Sunday, February 19, 2006

The EVILs of DVDs and their "user interfaces"

My wife and I are big into electronic entertainment. For a long time, we've had a variety of different devices. Yes, we even have a laser-disc player. And... We have 3 (yes, three!) TiVos; all networked together.

We bought our first DVD player about 5 years ago. We got it when we found out that The Matrix was not ever going to come out on laser disc.

At first, the nifty way that DVD players could provide a user interface seemed interesting. You would have a menu of sorts (feels like a web interface) that guided you through a variety of things - from settings for viewing to the DVD (does anyone ever really use those??) to special features to alternate versions and so on.

Another thing that you have with DVDs (like all video entertainment - laser discs and video tapes as well) are the various warning messages - you know what I mean - the FBI warnings, blah blah blah.

Lately, I've noticed a nasty trend with these things...

Sometimes when you first put the disc into your player and sometimes when you push "Play" on the movie, you see those warnings. All fine and good, right? Well more and more often, I find that I can neither skip over those warnings nor fast forward over them! You're trapped into watching them!

Now, I am not an expert in user interface design but one thing I will tell you is that people hate feeling like they have no control over their experience!

Yet that's exactly what these people are doing. "You're going to shut up, sit down and read this or else, buddy!" is what they're telling us!

I also find the same kind of thing with the usually ridiculously-long "intros" before you get to the menu. "Gee - look at the cool graphics and gee-whiz animation we can make.... No, we're not going to let you skip over this, you moron!"

While I've seen these on DVDs from even the "early days" of the format, it seems like it's getting worse.

With the warning messages, I'm sure it's just a case of them feeling like we need to take our medication... As if we haven't seen and ignored it a million times before, people! When you fly regularly, do you really think you're going to listen to any of the pre-flight 'training' message?? No! When you watch DVDs all the time, do you really think you're going to read that stupid warning again??!??! NO!

As for those introductory bits - it feels like the "artists" that are responsible for the take themselves a bit too seriously or something and feel like, "Well, we're in a position to force these people to watch this, so we will!"

Blech. It's getting to the point where I dread those things.

Of course, I don't have long to wait before yet another format comes along that makes us replace all of our movies yet again because it will be "better" than what we have now and then the format will stop being sold, and then machines will slowly stop being sold and then they'll stop servicing the machines. "Oh, wow, you have a DVD player??? Man, those are sooo old!"

I should just stick to reading, right? :-)

Soccer game number 6!

Tonight, my soccer team (the Average Joes - mostly fathers of kids who now go to or previously went to my kids' elementary school) played the sixth game of our first season.

We lost...


Not too surprising - it was against the team in first place in our division and the same team who, um... to be polite, beat us 15-2 in our very first game. However, we played a lot (!) better tonight. We "only" lost 7-0 and only gave up 1 goal in the entire second half. A much better showing than we've put forward before.

I played 6 or 7 shifts - my first was about 10 minutes long in the first half as forward. I've found that forward is one of the least taxing positions on the team because (unfortunately) the ball tends to spend most of its time in the other end of the field. I try to stay about midfield so that I can be somewhat ready when we recover the ball (typically when our goalie makes a stop - and tonight he made a lot of them!) to receive the ball downfield.

I've found (or perhaps confirmed) tonight that my major weaknesses are still lack of experience with dribbling and lack of knowing the techniques to really kick the ball hard. The latter came to light when I had a couple breakaway plays going downfield and couldn't put enough oomph behind the ball to feel like the shots on goal (OK - "shots near goal" ;-) ) had any chance of getting past the goalie. I've got to practice, practice, practice!

We have two more games left and then our next season will be starting just a week or two after the last game. I'm hoping we continue to improve. It'd be nice to feel like we're at least being competitive in a game.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

GLWL Season soon to start up

As I mentioned a while ago, the Great Lakes Warhammer League sign ups for our Winter 2006 season have come to a close and I have been busy putting together the Divisions and the schedule for the season.

We ended up with 79 players this season for a total of 12 distinct divisions. We have an even number of players in all but one of our divisions as of now, so that's worked out nicely.

Because we play a 5 game season, the ideal is to have 6 players in a Division so that each player plays each other member of their division once. Unfortunately, due to geographies, we've ended up with 5 of our divisions having more than 6 players, which makes more some challenging scheduling decisions because some players will end up not playing against each other and some players (at the moment, only in that "odd" division in Toledo) end up having BYEs built into their schedule when others in the same division don't.

In any event, I'm looking to have the schedule finished up and published to the members by no later than tomorrow and we're looking forward to starting the season at the end of this month!

Looking forward to another season of challenging games, myself!

Cub Scouts: The end of the road for my son

This past weekend marked the end of a long journey with my son through Cub Scouting as we marked the last of our Den meetings. A sad day and yet a happy one in that he now looks forward to joining a local Boy Scout troop and starting his journey toward the Eagle award.

My son joined Cub Scouts in first grade - I remember the day he came home from school that year very (!) excited about joining the Cub Scouts. The Cub master at the time apparently really talked a good story.

In first grade, the parents all shared some level of responsibility for managing the meetings, though we did have a Den Leader responsible for tracking things.

In second and third grade, it became more of just the Den Leader running the meetings and the Den Leader asked me to be the assistant Den Leader and I agreed to do that. We spent a year meeting primarily at his house and then a year meeting at my son's school for our meetings.

In fourth grade, the Den Leader for my son's Den took over as Cub Master for the entire pack and then asked me to take over as Den Leader. It took a lot of thought on my part because I knew that 4th and 5th grade (when the boys are Webelos) was where the activity gets more intense in terms of real scouting activities (camping, etc.) and the time investment concerned me (not to mention that I'm personally not all that interested in camping!)

I decided to take on the job and the first year had an assistant who helped a lot with running things and then this year, he decided that he would take on Cub Master next year (because the current one - the one who was my son's Den Leader - will be leaving the pack as his sons move on to Boy Scouts as well) and so he didn't have time, so 5th grade has been just me.

Last fall, I spent a lot of time working hard with the boys to help them earn their Arrow of Light awards - the highest achievement you can earn as a Cub Scout. The boys finished their work by December and since then we've been able to take a more relaxed perspective in our recent Den meetings.

These have included a Bowling outing, climbing on the rock wall at a local sporting goods store (both my son and I made it all the way to the top as did 2 of the other 4 Cub Scouts!), and playing laser tag this past weekend. It's been fun.

So, anyway - in a few weeks, we will hold the Cub Scout pack's Blue and Gold Banquet, which will be where the boys receive their final awards, including their Arrow of Light and then have their Crossing Over ceremony when they will formally graduate to Boy Scout status!

I am very proud of my son and his hard work and look forward to his continuing as a Scout going forward!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Current Reading...

So I finished Something Rotten this week while travelling and have now started the next book on my stack - Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan. This is a sequel to Altered Carbon which was an interesting combination of science fiction and a detective story.

The basic "hook" is that the story takes place in the 25th century and humans can download themselves into "stacks" (never really described all that well - but essentially digitizing your "self" and storing it in a computer) and then you can be downloaded into another body. Makes for some interesting moral situations.

I enjoyed Something Rotten - it contains some interesting surprises for readers of the series (which I won't divulge here) and more general time-travelling, book-entering, croquet-playing silliness.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Still on the road...

I had my god-awful flight yesterday to Utah - up at 4:28 in the morning to get the airport for a 6:30 flight and arriving on location in my destination at about 1:45PM MST (3:45PM EST). Then 4 hours of meetings. Yuck.

Meetings yesterday were good - some unexpected potential changes in plans for a project I'm working on that still have me spinning a bit but I had the opportunity to have dinner with my team from work, which was great. Today I spent a good chunk of the day discussing requirements for our project and assessing a potential alternative solution against those requirements. I spent several hours in the late afternoon and evening with my team again discussing overall roadmap for the year and we're still over-reaching, I think.

For dinner, we went to Tucano's - a Brazilian place that is pretty good. Tomorrow is more meetings, this time with my manager and the rest of the group we fall in and then some other meetings with folks that I haven't yet scheduled. A return to the airport for a flight back at 7:15PM MST (getting in just before 1AM EST). Another long day...

I'm also still wondering what happened with my Soccer team's game last night! The standings have not been posted as of a few minutes ago (about 27 hours after the game!!!) so I don't know what happened. Anxiously awaiting that news!! How long does that take!??

Looking at Plone, though. An interesting content management tool.

Also, trying to figure out how to analyze the detailed search term reports I receive for our search engine to be able to see the "Forest for the trees" - i.e., step back from the specific search terms used by users and see the general themes of what they're looking for. A tough nut to crack, it seems.

Monday, February 06, 2006

On the road again...

Tomorrow, I head out of town for a few days for work. One of the god-awful crack-of-dawn flights out at 6:30, which means leaving the house about 4:45 which means getting up at 4:30 (and being completely ready to walk out the door after that excepting (of course) getting dressed). Yuck!

Just to make matters worse, I have a ridiculous connection in Atlanta for a trip to Salt Lake. Double yuck! I won't get to SLC until 12:15PM MST (about 9 and a half hours after I leave the house).

At the tail-end on Thursday, I get to leave SLC at 7:15PM on a flight that gets home at 12:50AM. A loooong week. I am looking forward to the purpose for the trip, though, believe it or not!

Unfortunately because of this trip, I'm going to miss this week's soccer game because it was rescheduled from Sunday night (SuperBowl Sunday) until tomorrow night. Doh!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

SuperBowl 5K 2006

So, this morning I woke up at about 6:45 wondering if the snowstorm we were anticipating last night had shown up - did we get the expected 4-7 inches of snow?? I was too lazy to get out of bed until I had to, so I didn't bother moving for 30 minutes.

I got up figuring either I'd find a good 6" and then NOT do the road race (instead going for a run on the treadmill and then get some more workout with shovelling) or I'd find nothing on the ground and go do the road race. Turned out that we got about an inch or two.

Soooo... I figured I'd go do the race! I called the store that was sponsoring it to make sure the snow wasn't going to stop the event (it didn't) and then got everyone ready to roll; my wife was determined that she was going to go spectate and so the kids were coming along.

The weather was pretty much a drag - cold (about 28 degrees) and windy (about a 15 degree wind chill) and, of course, it was starting to freezing rain/snow while we made the drive there. During the race, there was a pretty good headwind whenever we were going west - other than that, it didn't bother me too much.

The real challenge was the slushy/snowy roads! Getting a good footing was definitely a challenge.

The turnout for the race was surprisingly high - I'd guess about 200 people or so. Not huge but much larger than the race I ran last summer at the same location.

I ran a decent time for the conditions (a bit over 25 minutes); overall, the race was great fun. We ended up staying after for about 40 minutes waiting for the results, but the computer was apparently affected by the snow, so the results weren't available at that point and I decided to not wait. I'll look for them online.

In an odd coincidence, I ran into an old college friend of mine - Tim Gretkierewicz and his younger brother Matt! Very strange coincidence, I'll say. Tim lives in Ann Arbor (about 40 minutes from the race location) and was about the last person I'd be looking for at a road race. I haven't seen him in a couple years and haven't seen his brother, Matt, in about 14 years now! Got to catch up with them, though, which was cool.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

My job and my son

So, Friday, I had the opportunity to talk to my son's fifth grade class about my job and my career. I talked about what I do today (as manager of a team of people responsible for the knowledge infrastructure of my company) and also talked a bit about my career and my education. I stressed the importance of various aspects of my education (reading, writing and typing being key skills :-)).

The kids each had a form for the session that had several questions on it - when the kids started asking questions, I was thinking, "Gee, that's a good question!" and it took me a few questions before I realized they were getting them from the form and not their heads.

After chatting the night before with my son about the questions I expected - one of them being that I expected someone to ask me how much I made - it was, of course, my son that asked that question! The goofball! We'd joked at dinner the night before that I should answer, "I make one billion dollars!", so that the kids would go home and tell their parent, "You know how much Mr Romero makes!! He makes a billion dollars!" But, I just told them I make more than minimum wage and I make "enough".

Once the kids understood that I have (and do still, but very minimally these days) written computer programs in the past, they had a lot of questions about whether I could write a video game or not. I told them I theoretically could, but that it takes a lot (!) of work - way more than I have time to spend on or interest in.

Overall, it was a nice experience to meet my son's classmates (again, for most of them) and talk to them about jobs/careers and help get them interested in different things.

Road Race tomorrow!

So tomorrow morning (February 5th), there's a local 5K road race - called the Superbowl 5k run by a local running store. I'm planning to run - it'd be my first "winter" road race (though this winter has been pretty darn un-wintery since about Christmas day with daily averages running about 10 degrees above normal throughout the month of January!) and also my first road race of 2006.

I like that the giveaway is a beer mug instead of the standard t-shirt (of which I have, it seems, about a hundred!). We'll see just how good the mug is tomorrow (if I make it). We are actually supposed to get some snow tonight, so if we get more than I care to deal with, I won't be running in the race tomorrow morning.

My normal Sunday night soccer game has been rescheduled (because of the Superbowl, believe it or not) which is why I'm even considering running this tomorrow. Of course, it was rescheduled for Tuesday (February 7th) when I'll be out of town for work. Darn!

Let's see how I do as a winter road racer

GLWL Season Sign ups Closing - Winter 2006 Season starting

So today marks the end of the sign up period for the Winter 2006 season of the Great Lakes Warhammer League. As of now, we have 76 people signed up to play - about 20% down from last season's record (or near record) 95 people starting the season.

I expect a few more people in the next hour or so, but we'll see.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Recent readings

Some recent readings (over the last 4 months or so)...

Currently, reading Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde.

I just finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer (recommended by my son)

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

Whiteout by Ken Follet (an airport purchase when I finished my previous book mid-trip)

Legend by David Gemmell

Exultant by Stephen Baxter
Coalescent by Stephen Baxter
Evolution by Stephen Baxter

Other things in the last year...

I read the Runelords books by David Farland earlier last year. Enjoyed those a lot.

Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind

About me (as of today)

So, some more about me ...

I work for Novell. I am the manager of a small team of people dedicated to Novell's internal knowledge infrastructure. What does that mean? My team is responsible for a good number of internal repositories that are used by our employees, our internal search tools and various collaboration tools used by our employees such as an internal blogging tool, a wiki and internal mailing lists.

I've been doing this for about 5 years - first for Cambridge Technology Partners and then (after Novell acquired CTP) for Novell.

I've spoken externally about our content management solution (at the 2005 AIIM conference in May, 2005 in Philadelphia) and about how we've improved our internal search (at KM World in San Jose, CA in November 2005).

My background is in Computer Science and in my "previous life" I was a developer, senior developer and then software manager for a systems integrator building custom software solutions for a variety of customers.

Outside of work, I enjoy boardgames (you can find me on and I also am an avid player of Warhammer and I help run the largest League on the planet (and, yes, we've confirmed that to the best of our knowledge) for Warhammer - the Great Lakes Warhammer League. I also enjoy running and competing (well, taking part in) road races; recently I started playing in a 30+ Men's soccer league (my first experience in organized soccer ever and the first time I've played soccer since high school gym many years ago...).

Start of my blog

I'm sure this is the same thing everyone posts with their first post, but this is my first post to get my blog started.

Hi everyone!