Deadlines

Interesting word, that.  The line after which things die, which is of course hyperbole.  Of all the times the word deadline is uttered, it rarely ends up being fatal. Might be out of a job, or lose a house, or some other very negative thing, but most of the time it’s just fake pressure.

That’s not to say that the deadline itself isn’t important.  If it wasn’t, or if people we’re serious about it, no one would care.  There absolutely has to be some accountability for it, as there is always a cause.  Poor planning, poor finances, poor resources, unforeseen issues.  Someone, somewhere, has to manage those dates.   Then you need to manage expectations from your bosses about moving dates faster, or damage control if they slip.  Fun times.

All that to say that the project I’m running now has multiple dependencies outside of my control.  Outside of my boss, and his boss’ control.  There’s certainly some pressure, with daily updates to the VP, weekly to the president.  It’s a fun balancing act of keeping the staff shielded from that, allowing them to do the work they do best, and somehow keep the bosses happy with progress.  Or at least explain why there are delays in such a fashion that they a) believe you and b) accept it.

There are days where I feel more like the meat in a sandwich, little to show for the day’s work.  There are other days where there are large breakthrough, acceleration on activities that were planned to take much longer.  Others where the opposite occurs and a key dependency indicates that they haven’t actually done any of the work yet and don’t know when it will be done.  I certainly try to focus on those good days, because people need some sort of hope of the end of a project.  I try to find ways to mitigate those dependencies, maybe have some sort of interim solution in place instead, isolating that group.

End result is that long-term relationships get built, destroyed, and re-built over a project.  I am not one to throw someone under the bus, and sometimes tough calls have to be made.  We each go home at the end of the day, and we’re not exactly curing cancer.  The real end goal here is reputation and trust.  Saying you’ll do something by a certain date and keeping track of that date.  When a date slips and people know about it, people are working to correct it, then that builds some level of trust.  The opposite behavior degrades trust and makes conversations much more difficult in the future.  No one ever goes it alone, and it’s important to know past behavior will influence future.

Still a few months to go before the major delivery is done.  Quite a few good contacts and relationships made over the duration so far.  Some… maybe not so good.

By the end of this project, I expect a few news articles at the start of the new year, a lot of personal and professional growth, a team that has achieved more than they originally thought possible, and a big shift in the way our organization works on a daily basis.  And then a month-long vacation.

All if we can meet our deadlines.

Finances Are Important

Cottage Time

After having run countless budget exercises, having met our financial advisor and talked to our broker, it looks like we’ll be moving ahead with the cottage purchase.  My wife can attest that my level of anxiety this week has been through the roof, though the last 12 hours or so have been much better.  As is clear with all of my posts, I’m a numbers guy, and I love analytics.  So when a large purchase like this comes around, not only do I get excited, I start going all over the place in terms of options/scenarios.

I remember on Sunday talking with my wife about the absolute need to take those three steps (budget, advisor, broker) in order to come to a conclusion.  I’m not buying a damn coat here, I’m buying property that I need to pay for the next 20+ years.  She isn’t as well versed in all this financial stuff as I am, which to be honest, ignorance is clearly bliss in this case.  Still, she knew it meant a lot to me and suffered through my protestations to get this going.  After it all being complete (well, the paperwork is next) she’s certainly more appreciative of the nuances within.  We spent more than a few hours looking over the budget spreadsheet, so I’m slowly converting her!

Which brings up an interesting topic, one that the advisor brings up from time to time – people do not know how to budget.  I don’t mean worry about every penny but I do mean understanding where the heck your money is going.  I don’t get how budgeting 101 isn’t mandatory in high school.  I remember helping out my brother a few years ago with his budget.  What he thought he was spending was actually less than half of what he actually was spending – and that was just fixed costs.  Brining those numbers to the front really shocks people into action.

Not everyone needs an official financial advisor, but everyone should have a friend who’s really good at accounting.  Everyone needs a budget.  There are plenty of sites for it too.  And evaluating your spending based on your budget is super important, so that you modify it as need be.  Heck, most banks will offer the service for free, then set up extra bank accounts and automated transfers between them.  As an aside, no one should ever pay banking fees – if you are, change banks.

All of that to say that a solid budget makes life so much easier, since you’d then have the basic tools to manage your money.  Heck, you might even realize that you have way more freedom than you thought.

Tablet Woes

The tablet fix still isn’t working.  I can read the device through USB but the screen (not the digitizer) will simply not work.  Next step is to try a HDMI output and see which component is faulty.  I was really hoping it was just a loose cable, but it wasn’t any of the obvious ones.  The sort of good news is that I’m realizing that I don’t need the tablet to get work done.  It’s incredibly practical, but not essential.

Wildstar Runes

By far the #1 page on my site these last few days has been my rune guide.  I’ve updated it with an example near the bottom, on an ilvl90 weapon for my engineer.  I used service tokens to re-roll the slot (all the tokens were from the daily login bonus) and it’s in pretty good shape.  It went from 315 secondary stats to 1115, plus set bonuses that come out to an extra 150 points or so.

It’s a very noticeable boost, though there’s more tweaking I need to do on other pieces.  I took my engineer to the Badlands and the 2man bosses within (bone dog and spider queen) dropped down much faster.  Even the regular enemies now fall down with a single electrocute channel.

I am surprised/disappointed as to how much runes are a major factor in end game now and as to how little NCsoft explains this to the player base.  It would be an easy argument to make that someone in fully runed ilvl60 gear would be more powerful than someone in un-runed pre-raid gear.  It’s why gating content behind ilvl is so tricky, you can’t really measure rune power with it.  And even some runes are very expensive for little benefit.  The raid level runes (ilvl 100) are cheaper than the dungeon runes (ilvl80), and by a wide margin.

I guess that’s why the guide is so popular.  People are starting to figure out how important runes are.

Rare Isn’t Always Good

About a month ago, my youngest dropped my tablet and the screen cracked.  Then she did it again.  Truth be told, she’s dropped it more times than I could count… oddly uncoordinated child.  Anyhow, that made the device mostly unusable, since it detected touches all the time.  I did what any self-respecting IT guy would do – I went a-googling.

First hurdle, I have a TF701.  This is one of those Asus transformer tablets that works with android.  It’s a great tablet, quite powerful, good disk space, came with a keyboard that physically connected… all great.  But it was also one of those limited edition doohickeys, or at least you’d think so based on the google results.  I had replaced my wife’s Samsung screen (digitizer) a few years ago, so I knew that it was possible.  Sadly, there are no screens for sale in North America, so eBay it is!

80$ later (free shipping) and 30 days later, I received the digitizer.  No instructions, no tools.  Back to google.  I crap you not, there is 1 single video on how it’s done and it’s in Russian.  There are T700t videos, but they are not the same form factor passed step 1.  There are hidden screws (the extra tiny ones that require special tools), extra tape and removing the digitizer is a massive pain.

2 hours later, many 4 letter words later, I had the digitizer off and was ready to rebuild.  That part was faster but much less fun.  The power is back but the screen doesn’t display anything, so more troubleshooting is needed.  I know the thing works though, since the alarm went off this morning and I was unable to do anything but snooze it.  Ugh.

After 30 minutes of fiddling, I had to stop it.  I was ready to just throw it in the trash at that point.  Deep breath.  It’s going to be ok.

Engineer

My engineer has a fair bit less plat than my esper.  An order of magnitude in fact, so, time to see what I can do about that.

Making money typically comes in three main forms.  First is maxing out experience for the week, then completing quests for cash.  Each daily hub generally awards 10-15% of the bar.   So if you’re only running dailies, it’s 2-3 days’ worth to cap out.

Second is repeatedly running an expedition like M-13.  You usually end up with 1-2 purples, ok gold rewards and a token for more cash.  It takes a bit over 10 minutes to run the easy ones, so you can make a few plat an hour.  PvP is an option too, about 20g per win, though you really should be in a pre-made to make this work faster than expeditions.

Lastly is working the AH.  I have a post about that!  The real flips occur on the commodity exchange, as you can set buy and sell orders.  The problem with that system is that it’s even more based on volume than a more standard AH (buy/sell only), meaning massive price fluctuations.  I’ve had to install a mod to keep track of all the various price points and I’ll be waiting a few days to find some trends.  I think my main focus will be on Runes.  Not only the base price points but also in terms of selling completed high quality Runes as well.  There’s a noticeable markup in that field, if I can get superb components at a low enough price.

Aside from that, I’m re-learning the limitations of the engineer.  I find action combat very key heavy, almost a button masher.  Engineers don’t have much of that, what with Electrocute being a channelled ability and the rest being mostly based on cooldowns.  There’s a whole lot of waiting, then a frantic smash of many buttons, then waiting again.  It’s an odd pace and really hard to find the right rhythm.  It’ll come though.

New Rig Shippin’

Last night was about backing up some files.  I had 30 gigs of home movies in a little known folder.  Good thing I caught it!  Once that was done, I ran some additional tests on the video card.  Safe mode had an odd colored bar in the middle of the screen… never a good sign.  I removed the drivers, rebooted and normal mode was fine.  The drivers reinstalled and a reboot later, black screen.  Ah well, I have a local computer replacement shop I think I’ll send it to.

New Rig

That said, I did spend some additional time on the hunt for a new box.  US exchange rate and shipping costs were going to end up somewhere near 22% on the Canadian dollar, so I really wanted something on this side of the water.  Two options.

NCIX was recommended to me by Rohan.  They had some decent rigs available, either a GS70 or a Dominator (I love those names).  Reflex Notebooks has a fair chunk of selection and customization though, and I had my eye on a Sager 8278.

I ended up on the checkout for both sites to compare prices.  NCIX charges shipping and insurance, while both are baked into the Reflex price point.  So while I thought I was saving a fair amount with the former, the final prices were relatively close.

It’s one of those things where you’re looking at the number, realize what it actually means in terms of time spent to make that amount, and then ponder “is this really worth it?”  I am far from being cheap but I do know where my money goes.  Most of my purchases are large purchases, as I prefer quality over quantity.

I ended up picking the Sager as it really came out to the most bang for the buck.  I customized exactly what I wanted, even though the baseline included a GTX970M card (like 3 cards down from top of the line).  I won’t have to pay a cent at the door and in a week or so, I’ll have a new box.

Interim

Meanwhile I’m without a gaming rig, which has been my go-to stress relief lately. It’s somewhat ironic that my work and overtime are the cause of the stress, and are paying for the updated relief.  If I cut down on the former, I’d naturally cut down on the latter.  Still, I have a tablet for some respite.  Weather is nice, more biking is in order…

Well At Least There Were No Flames

Recently, my gaming laptop (a Sager/Clevo 3.5yrs old) started acting funny the past few weeks.  It would randomly shut down in the middle of a game session and the fan would cycle at odd levels.  I installed a temperature monitoring tool and most of the time things were in acceptable ranges, except the GPU, which always ran hot.

Now, I don’t run crazy games at max settings.  I played a bit of Dragon Age Inq near the holidays but I grew tired of it.  Other taxing games…I dunno, it’s been Path of Exile, Pillars of Eternity, Diablo 3 and a bit of TSW.  Not exactly crippling games.  Last night, in the middle of a session my video crapped out. Safe mode is working and I can sometimes load regular mode.  Any game load breaks it though.  Good news is I didn’t lose any data.  Actually, that’s amazing news.

All said, that means shopping time.

New Beast

First things first, I truly feel bad for people who do not understand technical jargon.  Buying a computer is either blind luck (ooh, a pretty color) or a massive investment in time and benchmark comparisons.  I can find no analogy.  I mean seriously, who the hell cares about the difference in an i7-4710MQ vs an i7-4710HQ chipset?  I do, so sucks to be me!

Specs seem to align to somewhere around the following:

  • i7 – 4700+ CPU
  • 960M+ video card
  • 16gb of RAM
  • OS on an SSD.  Rest doesn’t matter much.
  • 17″ monitor (since I actually use it as a laptop)

That doesn’t seem terribly complex does it?  This link shows you what XoticPC offers in their 17″ lineup.  Holy cheez whiz!  $500 to $3700 range.  It gets worse when you look at identical specs but different brands.  Sager is cheaper, followed by Asus, then MSI then Alienware.  It’s the exact same components, just a different shell and maybe a few bells and whistles, like a backlit keyboard.

If you’re not into PC specs, I am guessing that none of this makes sense to you.  In particular the difference between CPU and GPU specs.  Barely makes any sense to me…

I’m glad to say that the whole “gain 10% improvement for $200 more” is still around. There are plenty of marginal upgrades for crazy price points.  I will say that it’s worth it to spend more on cooling though, even though mine is having issues with just that. A better compound, copper cooling and a cooling pad are worth every penny.

The Dollar Decision

I’m Canadian.  Along with a lifetime membership to the Igloo museum, I get to pay more money for American products due to the exchange rate (+duty due to NAFTA).  Right now, 1 of my dollars gets me 83 cents US.  On a budget of ~$1500, that’s $300 difference.  So let’s say I compare to a Canadian retailer — Canada Computers (original eh?).  An MSI GP70 is $900US or $1100CDN.  Math says, identical price.  Calculate shipping, duty and taxes… we have a different conversation going on now.

Then I start looking at Amazon and NewEgg…this is getting depressing.

I should note that the price point today is actually less than what I paid for a mid-range laptop over 3 years ago.  That said, there really hasn’t been much progress on PC development since then either, everything is tablets and watches.  My old box is an i7, 8gb RAM, 500Gb SATA, and a 780M card.  Further oddity.

Next Steps

I know what config I’m looking for, so that solves a bunch of questions.  Finding that config at a price point that makes sense, with the correct distributor is the real challenge.  Is this what shoe shopping is like?

NBI 2014 – Get Blogging

The Newbie Blogger Initiative for 2014 has begun.  This annual event is a chance for new blood to mix with the old and to help strengthen the blogging community. I wrote about last year’s event and it’s nice to have another repeat.  There’s a fair chunk of advice in that post as well.

In this day and age of Twitter and Instagram, typing more than 150 characters might seem like a chore but it is of my opinion that blogging is the framework on which all the other tools depends.  That tweet you posted or that link you put on Facebook – it’s likely that the idea was from a blog.

I read a ton of blogs.  I really should make a larger effort to link to them in posts, cross-seeding as it were.  I have the ones I frequent most on the right side of the screen but for those reading on mobile devices or RSS readers, you might not see them.  There are some real smart and funny people out there.  Who knows, you might be one of them and you haven’t even blogged yet.

The neat thing about blogging is that it’s a zero cost investment, other than the time it takes to write.  You don’t have to do it every day, though that’s certainly a good habit.  It doesn’t have to be targeted to an audience because in reality, blogging is about writing for yourself.  If you’re a perfectionist, you’re likely not going to be a having fun blogging.  I know I rarely review my text except to fix spelling mistakes.  I just get better at writing from doing it and reading other people.  Practice makes prefect right?  heh.

Give it a shot.  Get a blog from Blogger or WordPress (or something similar) and just start writing.  Link to some other blogs.  Follow other blogs.  Comment away.  In no time at all, you’ll find out that there’s an entire world of people waiting to say hello.

No More Cable

I come from a poor upbringing and put myself through university/college with limited assistance.  I’ve been working since I was 15 and putting in full time hours since 17.  Typing this I realize I’ve spent half my life working so far.  Depressing really…  Anyways, I know the value of a dollar.  I know what not having a dollar feels like.  It makes me extremely conscious of where I put my money.  The return on investment (ROI) has become a fact of live that I just unconsciously apply to everything.  Gaming fits into this.  F2P fits me in some cases, though I prefer the subscription model since it’s an all-you-can eat affair.

Up in my igloo, we have very limited options when it comes to telecoms and cable providers.  I’m not saying that other countries are better, just that we basically have 2 in urban areas.  Some have only 1.  Yay monopolies!

In recent years, cable prices have gone up by what seems 100%.  Basic cable ran me about $75 a month.  95% of the content in the past 5 years has been either sports, reality TV or news.  The last one, I can get everywhere online and in a better format.  The middle one, I’ve never really been much of a fan and the market saturation is disturbing.  The first one though, that’s the main reason I stayed with cable.  It was hard for me to argue $1000 a year for sports.  So I stopped arguing and cut the cord.

A few things to move me along.  First, I’m in the process of getting an over the air antenna.  That will give me a dozen or so channels for “emergencies”.  I’ve been 2 weeks now without any cable and it’s not as pressing as I’d have thought.  Second, I got a media hub device – Roku 3.  Boxee is an option too but it’s bigger and to really get it to work, you need a strong tech background.  I have that background but I’m lazy and the Roku does enough for me.  Using the myPlex app I can point to my network storage (any NAS will do) and stream from there.  I can also flag stuff on the web through Chrome for streaming later (on any PC, which makes Chrome awesome).

On the Roku I also have a Netflix account with a US proxy service (unblock-us.com).  I can swap between Canada and US with a button.  Free Hulu with that too.  Live365 and Pandora give me music.  Hockey (my sport of choice) is through HockeyStreams.  That one was $100 for the year.  All games, nearly all in HD, no blackouts, can watch a game a week later.  It’s awesome.  My wife installed a Fireplace app too, for those nights of calmness (and my own earphones).  The Roku controller also comes with a headphone jack that mutes the TV.  Hello awesome!

So, instead of paying $1000 for the year, I pay something like $200 for the content I want, when I want it.  I mentioned this to my hockey team over beers last week.  3 of the 8 had already made the swap, 2 were planning it.  These aren’t IT guys.  As broadband internet becomes more common and speeds more acceptable, I just don’t see how cable companies will be able to continue status quo.