haven’t played don’t seem to understand the appeal - almost without exception with reference to the graphics. Clearly the game must not be good because it is not high-resolution. Therefore I must only like it based on a sense of nostalgia. While the graphics are indeed somewhat retro, this really fails to capture what makes Minecraft so innovative

You start in a first person view, viewing a randomly-generated natural world. You have an empty inventory, a full health bar, and only your fist as a tool. Where it gets interesting is the fact that the world continues on forever (well, technically only 4 billion square kilometers), and is infinitely mutable. Any solid object you can destroy or dismantle, and any empty space you can fill with something you’ve built or collected. You could simply explore the natural world forever (as long as you can avoid the zombies that come out at night), or you could build a hut, carve out a cave, construct a castle, plant a forest, design entire cities, build and ride rides, or carve your own bust into the side of a mountain. Pretty much anything you can imagine your Minecraft world being, you can build, one block at a time.

As a game, Minecraft Alpha isn’t that special yet due to the lack of significant guided objectives. However, even BEFORE its beta, it has sold over 100,000 copies! My theory is that it exploits an unrealized desire in some people to create a world of their own design. The first person view makes the interface very simple – game level editors can get so complex that your average architect couldn’t make a compelling structure, while building with blocks is an idea so simple that babies do it regularly. The physics builds attachment to the things you build; the rampart of your castle has much more meaning when you had to place it, brick by brick, building and tearing down scaffolding as you go (and, if you’re like me, falling into the moat a few times).

I don’t see Minecraft as just a low-res game demo, I see it for the infinite possibilities that a such a broadly mutable sandbox provides. Even without any actual ‘game’ to it, Minecraft is very enjoyable. It is still in very active development, and more meaningful ‘game modes’ are in the works. I can’t help but imagine the possibilities of games played in such an environment.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Dead Rising 2: Case 0

Xbox 360 Live Arcade download, a “prequel” to the upcoming Dead Rising 2. 400 pts gets you about four hours of play – exactly two hours each for your first playthrough and a replay to get Ending A (the ‘true’ ending) and the rest of the achievements.

It’s got all the great aspects of Dead Rising: killing zombies with just about anything you can find, exploring abandoned stores and lewting their stuff, rescuing survivors, and performing missions against the clock. But unfortunately it also retained many of the downsides of Dead Rising: frustrating durability mechanic, quirky mission triggers, and for some reason ridiculous load times despite being entirely installed on the hard drive.

If you’re curious about Dead Rising 2, this good way to find out if you’ll want to spend the $60 for the full game. If you played Dead Rising, you already know you want it. Otherwise, give it a pass.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

40% Rid of Comcast (or: how I learned to stop worrying and love fiber)

We have shed our outdated Comcast cable modem and traded up to a Verizon Frontier FiOS fiber-to-the-home Internet connection. While our measly 15/5 Mbps has already been laughed at by most of the modem world, it is satisfying to at least have the security of a modern reliable network.

Don’t get me wrong; Comcast High-Speed Internet wasn’t bad for us – reasonable price (except for the “modem rental”), and more than adequate speeds for our tastes. Our traditional enemy has always been Comcast TV, with its over-compressed “high-def”, its unusably buggy DVR, and its ridiculous price gouging for basic service. However, the TV and Internet share one fatal flaw – the failure-prone Comcast local networks, which over the past month have been out more often than they have been working. One theory I was presented was that this is a result of heating on the underground wires on hot summer days. No cable = no Internet AND no TV, a fate no techie should have to endure.

Unfortunately, Comcast has a TV monopoly for us. Trees firmly block any satellite option, and while FiOS does provide a wonderful TV package, a quirk of King County broadcasting regulations prevent Frontier from offering us service. However, said regulation does not block Internet.

So we’re wired. They dug up a trench in our yard, ran the fiber to a box in our garage, then jacked our house’s coax connections to wire up a respectably beefy-looking modem/router/wireless combo device. By the time I got home, both computers were back online.

While in theory our new connection is no faster than what we had with Comcast, it *feels* much more responsive. Web pages load noticeably faster, downloads regularly pull upwards of 1.7MB/s, even Netflix loads faster. Who knows, maybe the latency is better… or maybe the hardware is just better than the old cable modem. If nothing else, it just reinforces the simple fact that speed is not just is about raw pipe bandwidth.

Oh, and it hasn’t gone out once since they hooked us up.

So, while I was only able to get rid of the lesser of two Comcast evils, it’s nice to take a tiny bit of money away from them and get a more reliable (and apparently faster) alternative. And the best part, on hot summer days, when the TV cuts out, we can watch Netflix instead of being forced to go outside Winking smile.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Sassafras has been adopted!

Many of you know that Amber and I have been fostering a young Golden Retriever girl that we renamed “Sassafras”, or “Sassy” for short. She entered our care from a local vet, who had been requested by her owner to euthanize her (at 7 months old) because she had got sick.

Sassy at Marymoor park.

We advertised her on a few Microsoft lists, and the response was incredible! She was almost immediately matched with a loving home. Sassy is now happily in her new home, living with her now step-sister golden and a Mommy that loves to take them hiking and swimming!

Sassy (left) and her step-sister (right) at Rattlesnake.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Red Ring of Death

It finally happened. The fate that all Xbox 360 gamers dread, yet know, deep in their dark and lonely hearts, will come to them in the not so distant future. The end of one of the few things left that makes it worth owning a television. A fate, for the dependent, the addicted, and the helpless, is equated with both anger and despair. The dreaded “General Hardware Failure”. I got Red Ring of Death’d.

This is not uncommon. In fact, it’s so common that Microsoft had to extend the warranty to three years on all consoles (at considerable expense to the stock price). Needless to say, Murphy is an asshole, and I am early in my fourth year of ownership.

So, my options are to mail it in; $120 and a few weeks later, I have a working refurb of some sort. Or, buy the $199 “Arcade” package, new-in-box, with HDMI support, and I get to keep the old Xbox to tinker with. I can even try a DIY fix-it approach, and if I get it working with a hair dryer or whatnot, pawn off the box on Craigslist. My choice seemed apparent to the cashier at Best Buy, whose first words to me were “I’m sorry.”

So, I’m back up and running. As a bonus, it’s actually much quieter than the last one, and I do have the HDMI now. Though strangely, HDMI will only give me 1080i, while component gives me 1080p. Technology is weird, but meh, 720p never killed anyone.

So, anyone want to buy a fragged Xbox?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Taxes 2010

Done (well, at least until the Canadians get uppity again)! Even with good tax preparation software, my US taxes are always a pain. It’s mostly simple, but capital gains are the bane of my existence, and of course, nobody knows where Canada is.

Some tips for Microsoft folks:

  • TurboTax is 25% off if you visit through a Fidelity referral link.
  • Despite Fidelity managing our ESPP, they get the cost basis wrong for short-term capital gains, calculating it on the discount price instead instead of Fair Market Value. If you had short-term gain/loss from ESPP, be sure to calculate your cost basis yourself.
    • If you sell ESPP short-term, Microsoft does report it in your W-2 income. It’s itemized out as DQDIS on W-2 box 14. For some reason, I’ve never been able to get it to add up exactly (always off by a few dollars); would love it if somebody knows the secret to how it’s calculated.
    • At least in TurboTax, if you do the worksheet, they want to know a bunch of completely irrelevant information (period-start FMV, etc); none of it will impact the final cost basis (which is what matters) but it whines if you don’t have it. The best place to find this all is in the ESPP program “transaction history” which summarizes all the info you need on one webpage (except sale price and commission, which you can get from your monthly statements).
  • Any stock grants or awards are pre-taxed. You only have to worry about paying capital gains, and only when you sell.
  • If you ever sold MSFT at a loss, watch out for wash sales – since ESPP kicks in every three months, there’s only 4 months out of the year where you’re safe from them. Fidelity is usually good about warning you that a sale might have been a wash sale, but you’ll have to jump though several more hoops when calculating your capital gains.

For the Canadians here in the US:

  • First off, if you’re living and working here, you’re NOT a resident of Canada for tax purposes, and no amount of worrying will make you one. Over and over, I hear people discuss and debate the ‘residential ties’ issue; a rampant paranoia that a single bank account or club membership will make them liable to pay taxes. First, they completely ignore the fact that the only primary residential ties are residences and family, thus making it almost impossible to be resident without these factors involved. But more to the point, even if you were found to be factually resident, you would then apply tie-breaker rules under the US-Canada tax treaty to become a deemed non-resident. So you’re non-resident. Game over.
    • This means, barring special circumstances, you don’t need to file a Canadian return at all.
    • Yes, Canada might ask you to file one anyways. Don’t be alarmed. You file the “Non-Resident” package, declare your worldwide income (you’re not paying taxes on it, just declaring it), fill in a bunch of zeroes and call it a day.
    • DON’T file an NR73 to request a residency determination, unless you are specifically asked to. YOUR declaration of non-residency came from the last tax return you filed the year you left (where you checked “I ceased to be a resident”).
  • Your RRSP is tax-deferred in the US (unless you’re contributing or withdrawing, but both are VERY bad ideas), however you must declare it EVERY YEAR using form 8891, which is specific to Canadian RRSPs. This allows you to invoke the tax treaty to avoid US dividend taxes on your Canadian account. TurboTax has this form
  • Though not part of your taxes, if you have over $10k aggregate in your Canadian accounts, you must file TD-F 90.22-1. This gets mailed separately from your taxes. It doesn’t cost you anything except a stamp, but they threaten dire consequences if you skip it.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

My Blog Has Moved!

Blogger, under their Google overlords, recently announced that they would be discontinuing FTP publishing for blogs, due to incompatible changes happening to their infrastructure. This basically means that users are now required to host their blog content with Google Hosting / Blogspot. While this means some changes for me, I suppose I can’t complain about Google paying the bandwidth bill.

So, using Blogger’s “Custom Domains” feature, I am now at:

I took the opportunity to update my template as well. Hope people like the new look.