The lack of recent posts is due to (blamed on) four things. First, I have been very busy at job #1 (research). Second, I have been very busy at job #2 (hardware/software development). Third, job #3 (classes) will begin Monday. And fourth, I have a new hobby: cycling!

As mentioned previously, my bike was stolen some weeks ago. It was a fairly standard hybrid affair, produced by Giant. Such bikes are prime targets for thiefs however; I kept it outside (where it routinely was rained upon) and while it was not directly visible from the street, its theft wouldn’t require ninja skills.

I began to look for a replacement. As I researched more I found myself becoming quite interested in cycling in general. In the past I’ve ridden when it was convenient, but for whatever reason the sudden loss of a bike made me very interested in bikes! I decided that what I wanted was a classic 10-speed racer from the bike boom era, either a post-WWII bike or something from the 60s or 70s.

I found the following bike on Craigslist, being sold by a couple in Gainesville. This is not the bike, this is a catalog picture. It is a 1968 Raleigh Super Course (I determined the year by the shifters and brakes).

Raleigh 1968 Super Course catalog page

Raleigh 1968 Super Course catalog page

It’s a great bike. It has original everything except for tires, and it rides great.

This post isn’t really about the bike though, but about the hobby. When I learn a new skill (and to be sure, despite having ridden bikes for many years, I am still learning to cycle) I like to learn how to do it The Right Way. That means I’m learning proper pedaling form, how to work on my cadence, how and when to change gears, and so on.

I’ve learned a few things so far:

  1. When I have to stop I need to do three things: shift down with my right hand, unstrap my right foot with my right hand, and brake with my left hand. Invariably it is the unstrapping that I neglect, until I find myself at a stand-still on two wheels, strapped into the bicycle. At which I tip over comically, and end up on the ground (still strapped in).
  2. Shifting down is harder than shifting up. To shift up, I simply throw the lever up (these are friction shifters). To shift down I have to pull the lever down until the chain derails, then slide it back up to center the derailer. Too far in either direction and I either shift too many gears or immediately shift back to where I started.
  3. Eating and drinking the proper amounts and types of food makes a marked difference in performance. I’ve been focussing on eating multiple smaller meals (breakfast, snack, sandwich at lunch, snack and sandwich in the evening, dinner at night) which makes sure I have the energy when I head out. When I get back, I try to eat a solid meal within an hour (when the body is about 4 times as efficient at converting carbs to muscle). I keep my water consumption even throughout my rides.
  4. I get exercise headaches. I always have, and it’s pretty annoying because when they occur I’m out of commission for a few hours. Riding over a painted line on the road with an exercise headache throbbing jars my head and spine to the point of tears – and that’s no exaggeration. I’ve found that the best way to avoid these headaches is to ride with my head up for a short time after drinking anything on the bike, and to never drink large amounts or rest for longer than 5-10 minutes.
  5. I hit my stride about 5 miles into a ride. Before that I feel weak, burnt out, as if I’m going slow. I don’t know why this is. After the 5 mile mark, however, I’m feeling better and getting into the rhythm. I stop thinking about my breathing and cadence and just let it happen. At 10 miles I feel like I could go all day (unfortunately most of my rides are at night so 10 miles out, then 10 miles back, is about all I have time for). I think this is because I’m thinking too much during the early part of the ride, but that’s hard to stop doing.

I love the technical aspects though. I love reminding myself not to squeeze the bars too tightly, to adopt the “tipped bowl” position on certain stretches and the areodynamic “humped back” on others. I enjoy practicing judging the proper moment to shift when approaching a hill. I like watching my eyeline, focusing on which muscles I’m using to lift my legs on the back end of a stroke, and all the other technical aspects of cycling. When I catch myself doing one of these things successfully without thinking about it, I’m proud.

I have very weak thighs; Hani (lovingly) compares my legs to that of Big Bird. As a result I much prefer riding on flat roads. The best part of my usual ride is the long flat run of 441 past Paine’s Prairie, especially when I time it so I’m riding back during sunset (the sun sets in front and to the left of me, over the prairie).

One of my goals is to ride the Horse Farm Hundred, a century organized by the Gainesville Cycling Club. Right now I can ride 20 reasonably flat miles without much burden, and don’t have the daylight to try much more. I think I could probably do 30 or 40 without blowing up, but I need a frame pump to bring along before I try. I don’t fancy having to hitchhike back to Gainesville with a busted tube. I’m getting better quickly, however, so with any luck I’ll be up for a century next year.

Ultimately I’m not that great on a bicycle. I can’t sprint, I struggle up hills, and I have an unfortunate tendency to forget I’m strapped in and find myself on the ground looking foolish at a red light (or behind two chatty students on campus who just wouldn’t listen to my requests to step aside). But I enjoy it a lot, and it’s good exercise, and I love learning about and practicing the technical bits.


Yesterday Hani and I were discussing lycra, leg-shaving, and other facets of modern cyclists. I thought I’d follow up with a very quick comparison of the modern look versus what I consider a much more “raw”, more attractive look: bikes and attire from the golden age of bicycling just prior and after World War II.

Lycra may make you more streamlined, but it also makes you look ridiculous. Furthermore it requires that you stay within 5 feet of your bicycle or immediately change clothes; a lycra-clad cyclist without a bicycle is a thing from a bad science-fiction movie.

Lance Armstrong dressed to kill... for a clown convention

Lance Armstrong dressed to kill... for a clown convention

Personally I think the classic short-shorts and jersey is much more “real”. Lycra says “I’ve got a 50 function bike computer, an intimate knowledge of the wind shear forces on this road, and a bottle of liquid designed specifically to my body’s chemistry; I have the technical advantage over you.” The classic attire says “I don’t need gadgetry; I’m going to beat you because I’m just plain better than you.”

Ken Russell doesn't need rainbow-colored clothing vaccuum pumped to his skin  to whip you on a hill.

Ken Russell doesn't need rainbow-colored clothing vaccuum pumped to his skin to whip you on a hill.

(If Lance’s bike gets a scratch his team simply throws him another off the rack. Ken Russell finished second in his first race riding a welded aluminum bike with a cracked fork.)

This follows over into bikes as well. A modern track bike is a carbon-fiber monstrosity. I showed the image below to Hani; she was perplexed how one would ride it. That’s a reasonable response – this thing resembles a bicycle only in silhouette. Sure it looks pretty cool, but there’s something lacking. It doesn’t have that light, wirey feel to it – it resorts to paint to imply speed rather than an airy, raw, powerful frame.

A bicycle purporting to be a carbon-fiber custom-made track bike.  Could also be an alien mothership.

A bicycle purporting to be a carbon-fiber custom-made track bike. Could also be an alien mothership.

Now maybe it’s just me, but that sort of bike wouldn’t intimidate me, where I the sort of person likely to be in a velodrome. The rider is putting a huge amount of money and technology into the bicycle, when in reality I’m not racing the bicycle, I’m racing the rider. I’m sure it is technologically superior than the steel lugged-frame bikes of the 40s and 50s, but be honest: wouldn’t you be more scared to find yourself on a grass path facing someone the bike below?

A sexy bicycle.

A sexy bicycle.

This bike says “don’t worry about the bike. You’ll be looking at the rider’s back for the last 200 meters anyway.” The rider of this bike isn’t going to be dressed like a Christmas tree, weighing the chin-strap on his helmet, or shooting chemical cocktails into his veins, he’s going to beating you.

There’s something to be said (indeed, I’ve said quite a bit!) about the “elemental” approach: metal, rubber, cloth. Forget high-tech gadgetry, artificial elastic jumpsuits, carbon-fiber frames, wind-tunnel tested angles: the classic cyclists didn’t need trickery.

I still haven’t written about the theft of my bike and my glorious replacement. At the rate I write updates it is likely that the bike itself will transform – Optimus Bicyclus – and apply itself to the computer. In fact, I claim that this is the reason for my slow posting schedule; for the majority of the day I hide behind the couch, watching, waiting, for gears to turn, cranks to… crank, and the frame itself to bend into an unspeakable killing machine.

We will see.

I researched locking strategies. Apparently a combination lock can hold a thief back for somewhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, depending on whose advice you are taking. The fact that my lock used the combination “1234” and was typically scrambled to “1235” (or, if I was feeling particularly clever, “0234”) probably didn’t help security.

My research indicates that the best strategy involves more than one type of lock, with each wheel locked to the frame and to the rack or permanent structure. I decided on two key locks: one U-lock and one chain-lock. The U-lock locks the rear (more expensive) wheel to the frame and together, to the rack. The chain locks the front wheel to the frame and to the rack.

It is wise to use multiple lock types as the tools needed to break each are different (and bulky).

I leave the U-lock on campus at my typical lockup-location. I make sure to park the bike next to examples of a variety of other locking strategies: a bike locked only to itself with a chain lock, a bike locked via a U-lock on the front wheel only (quick-release, anyone?) and a mountain bike that hasn’t moved in 12 days. I figure any thief could have their pick of more attractive, easier-to-steal bikes, so mine should be fine.

When I’m away from campus I carry only the chain-lock. It is lighter and easier to lock to strangely shaped structures and I don’t leave the bike unnattended for very long.

When I’m at home, I keep the bike indoors. This is good for three reasons: one, it avoids elemental damage (have to watch out for those black puddings); two, it removes the threat of theft; three, it looks cool in my living room.

I read an article on Slashdot today on the subject of passwords. Apparently a secure password is not that important. Wait, I take that back, that was the article from several days ago. Today’s article was that securing your password is very important. Regardless, there were associated comments suggesting alternate approaches: passphrases, biometrics, etc. each with their own disadvantage.

This made me think: shouldn’t a secure authentication system use complementary systems? Like the bike, each is defeated via specific methods which are not applicable to the other. A password can be found in a post-it, guessed, or cracked, but a finger-print requires physical presence or spy-like tactics. A fingerprint can’t be changed to adjust for security lapses, but a password can.

Why not a key and a password? A computer cracker is unlikely to also be an expert in duplicating (or stealing) keys.

How about a passphrase, a combination lock, and a fingerprint? Unless you expect to be attacked by a multi-skilled computer hacker / safe cracker / private detective, you are in good shape. Two of those three can be changed at will (with varying difficulties) and one is person-specific.

Personally, I can’t log into my laptop before entering a short essay on the concepts of “self” and “identity”, freestyle-rapping for between 28 and 33 seconds, submitting to a pelvic CT scan (with contrast), and passing my thumb over a fingerprint scanner… located at the bottom of a 50 foot shark pool.

Friday was a somewhat productive day at school. I’ve completed the majority of the coding and “hard” work for the current paper and now I am in the writing stage. In the early evening I stepped outside to call and wake up Hani (12 hour time difference) and to eat my lunch.

A man approached me while I was eating. He wasn’t unfamiliar; I think I’ve seen him around the electrical engineering buildings before. I was eating the last of my pretzels and admiring a pair of road bikes parked nearby (a post on my bikeless status is forthcoming). The man (quite tall, carrying a closed umbrella) walked past, presumably leaving for the day.

I paced idly, crunching. When I turned around, the man was walking back towards me with that direct-yet-indirect approach one uses when approaching someone who is otherwise engaged. I stopped pacing and he stepped forward and asked, somewhat disjointedly,

Have we talked before? I think I’ve? We’ve met? Before?

I had no idea who he was (besides having possibly seen him “around”) and so responded,

Um.. I.. don’t think so?

He then continued,

I was wondering if I could ask your opinion about something…

What a strange opening! Why ask the opinion of someone that you’re not even certain you’ve met before? He went on,

…about Jesus.

Ah. The “we’ve met before” was, as they say, an angle. This was an unusual confrontation – apparently he was leaving for the day when my presence inspired him to recite his patter. Perhaps I was eating with particular lust; perhaps I was eyeing bikes with envy. Perhaps I was kneeling before a statue of Baal.

We talked briefly.

When he had earned this day his daily bread he made to leave. Before he went on his way and left me to my pretzels he said,

Well, good luck. In life. In everything. We may never meet again.

There is something ominous in those words. Was he implying my demise? Would he be instrumental in it? Was he foretelling his own passing? Would it involve a cross?


I felt ill on Friday and decided to stay home; my sickness was minor (and legitimate), but reminded me of fodder for my blog. Fodder. My blog is cow-like, grazing on ideas like a ruminating ruminant. I’m sure there is a corresponding analogy for the udder, but in the interest of my readers I will avoid going down that path!

My wellbeing, or rather my estimation of my wellbeing, is easily influenced. My brain, upon hearing about illness or encountering a sick person, immediately begins to suggest, to hint, to my body that it also suffers from the same affliction. I am aware of this problem – I do not actually believe that I am sick, but somewhere deep in the grey folds of my brain a few synapses decide that I will respond accordingly, regardless.

Synapse Fred: So… hear about that swine flu?
Synapse Charlie: Ah, yes, swine flu.
Synapse Fred: Nate doesn’t seem too worried about it.
Synapse Charlie: Nope, seems not.
Synapse Fred: I was thinking…
Synapse Charlie: It takes at least two of us to call it thought. That’s why there’s two of us in this story Nate is making up!
Synapse Fred: We were thinking, how about making Nate feel sick? You know, nothing serious, just a general malaise with associated effects.
Synapse Charlie: Let’s do it. You call the stomach and get things unsettled while I check in with the lungs and work up a tightened chest.

As I said, I am well aware that these devious synapses fire as they do. Interestingly, that knowledge is not sufficient to prevent the feelings. Instead I am forced to outsmart my own brain. (Who, then, is doing the outsmarting? Perhaps my estimation of my own intelligence is equally unbalanced!)

There are some symptoms of illness that the brain cannot fake, and I check these whenever I am feeling sick; if these symptoms are not present I ignore those that are.

  1. Muscle tone: when you fall sick, in general, muscle tone increases. This means that when in a resting position your muscles are slightly more tensed than they would ordinarily be. As I am very thin this is easily detectable.
  2. Wheezing: I become slightly asthmatic when I get sick, a minor inconvenience that I’ve had since I was a baby. I have an inhaler for this purpose. The difference between a tight chest and asthmatic effects are easily distinguishible.
  3. Fever: Fevers, I have read, are related to confusion of the glands that control temperature monitoring in the body; as they recalibrate and tell the body to cool, the sufferer feels alternately hot and cold. As this is an unintentional feature of a sick body, my brain does not fake it and the hot-cold feverish feeling is a true signal of illness.

Some signals I cannot trust, and have learned to ignore as they can come and go as quickly as the duration of a new pharmaceutical advertisement on television.

  1. Headache: my brain will summon a headache if I so much as think about the words “head” and “ache” in a 30 minute timeframe.
  2. Nausea and related stomach annoyances: did I read about someone falling ill? Meet someone who coughed? Eat a piece of meat that spent more than 30 seconds on the plate between cooking and consumption? How about a nice upset stomach to go along with it?
  3. Dizziness: the illness in question need not even include dizziness as a symptom for my mind to induce the same.

Now after all this one might think of me as a hypochondriac. That is untrue however; after a long time dealing with a brain that inflicts symptoms on a whim I have become astute at distinguishing between the two. Originally (when I became aware of this issue) I hoped that as I became used to ignoring false witnesses to my health I would naturally stop reacting in such a way. Unfortunately this seems not to be the case.

Does my body want to be sick? Does my brain have it in for my body? Is this all leading up to a fatal retelling of the tale of the boy who cried wolf? Am I to be done in by a cold after long ignoring annoying minor symptoms? Let’s hope not: I’m not likely to start listening to my brain’s diagnosis now!

I am a computer engineer by degree. You might think that makes me proficient at modern technology, at gadgetry. If in fact you thought this I’ll grant you an opportunity to make a retraction; while the use of computers and specialized electronic devices abounds in computer engineering, the study itself does not confer any worldly skills of the sort an outsider might expect.

Perhaps you might now think that a correlation still exists, but it is by association and not causation – that self-identifying as a computer engineer implies technological prowess. The construction of this suggestion belies the innocence it pretends; clearly I intend more deception!

That is the case: I am terribly inept at popular electronics. I browse Facebook with the mouse at arm’s length, leaning back in my chair squinting, as if by distance I can avoid the complexies contained within. I punch at the buttons on my phone with thick fingers, grunting the rude language of prehistoric man. Sweat drips down my sloped forehead as I confront a television’s remote control. Befuddling.

With the proper time and equipment I could certainly construct a mobile phone of some worth. But once constructed, my lack of ability to use the same would convince one not having read the previous sentence that I am a man that does not belong in this time. The watcher would shake his head; “give this man a rock and a stick with which to hit it – modern technology pains his primitive brain.”

What is the cause of this deficiency? I don’t know. I am simply much more comfortable working with abstract mathematical constructs than with an MP3 player. Unfortunately I am too young to draw on the “absent-minded professor” image or to take on a Knuth-like ascetism about the subject matter with which I work. For the time being I will simply scratch my head with a crooked finger and continue carving my research into convenient rocks.

As noted in an earlier post, I am playing Sim Tower. I have successfully crafted a building worthy of the “Tower” classification – that is, a permanent population of 15,000 sims, sufficient parking, recycling, security, and medical facilities, an underground metro station, and on the 100th story, a majestic cathedral in which weddings are held.

The cathedral atop Corporate Hell

The cathedral atop Corporate Hell

I eschewed the normal strategy of interleaving floors of offices and hotels and retail establishments and instead built a tower which I named “Corporate Hell”. Inside its metal skin are 100 floors of offices packed side-to-side, with thousands of sims eking out a living in a nest of cubicles. Stairs and elevators snake through the building, surrounded at every stop by gangs of workers desperate to leave for their 30 minute unpaid lunch breaks. It reeks of misery, money, and the American way.

The game imposes a limitation on the number of elevators, which provides most of the challenge at later stages of play. Early on, one is most concerned with money – everything has a price, and to achieve a higher star rating (one star, two stars, etc. to 5 stars, then “Tower”) one must meet various population and facility requirements. However once the player (or mogul, as I prefer to see myself) elevates the establishment to 3 stars the money is pouring in far faster than it can be spent. For reference, installing an office costs $40,000; Corporate Hell now makes over $5 M a day.

Therefore as the game progresses the problem is one of population control. With few elevators and limited stair access, the sims are forced to queue in long lines to get in or out of the building. This causes them stress which in turn confers a low evaluation to the office in which they work. Too low of an evaluation and the denizens will leave the building permanently… and we can’t have that.

It turns out, however, that if the rent on an office is lowered to its minimum – $2,000 a quarter (2 weekdays and 1 weekend in the Sim Tower world) – the sims will put up with any amount of abuse from their corporate overlords. So long as there is a path from every office to every place a sim might want to go – the lobby, the outside world, the medical facilities, the metro – they will continue to show up day after day, even as their stress levels are nearing the point of mental instability.

Sims are represented by tiny silhouettes. The game adjusts a sim’s color to demonstrate his stress, from black (calm) to pink (stressed) to red (aneurysmic).

The early birds have a chance of getting inside, despite the long elevator queues

The early birds have a chance of getting inside, despite the long elevator queues

Thus, Corporate Hell has 100 floors of the cheapest offices, with a single elevator shaft serving every set of 15 floors. For added degradation of the bread-winners there is only one car per elevator shaft. The lines are brutal. Sims that arrive at dawn (6 AM) will most likely make it to their office by noon; those arriving after will still be queued for the elevators when the lucky few clock out in the afternoon. At 3 AM there are hordes of burnt-out shells of men and women still waiting to reach the lobby for their lunch breaks.

The upper level offices are never inhabited (yet their workers graciously pay the rent every quarter) – there’s just no possible way to scale the 100 torturous floors in less than 12 hours. Workers that do manage to reach offices above the 50th floor enter, turn on the lights, and immediately turn them off and get in line for the elevator back down. They can be found there as dawn breaks on the next day, at which point the game doles out the slightest bit of mercy and removes them from the building in a single, rapture-like evacuation.

Quarter after quarter the money pours in. On the weekends the building is dead (except for those trapped in the lobby). Occasionally weddings are held in the chapel, but any marriage that is initiated on the roof of this Brazil-esque workplace is as hopeless as the zombies that inhabit the fluorescent-lit cubicles within.

The brutality of the simulation, the ruthlessness that it allows the player, is astounding. A two-dimensional building becomes a conduit for corporate cruelty. But it’s not schadenfreude if you turn a profit, right?

Just another day at the office: 12 hours waiting for the elevator to take a lunch break

Just another day at the office: 12 hours waiting for the elevator to take a lunch break

Today’s post is a competition: I have code running, the results of which I need to see to proceed. When the program terminates I will wrap up this post; thus the briefer this update, the faster (and better) my program must be!

Thrice I’ve attempted to write up comprehensive summaries of what I do, both at school and at work. Thrice I failed; I think that the topics are too involved to summarize succinctly. I always find it difficult to choose a “stopping point” in any explanation: ask me a technical question and I may open with “In the beginning…”

At school I am writing code to prove a particular statement. Originally my goal was to prove error bounds on an existing program that used an approximate technique; I would have shown that no amount of rounding error that could have occurred was great enough to cause the program to say “no” when it meant “yes”. At some point I determined that the program could be written to answer the question exactly, without approximation, and so started work on a new version.

Tap on the hourglass and it’s several weeks (months? I don’t have a good grasp of time estimation.) later. As of today, all of the functionality is in the program and theoretically it is a complete “first run”. (My boss likes to say that a program is only “done” when you can’t stand to look at it anymore, so this code is far from finished!). The new program answers the question without approximating and also runs significantly faster than the old program.

The next step is to write a paper on the purpose, methodology and results of the program. I have yet to establish the exact scope of this paper; I am very new to this work and most of what I do involves ten steps of gathering background information before taking one step forward.

Today, then, is a bit of a milestone as I have a somewhat complete suite of programs that produce some actual results. Granted, I’ll probably look back in 6 months and think “gee, that took me how long?”, but there it is.

Things are progressing slower at work. One of the the company’s main products relies on a component for which production has ceased (but will remain available for a while); my job right now is to design the next version of the product, replacing the component in question, and supporting an additional feature (a faster speed). I have been working on this since January and reached my second functional prototype a few weeks ago.

I should stop and say something about school-versus-work: my main priority is school and my research. I work part-time, which accounts for some of the slow progress. Research is more intellectually stimulating and interesting, while work is more physically rewarding. I can prove a theorem at school and then go home and see my device function – the combination keeps both subjects fresh. I find that when I’m just getting tired of looking at my code run at school I’m ready to go home and start work, and when I’m just starting to grow weary of paging through the USB spec at work I’m ready to head to school and get back to math.

Back to the subject of work. I finished my second prototype and began the next stage of design. Unfortunately I am being bogged down by intermittent bugs that are dependent on external behavior. For the past few days I have been fighting with this problem and have yet to make any headway.

I find that my progress at work comes in short bursts of enormous productivity which are then halted by difficult-to-detect mistakes. I will likely spend the next few days working on the current problem, but then complete the rest of the third iteration of the code in a series of marathon sessions over the weekend. Knowing this doesn’t make the bugs any less frustrating, however.

So while work moves slowly I have reached an important point in my research. With any luck I’ll find a breakthrough at work in the next few days and make progress on writing the paper for school.

My code has terminated, telling me I am finished with this post. The program yielded the expected answer: 12. Gee, all that work for 12? I could have told you that!

It is my wont to spread information as I acquire it: hence, my desire to teach. When I was in third grade I had a large blue hardcover book entitled “The Big Book of Facts”: the bible from which I preached, incessantly, gems of knowledge to my family.

Sitting at my pulpit (the lunch table, typically) I would open with “Here’s something you didn’t know…” Feel free to take a moment to appreciate my family’s restraint, as evident by my continued existence!

I have long since outgrown such childish evangelism; now I have a large repetiore of phrases with which to begin the enlightenment of my captive congregation! Take another moment to appreciate my fiancee’s restraint.

One such piece of information (there should be a noun: informatum, as for data / datum) involves walking with a full coffee mug. I was taught at some point (in keeping with the theme I should say it came to me in a dream, borne by blue hardcover angels) that it is best to keep one’s eyes straight ahead while carrying coffee. One’s natural inclination is to watch the liquid to ensure it doesn’t spill, but as per The Big Book of Facts, or whichever prophet wore its mantel that day, this leads to overcompensation. The best strategy is to walk slowly without looking at the coffee.

I have rigorously adhered to this “fact” and repeated it many times. It was only during the last few weeks, while walking between buildings with my daily second cup (the first being at home with breakfast) that I dared question its validity. You see, for as long as I have been faithfully marching, eyes front and center, I have also been routinely covering myself in coffee.

I attributed the spillage to my own clumsiness, or perhaps simply walking too fast. But during my second cup ritual I have noticed that when I transgress and stare intently into the mug as I walk, I reach my office with nary a drop upon my shirt.

Heresy! cries The Big Book of Facts. Heresy! echoes the congregation. And so my faith, my unblinking adherence, to the Big Book is shattered. My apostasy is apparent, my excommunication imminent. I am no doubt damned to an eternal coffee cup of bitter grounds; no sweet brew awaits my passing.

Will this disproof of coffee cup canon lead to a stop in my obscure fact evangelism? Of course not! “The coffee cup passage is a metaphor”, I will apologize. “The liquid is symbolic; the mug, a vessel representing the soul. Let thine eyes dwell not upon thine soul or surely thou will stumble.”

Go ahead, take another moment for my fiancee; her patience is incredible!

Yesterday I rediscovered an old game that I used to enjoy. As it happens to be, I still enjoy this game, much to the detriment of my household chores! The game is SimTower, in which the enterprising player constructs a skyscraper floor by floor.

The game is 2-dimensional in graphics and mainly revolves around balancing elevators with office space, providing adaquate housekeeping stations for hotel rooms, and maximizing weekend profits with restaurants. It has all the usual accoutrements of a Sims game: complaining Sims, quarterly income and costs, tradeoffs between packing guests like sardines in tins and wasting precious space, and so on.

I am currently (well, the tower is running on its own on my desk in my apartment) building a major office building – no hotel rooms or condos. I may eventually put a series of penthouse floors on the upper levels, but currently it’s all office, all the time. This makes construction easy: offices are the cheapest of all room types. With each new block of offices I also install a restaurant or two to catch the lunch crowd and to bring in weekend profits (when the rest of the building sits dormant).

I started the tower yesterday when I finished work (my second job) and let it run overnight. I glanced at it this morning but didn’t disturb it: apparently I accrued $30+ million between dusk and dawn! The building is very small right now, and only earns two stars (out of five), but it’s growing.

The program itself was originally written for Windows 3.1 and supposedly plays fine up through Vista. I’m running it on Linux under Wine, which required some fiddling (doesn’t it always?). I had to disable sound card support in Wine and must touch (literally, with the touch command) a file before I can save to it. Other than that it runs fairly well – well enough for me to slowly grow Nate-Corp world headquarters!

There isn’t a “winning” moment in the game; many players consider themselves to have won when their building earns five-star “tower” status, which requires a huge number of floors and money and a giant population. Often times the goal is to further establish a cathedral on top of the tower and have a wedding in it, which is, technically speaking, the most difficult acheivement in the game.

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten past a three-star building, but I enjoy just playing around with it. And of course it’s a Sims game, so that means that sooner or later I’m going to build 20 stories of hotels and then demolish the elevator and watch how stressed the people get when they can’t make it to the below-ground shopping mall!

Screenshot coming later, when I’m home.