Petri Wessman's weblog

No sleep 'til Monday

Well, another Ropecon is now over (except for the after-party). While once again it was an exercise in seeing how far you can push yourself in the sleep deprivation department, it also went very well and was a lot of fun.

I had already done some “con stuff” on Wednesday and Thursday, with some pub time with LSJ (Guest of Honor), Juki, Janne and the others, but things really started off for me on Friday with the big VTES tournament. I was at work until 4pm or so, and after that drove over to Dipoli and set up the registration desk. Things proceeded smoothly even though there were a lot of players (we got a grand total of 85 this year), and I managed to get the tournament running by 18:15 – not bad. LSJ was also playing in this one, something he doesn’t get to do all that much. He did threaten to ask nasty rules questions from the judge (which would be me), but in reality he behaved. Perhaps it was the threats of violence…

Anyway, the tournament was a success. Nobody skipped out suddenly and everyone who signed up was actually there more or less on time – the few latecomers kept me well informed via the phone. There were some rules questions as always, but only one which I wasn’t 100% sure about right off… and this time, I could actually go find LSJ and ask him for confirmation. Awesome. Even though the playing space was cramped for this number of players and the lack of fresh air and ridiculous air humidity became real factors, everyone dealt with it and seemed to have a good time. So a huge thanks to the players for this one: once again, you made this possible and a fun thing to run.

The preliminary rounds finished a bit before 1am, after which I dealt out the EC qualifier t-shirts to the 21 players who got a qualification. After that, the finalists took a short break and then gathered up to play the final round (which got going around 1:25am). The final round had 2 Swedish players and 3 Finns. Pauli (one of the Finns) was ousted quite soon by Michael (a Swede), which left four Dominate-heavy decks on the table. After a long tense stretch of a game, the win finally went to Adam Esbjörnsson (from Sweden) with about 5 minutes left on the game clock. Congrats! Adam was playing a very nasty-looking deck based around Gabrielle di Righetti, the new Tremere Justicar. I’ll write up a full tournament report over the next couple of weeks, hopefully with full finalist deck lists and some pictures.

So, at around 3.20am, things were wrapped up, and I could… go downstairs to do an Info desk shift until 7am! Whee! To be fair, I had requested night shifts, so I can only blame myself. The night shift went fine, though it was a bit boring. Come on Troubleshooters, your job is to keep Info (and yourselves) awake, keeping peace and order is secondary to that! There was cakes and whipped cream, though, so can’t complain too much.

When 7am rolled around I hopped in the car and drove home. In own bed and asleep before 8am… so got to sleep curled up next to wife for a hour or so until she had to get up and do her own Info desk shift. The cats were quite confused about human timetables at this point. I slept until noon(ish), then headed back to the con. Hung around, saw some lectures, did the normal con routine until something like 9pm, when Janka & I decided to do the smart thing and go home and sleep for at least some hours before the next night shift (which we both shared). Unfortunately she had gotten a slight case of food poisoning (probably from a packet of bacon she had as breakfast), and we actually only got a few hours of real sleep, if that. At 2:30am or so, we headed back to the con after a quick wake-you-up shower. Janka wasn’t feeling too good, but decided to see how it would go.

Once we got there, night shift was fun and not at all boring, since we decided to do something about it: Janka hooked up one of the laptops to the projector (usually used for projecting con schedules) and some kind person lent us their portable speaker set – we forgot ours at home. After this, it was Info Deck Night Radio&Video, courtesy of YouTube. We played everything we could think off, as long as it was reasonably short, funny, and if possible slightly insane. Janka wrote about the playlist in her blog.

… so, we managed to keep ourselves (and any victims nearby) awake and semi-coherent. Morning rolled in, and we didn’t have much else to do yet so we stayed for a few more hours at the Info desk to help out. After that I headed off to make sure that the “VTES Brunch” with LSJ and some of the tournament finalists and high scorers was ok (it was, Katri & others had organized an awesome breakfast buffet at a roof-terrace sauna). Grabbed some breakfast there while talking VTES with the guys, then headed off to organize a few small things and find Janka.

The rest of the con for us consisted of sitting in Keltsu (the pub) and talking with Guy, Kristel and others, winding down. At around 3pm, instead of doing what our bodies were claiming to be the sane thing (go home asap and fall into a coma), we headed off to Korso for Ankkarock, to see Eppu Normaali, PMMP, Volbeat and The National. Sanity is overrated, anyway.

More about the rock festival visit in another post (it merits one).

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DNS blackout

Seems my registrar’s DNS servers (nameresolve.com, via Dotster) were on the blink yesterday – they had to do an IP switch, and due to DNS cache propagation orava.org was unresolvable for a while. It seems to be working again now for me, but of course that depends on where you are and what nameserver you’re using.

Bit of bad timing there, the huge Ropecon VTES tournament is on Friday and I have a lot of prep (pre-registrations etc) to take care of. Here’s hoping things will be stable now.

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Water + electronics = sad car

I’ve been trying to get my Peugeot 306 Cabriolet roof to work for a while now. It used to work, though not quite reliably. Some months ago the roof stopped working for good, so I sent it to the dealer’s for some debugging. After poking around a bit, they charged me 200e to tell me that the control unit is probably shot and that an official spare would cost 1400e(!). So I said “no thanks”, and started gathering info for a DYI attempt.

The whole thing is an electro-hydraulic system, where a small control box in the trunk checks various inputs (are the windows open, is the motor running, etc) and if everything looks good tells a hydraulic pump (also in trunk) to do its thing. The dealership guys said that they had checked the wiring and contacts as such, so I took them for their word: the control box is the likely culprit.

Well, even though there aren’t many of these cars in Finland, turns out there’s a big user group in the UK and the thing is apparently pretty popular with hobbyists. Thanks to the kind folks at peugeot306cabrioletclub.co.uk, I quickly managed to track down a seller on eBay with a spare control box (ecu) for sale and some moments later I was somewhat under 200e poorer and had a new control box coming my direction in the mail. Something in that price range I can take a chance on, unlike the official spare part price… and hey, it’s not like it’s an especially complex piece of electronics. The users group also provided me with links to wiring diagrams etc, should I need those.

The thing arrived some days ago, and yesterday I opened up the control mechanisms in the trunk and took a try at swapping modules, since the weather was good and I felt like poking around. Due to the slightly cramped space, unscrewing the original module was a bit of a pain… but once I did that, I at once noticed something in the “hmmm” department: the old control unit was leaking water. In fact, the whole box was full of water, and surprise surprise totally corroded inside. Explains why the thing refused to work, and why it had been acting flaky for a long time.

Turns out that some Einstein had attached the box the wrong way at some point, with the wiring-side up. This makes swapping wiring easier, but it also turns the box into one big plastic cup. Combine that with torrential rains some time ago and some small leakage in the hood, and voila, we have a mini-swimming pool instead of a control unit.

All this has a happy end, for now: once I swapped the replacement unit in, the roof started working at once. I wasn’t quite expecting that, I was pretty sure I’d have to go through the wiring also… but hey, not complaining. I also attached the new unit the correct way round this time, so moisture should not pool inside. I’m not exactly sure where the trunk leaks, but it’s an old car and pretty much none of the seams are at 100% anymore. Moisture happens.

So, thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs (UK car group and eBay both), I now have a working convertible again. Whee!

Dollhouse, Burn Notice

Spent a lazy weekend (those are nice now and then) and mostly just read some books and watched some TV shows. Oh, I did do some light “useful” stuff (mowed the lawn, cleaned kitty litter, washed some clothes, installed a crypto partition on netbook, organized some backup stuff)… but mostly, I took my cues from the cats. That is, eat and laze around.

Some quick notes on a few TV shows. First off, Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s new series. It’s been getting so-so reviews, and after watching the first four episodes a month or so ago, I wasn’t totally thrilled either. I mean, it was ok, but it didn’t really grab me. Well, now I watched the rest of the series and I’m happy to say it improves, a lot. I’d say episode six (“Man on the Street”) is the turning point, that episode and the stuff after it puts things in gear. It’s still not in the “utterly fantastic” category, but it is very good. I’m looking forward to season two, this first season ends on a very interesting (and somewhat unexpected) note.

I think that the most interesting thing about this series is the intentional shades of gray it plays around with. Sure, what the Dollhouse does is prostitution. However, the “dolls” are (to some extent) volunteers, and they are compensated very well. The Dollhouse is presented as a very ambiguous entity… in some ways, it’s the antagonist here, and in others, well… it’s hard to say. There is also a lot of plot centered about the fact that we really don’t know who is on which side, or even what the “sides” are. To be honest, I suspect many of those issues are a bit too complex and uncomfortable for the large audience (“what? no simple good/evil? me no play!”), but the good thing is that after a very slow start, the series works fine as “just” an action/intrigue series.

Secondly, I have to just remark on how much I’m enjoying Burn Notice this season. The show seems to have found its tone and it’s just a huge amount of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but neither does it give in to crazy-comedy. The subtitles that appear next to characters during freeze-frame moments are often hilarious… I’m still chuckling over “Michael’s worst nightmare” overlaid on top of a certain police officer.

Good lightweight spy action stuff. Just the thing for lazy summer weekends.

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The world is all around us
The days are flying past
And fear is so contagious
But I’m not afraid to laugh

I could go at anytime
There’s nothing safe about this life
I could go at anytime

– Neil Finn, “Anytime”

When I opened my browser today I got the same main headline from all the news sources: Michael Jackson Dead. I should not be surprised, the man has looked like a walking zombie for all too many years. Still, I sort of am; he wasn’t all that old, and it was… sudden.

I’m no Michael Jackson fan, but neither am I a hater. I remember when Thriller came out, way back when. I was (more or less) in the Finnish equivalent of high school, and I remember how cool the album was. I also remember the videos, which were extraordinary at the time. Haven’t followed his career musically much after that… but I haven’t been able to avoid reading about his troubled life now and then. He was just such a strange, sad figure; like Britney Spears, an object lesson of what too much money and fame coupled with limited mental stability can do to you. In the end, he looked more like a movie monster than a pop star, due to way too much (failed) plastic surgery and who knows what medication. About the other accusations… I don’t know. The thing with accusations of sexual molestation is that it doesn’t really matter whether the court finds you guilty or not, you’re branded guilty in the public eye anyway. Most of the “Michael Jackson jokes” going around have to do with child molestation. Is that deserved? Hell if I know. I guess I’ll just go with “speak no evil of the dead”. I always found the later Jackson to be a… sad figure.

Sudden death is jarring. I’ve lost one very dear person due to that, and it’s a shock I hope (perhaps in vain) to never repeat. You hope to die of extreme old age (with your mental faculties still more or less intact), surrounded by people you love, having outlived all your enemies (if any). That might happen, if you’re lucky. Or you might get run over by a car the next day, with no warning. Baji-naji.

Worrying about that is useless and counterproductive. Living a reasonably healthy life is smart, getting enough exercise is crucial… but other than those obvious points, you don’t have all that much control. Avoiding fun things just because they are a bit dangerous makes no sense to me, because doing that misses the point. At some point you will die, and there is no life after that (sorry, religious people, but that’s how it almost certainly works out). What matters is how you lived, what you did for other people, how the world remembers you.

Life is damn short and damn long at the same time. The world is wide.

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…was fun. We didn’t really intend to hold a party as such, but that’s kinda sorta what happened. Lots of people came over, tons of food was grilled and eaten, and large quantities of alcohol were imbibed. The weather didn’t really cooperate, but sauna compensated pretty well.

The thing where you notice you’re getting a bit older is that it takes you longer and longer to recover from aforementioned large quantities of alcohol. Our whole household spent Saturday in lizard mode, and I didn’t see much vigorous activity on Sunday either. That’s not a complaint, it was very pleasant to just lie around in the sun and read; when it got too hot I went inside and watched some TV show episodes on the computer. At some point we were wondering if we needed to go buy groceries for Sunday… and then when we raided the fridge, we discovered we still have huge piles of leftover food there. So we cooked a meal of sausages plus steaks, along with a bacon-vegetable hash thingy. Oh, and some grilled corn. Yum. Life is good.

Managed to finish watching Dexter season two (good) and started watching Chuck season one (no-brains-required spy comedy, not-bad entertainment). Also noticed that Burn Notice season three has started, the first few episodes were very enjoyable. I was a bit so-so on this show during season one, but it really grew on me during the second season. It’s still not in the “fantastic!” category, but it is good fun and seems to have found its stride.

“You know spies. A bunch of bitchy little girls.”

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More Pink

I’ve never owned a laptop computer before, mainly because the ones with either decent horsepower or decently light weight have been pretty expensive – and I’ve always had better use for extra cash. With the new “netbook” concept, I finally found an excuse to get me something portable; where 1,500e would have been a big investment, 400e isn’t as much. After some pondering I settled on an Asus 1000HE, it seemed to be the best-rounded of the lot. A new (very!) slightly faster version of the Atom, the usual 1024x600 display, 160 gigs of HD space, wifi and Bluetooth integrated, lots of USB slots, a camera + mic… pretty much everything you might want on the road for normal lightweight tasks. A bit on the heavy side, but that’s mainly due to the 6-cell battery which makes 8+ hour battery life possible.

I specifically wanted it with Windows XP. Even though I use Linux on my workstation and at work, a lot of the programs I want to use when mobile are Windows ones. The Keep, Lightroom, etc. The new Archon (VTES tournament scorekeeper app) should now also run properly on OpenOffice, but in case there are still bugs it’s nice to be able to fall back on Excel. Plus lots of retro Windows games, which work nicely even on a slower machine. I still don’t like Windows and have limited experience with it, but what I need in a portable are specific apps… the OS isn’t that much of a concern, really.

I also specifically wanted a non-dull color scheme… so I went for pink, even though I had to wait an extra month or so to get one. I’m just so fed up with the normal white-or-black ones, I wanted something a bit more fun this time around. Naturally, I also got a red wireless mouse, a pink mousepad, and a pink external DVD drive. Watching peoples’ reactions to the setup is amusing.

I’ve been using it for a bit now, and I’m very happy with it. It works like a charm, the keyboard is surprisingly usable for a netbook, and it’s just so much more convenient than my workstation for quickly checking email or some web pages. I upgraded the memory to 2 gigs before I even booted up the thing for the first time, which helps performance nicely. It’s no speed demon, of course, and most games are a no-go. Also, the 600-pixel vertical resolution is problematic for some apps which have been written for a 768-pixel minimum. Fortunately the thing includes a taskbar-selectable 768-pixel mode, in which the screen becomes a virtual viewport. Not ideal, but much better than not being able to run some apps at all. Even the “heavyweight” Lightroom is surprisingly snappy on this thing… but of course, I don’t intend to actually do any real picture editing on a netbook: Lightroom is there so I can dump a memory card full of pics there and do an initial reject/keep look-through, update metadata, etc, on the road. Then when I get home I can export the new pics (via Catalog Export) to the “real” Lightroom on the workstation and get to work.

As noted, games are mostly a no-go, mostly due to the pathetic Intel 950 onboard graphics. It’s better than no graphics hardware at all, but not by all that much.

…however, it turns out that a netbook is pretty nice for running retro games, since many of those were written for lower CPU and graphics requirements, and for limited resolutions. Also, you can now get copies of old games which actually work on XP (or Vista/7) from Good Old Games. Love those guys: cheap prices, no DRM, no CD/DVD drive needed, great user support. I’ve already bought and installed Fallout and Fallout Tactics and both work great. The GOG forums have a download link for a resolution patch for Fallout which lets it run in true 1024x600 resolution, which is lovely. Fallout Tactics doesn’t have such patch available so the graphics are 800x600 stretched to 1024x600… but it’s totally playable. At some point I also intend to get Deus Ex from Steam and play that – it should work fine and there’s a widescreen patch available for that, too.

At some point I’ll probably upgrade the 160 gig drive to a (maybe faster) 320 gig one, so I can keep a copy of my 80 gig music library on the local disk (both for listening purposes and as an extra backup). I might also switch to Windows 7 at that point, we’ll see. Depends on pricing, I guess.

So far, I’m happy with the pink little thing. Nice improvements would be slightly more resolution (1280x760 or such would be nice) and some more horsepower, especially on the graphics side. However, the point of machines like these are to be reasonably small and cheap, with good battery life. I’m pretty sure that in a year’s time I’ll be able to buy something significantly better with the same form factor at the same price… and at some point, I’ll probably upgrade. Until then, this thing should be quite good enough for a lot of tasks.

I’m actually surprised at how much I’m using the machine. It boots up (or wakes from hibernation) so fast that it’s really convenient for quick email/web checks, and I’m also actually playing Fallout at the moment. I’ve never played any of the Fallout games to date, other than quick dabbles with demo copies; I know they are great, but again: so many games, so little time. So now I’m playing the very retro Fallout 1, and finding it pretty good. Sure, the graphics are extremely rudimentary and I’m given to understand that the “really good” game is the second one, Fallout 2 (sort of like Baldur’s Gate vs Baldur’s Gate 2). I could play the game on my workstation, sure… but playing it on the netbook seems more fitting. Besides, having some games on one’s portable machine is always a good idea.

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Finnish summer, with hailstones

Janka got herself a new backpack (a new version of the tried-and-true classic Halti frame model) and we decided to go on a short camping/hiking trip to test it out. So it was off to Nuuksio, together with Timo who also felt like camping out. The weather was rainy and I had spent the last evening helping my dad paint the bottom of his boat, so my enthusiasm towards heading out into the drizzle wasn’t at an all time high. Nevertheless, when we got there it started to feel like a good idea, and hiking is (almost) always fun.

The weather did its best to dissuade us, though. After alternating between drizzle and no-drizzle, it seemed to clear up… and then when we stopped for lunch, it actually started to rain hailstones. I kid you not. There’s the old joke of Finnish summer being short and light on snow, and at that moment it didn’t seem totally like a joke. Anyway, we soldiered on and found a nice campsite. It was a bit cold but otherwise fine, so we decided to just sleep under tarps, otherwise in the open – Timo has a high-tech tarp thingy that was actually pretty clever. The night was pretty cold but we were warm enough, and Sunday turned out nice and sunny.

One negative: some morons had left a pile of empty beer bottles, some empty cans, and a few empty icecream boxes scattered around the site. This in the middle of a nature reserve, to boot. That sort of thing really pisses me off… you can carry full bottles of beer into the forest, but can’t be assed to drag the bottles back? Even though there’s a trash dropoff about 1km off, probably along your route? Assholes.

Even though we only walked less than 20km in total and just spent the night in the forest, it was still a fun small outing. My legs feel like they’ve gotten some exercise, too.

My old Karrimor backpack is (still) fine, I’m happy with that… but I did eye Janka’s new thin-profile sleeping mattress with an interested eye, might want to get one of those at some point. Timo’s tarp thingy also went on the potential shopping list, as did a weird bucket-made-our-of-cloth thingy he had along. Always fun to see new nifty useful stuff.

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Looks like summer is here, if only for a while. The weekend was quite the scorcher. Saturday we went shopping for plants and spent most of the rest of the day doing gardening and related stuff (yes, it’s fun, when the weather is good). Sunday was sports day; first 2,5 hours of rapier basics, then another 2,5 hours of smallsword basics. Very fun seminar, but of course the weather was hot and the salle was a bit on the warm side too. We survived. Smallsword was weird… intuitive in some ways due to rapier background, totally bizarre in others (possibly due to same rapier background). There are things you can do with the smallsword that you just can’t with the rapier (well, not without breaking your wrist in the process, anyway).

Feeling mostly ok now. The “flu” bug turned out to be streptococcus strain “G” (whatever that means). More or less gone now, anyway, though now I know what medication I’ll ask for if it decides to make a comeback. Didn’t medicate this bout away, since medication helps against this strain only when taken while “sick”, and by the time I got the lab results I was already ok. My throat is still a bit raw, so it’s possible the thing is still lurking in the background. Die, bug, die.

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Germs 1, me 0

Looks like some ambitious (or not) germs have decided to take up lodgings again. I spent the weekend in Tampere at a knife fighting seminar, it was a lot of fun but of course quite physical (especially on Sunday). I thought I felt a bit tired in a weird way, but chalked it up to normal physical variations – and of course, adrenaline helps mask a lot of stuff. On Sunday I headed to our country place to help my dad with some brush clearing as I had promised, but at that point I was feeling definitely weird. Did a couple of hours work in a studiedly careful fashion, then drove back to town. At home, I discovered I now had a 38C fever. Yippee.

It’s been on and off for the whole week now. A bit of a sore throat, and pretty high fever spikes (almost 39C last night). Went to the health station today and they took some tests, but I won’t know the results till tomorrow.

The annoying thing with fever is that in theory you could do a lot of stuff; read books, watch movies, play computer games (as long as you feel like being non-horizontal). Thing is, I’m usually so muzzy-headed that I can’t summon up the energy to do too much. Maybe that’s a good thing.

One bright spot here is that Tietoasema finally delivered my new netbook (more on that later), so I’ve been tweaking the Windows XP to usable shape and installing some useful apps during the times I’ve felt a bit less of a zombie. I takes forever to get a new machine into acceptable shape, but it’s a good thing I’m in no hurry.

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