According to the online shipment tracker at, my copy of Half-Life 2 was delivered to the front desk at Thunderbird. The package, no doubt, is now waiting for me in my mailbox. If I were smart, considering all that I have to do, I should leave it there. Alternatively, I could pick it up and then put it in dark corner of my apartment and not touch until I’m done my project.

What to do…


As happens at the end of every academic term, I have entered a stage where I am desperately trying to finish asssignments and a project before I reach their fast-approaching deadlines.

This is the first term ever, where I don’t have any final exams, yet at this point, I feel no less stressed. I hate doing term projects for grad classes. They seem to be a staple of most grad classes and I’ve done three of them. One was a group project, which I quite enjoyed. The other two I did by myself, which I did not enjoy. I find it always very difficult to produce “project” quality- and “project” quantity-type work in a short amount of time.

The project I’m working on now is quite ambitious, well at least for me, and if I get it done, I’ll be quite happy. If I manage to pull it off, it will also be the first piece of software that I can and will want to share with you. I look forward to crashing all your computers.

I hope to be done the project by the middle of December. I just want to get this thing handed and then go see the next Lord of the Rings movie. Oh, wait…


So, let me tell you a little story about when I was working at EA. It was my first project and I was testing NHL 2001 for PSX. EA was focusing all their energies that year on the first NHL game for PS2, so they decided to farm out development of the PSX version to an external dev team.

That year, they gave the job to an independent dev house in San Francisco. EA retained control in terms of production decisions and testing. Essentially, the external programmers did whatever EA told them to do.

Skip to the end of the project. We’re in beta stage and the bug count is supposed to be dropping, not staying steady (and increasing on some days). At this rate, we are going to miss out ship date. This means the stock holders won’t be happy. Then one day, we receive a new build of the game. Nearly all the bugs have been fixed. It is an incredible turn of events.

Though I don’t have all the details, this is apparently what happened. The development director on our project told the external team of programmers to stop working on the code. The role of the DD is to keep the project on track and ensures the game gets made. The DD juggles deadlines, production’s desire to put more features in the game, and the software engineers’ ability to write the necessary code. Most DDs have MBAs as this is a management type position. Our DD, and let’s call him KL, started out as a software engineer, but had somehow transitioned into a DD role.

So, KL re-wrote all the buggy code for our game single-handedly in a day or two. As I mentioned before, when the build came back, it was stellar. KL came down to our testing area the day we got the new fixes to see if everything was working ok. He came down with a baby in his arms, which I assumed to be his child. It was then that I first was told what KL had done and he’d done it all by himself. I was in awe as I watched KL bounce his baby in his arms, talking to the other testers about the fixes.

I saw KL maybe once or twice more since that time. Fast-forward to September of 2004. I arrive to the first class of my CS grad class on algorithmic animation. Who should walk in? KL himself. He even sat down next to me. I didn’t have a chance to say anything to him until the end of the class. First, I had to ask him if it was really him. Of course it was. He told me he was starting a Master’s degree. I inquired about EA. He told me he’d was “retired” and that he didn’t need to go back to work for another “seven or eight” years if he wished. Wow. There was no reason that he would have remembered me, so I told him we had worked on a project together.

Over the course of the term, our prof has more than one occasion asked KL on his perspective on something as it relates to video game development. For a guy who knows a lot about game development, he’s quite matter-of-fact about it. I don’t detect any of ego from him at all. I’m always interested in hearing what he has to say. By now, the entire class knows KL is one experienced dude in the video game world.

Next Wednesday, our prof has twisted KL’s arm into giving a guest lecture on video game development. It’s a rare thing for a grad student to be given such an opportunity.

I know some of you out there know who KL is. So that’s what he’s up to now. Geez, I hope he doesn’t read this.


So I’m in the shower soaping up my back hair when a thought pops into my head, “What happens when the power goes off at St. John’s College?”

The reason I wonder is that all outside access doors are secured via locks that use keycards. You wave a keycard over a sensor pad and the little LED turns green and the door is unlocked. I imagine this system must run off of some power. Where does this power come from? Batteries? Or does it come from the main power?

I’m guessing it comes from the main power since how long would a battery last? It would be very inconvenient if the battery ran out and no one could use the door until it was replaced.

What happens when the main power goes off though? Would the sensor pads still be able to operate? Do these doors effectively become inaccessible until the power goes back on? Or is there a battery backup?

In the two years I lived there, I don’t think the power went off once in the daytime for any appreciable amont of time.

I wonder…

“What do you mean ‘they cut the power’? How could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!”


In recent days, I’ve been sent several items relating to Electronic Arts and the work environment they subject their employees to. The links I’ve received range from a blog from a former employee, a blog from an EA spouse, to new articles about an impending class action lawsuit.

When I read these items, there were only a few surprises for me to discover. Sadly, huge amounts of overtime are the norm in the videogame industry. Though, from what I read, some projects exceed what I saw when I worked for EA.

I guess some of you are wondering would I go back to EA and work for them? The answer for now is yes. It was definitely yes when I started grad school and I’ll tell you why. I started working at EA in 2000, some three years after finishing my undergrad degree. By then I was looking for a new direction career-wise. In a social sense, I had no life. I was three years removed from the university environment. In that time, I had been living with my parents to help pay off my debts faster. Being away from school and about an hour’s drive from what friends remained, my social circle slowly shrank to almost nothing.

So then, EA came along. I loved video games, so this was a dream come true. When the projects required overtime, I didn’t hesitate a minute to go along with it. Why? First, I really wanted to impress the higher-ups with my dedication. Second, what else would I do? By that time, I usually spent most evenings eating dinner with my parents. I’d spent the rest of the night either watching TV or playing video games. I knew no one my age that lived anywhere closer to me than an hour. If my parents had a basement, I probably would have been living in it.

The alternative of course, was to spend time at EA building, surrounded by people my age, testing a video game, eating food that my parents didn’t cook, and getting paid overtime for it. Why the hell wouldn’t I do that? I’ll be honest, I loved working overtime. I had nothing to keep me at home, no girlfriend, no kids, barely any friends, no social committments whatsoever.

So, when I decided to go back to school, in the hopes of returning to EA (for a better job), I was still ok with working crazy hours.

Two years later, things are a little different now. I have a bigger social support network now. I can call many, many more people my friends now. I have an interest in maintaining these friendships. I can see why some of the other guys wanted to take a night off.

Like I wrote earlier though, I still want to go back to EA. I still think I’d enjoy working there. I still think I could make a good software engineer. I’ll admit some of the new stuff I’ve read is unnerving. Apparently, some teams were working seven days a week for five straight months. This was unheard of when I worked at EAC (EA Canada). Mind you, work loads vary from project to project and from studio to studio. So while nothing at EAC might be that crazy, some poor team over at EALA is having a nightmare. Sometimes it even boils down to what manager is running the project.

I recognize some things might have changed while I was gone. For example, when I was working at EAC, we were paid according to BC labour laws down to the minute. One day though, around provincial election time, there was an event in the EAC lobby. Then Liberal candidate Gordon Campbell was giving a speech to anyone who would listen. Clearly, this was a sign that the senior management at EAC was supporting Campbell’s pro-business platform. Of course, the Liberals won the election. The Liberals then changed the labour laws. Among other things “high-tech” workers are exempted from is being paid overtime. Now, why do you think the management at EAC was so behind the Liberals? It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.

So there are some definite drawbacks at returning to EA. Overall though, I still want to take another shot at it. Even now, I’d consider myself very lucky to get a job there. Let’s say I do get a job there again and I don’t like it. There are always other opportunities out there. For now though, I’m still chasing after a dream.


I have a Telus e-mail address thatI never use. I received it as a consequence of signing up my parents for ADSL at their place. Telus e-mail addresses can undergo a lot of turnover. You can change your e-mail address to almost anything you want just as long as no other Telus customer has it.

I gather I wasn’t the first person to have my Telus address. Everyone once in a while I get e-mails that obviously aren’t for me. Once, I got the medical test results for a newborn baby’s vision from a hospital. No joke. I’ve also received preliminary plans and budgets for real estate agreements. Just a few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from mom, not my mom of course, but somebody’s.

Last week, I got another one of these unintended e-mails. Here it is:

“Hi Erwin,

Thanks for the copy of the ‘Believers Declaration’. I still can’t understand why you wouldn’t read it to me again on Saturday…..

Coffee on Friday afternoon sounds great. I’ll be home after 12:30 if you want to call and we’ll where and when we’ll go.

I have a huge exam tonite. I don’t think I studied enough for it and I’m a little nervous. Or should I say a whole lot nervous, I was wide awake at 2:30 in the morning. I’ll have to turn up the music even louder on the way home tonite so I don’t fall asleep behind the wheel.

Talk to you soon,


Should I reply to this Belinda person and tell her she’s got the wrong person? Usually, I let these things slide, except if it’s important, like the mom e-mails and the medical reports. I think I’ll let this one go unanswered. I hope she did well on her exam.