Alex's Alliterative Adventures

Thoughts on Programming, Life, and Travel

Archive for the 'Random' Category

Not yet the b-word

I’ve always been relatively carefree with money. Not only do I pay my bills on time, but I graduated from university with no debt to speak of. I even managed to sneak in a couple of flights to Europe without breaking the bank. My mom always told me to floss and keep a balanced checkbook, but since I can get by without keeping my money on a tight leash, I figured that budgeting is like studying: a good idea that’s probably more effort than it’s worth.

But a few months ago, I started flossing. I don’t mean the half-hearted, weeklong fling I’ve done so many times before. My name is Alex McCarthy, and I’m a Daily Flosser. It’s been something like 4 months now, which crosses the line from new years resolution to bona fide habit.

My old way of life was crumbling down around me, with firm gums opening the floodgate of full-blown fiscal responsibility. My head was spinning when I renegotiated my bank fees (in German, no less). My heart still pounds with excitement whenever I think about my monthly cell phone bill (15 Euros a month for unlimited landline and network calls). But it wasn’t until I started hanging around with the pushers (personal finance blogs) that I started to think about hitting the hard shit: budgeting.

At its core, budgeting is about planning where you want to spend your money, and keeping yourself in line. The trouble is, I know that I pay rent every month, but after that it gets a little hazy. I created a Wesabe account to figure out exactly where my paycheck disappears to every month:

Wesabe - my spending breakdown from November 2008 - February 2009

I started by uploading a list of transactions from Deutsche Bank using XL2QIF, and I’ve recorded my cash transactions for the past few weeks. A few hundred Euro crawled out of my wallet before I started tracking what I was spending, so I’ve flagged the missing funds as MIA.

Here’s where Wesabe gets interesting:


Now, these numbers are pretty rough, since I extrapolated my lunch costs for January and February. But I’m spending around 60 Euro per month on lunch alone, which seems shockingly high. I’m not ready to actually make a budget, but it’s definitely time for the home-made sandwich to make a comeback.

And the earnings (green) vs. spending (blue) graph makes me feel all warm and fuzzy:

Wesabe - Earnings (green) vs. Spending (blue) from 2008 - 2009
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Happy new years

We welcomed 2009 by setting off explosions on the streets with dozens of German neighbours. The sky was lit up in every direction. The sonic booms filled my ears like a field full of live ammunition. Fireworks ricocheted off tree branches, veered off course and exploded over houses, and rocketed over the streets as cars drove slowly and drivers prayed to survive the next block.

The firetruck was kind of a downer, though.


Blogging on 3G

I’ve replaced my gargantuan cell phone with a shiny new toy that gives me fast German internet on the go. I had planned to only use the phone’s internet connection on my laptop, but I’ve found myself surfing on the go more often. As much as I’ve missed email access at home, I haven’t missed the countless hours spent clicking the refresh button. I’m now using my phone to turn dead time into something marginally more productive. The tram ride to work and the walk to the grocery store are now my prime emailing times. I make a few more typos, but I stay connected while keeping my household emailing to a minimum.

I’m also using google reader to fill that dead time. While entertaining and informative, RSS feeds are my biggest online time sink, so a lazy tram ride to work is the perfect time to clear out a few posts.

I’m going to give up the 3G internet access once I have good old-fashioned wireless internet again, but the convenience will be missed.

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The past month and a half have been a whirlwind of progress. My first paycheck made its way into my new bank account. I have a cell phone contract with an internet plan. I managed to get my cell phone to share its sweet, sweet intersphere with my laptop, so I can finally facebook from the comfort of my own home.

I should actually have my own home soon, maybe even by Christmas. I’m trying to get my hands on a German driver’s license, and if my German lessons keep going well, I might even be able to read a German driver’s license soon.

But the hardest adjustment has been learning to live without the internet at home. For the past month, I couldn’t translate cooking instructions, find directions, send email, phone friends and family, research programming questions, or watch Comedy Central. It hasn’t been all bad, though. After a week of painful withdrawal, I found new ways to pass the time. I’ve rediscovered how much fun it is to watch TV with the roommates. I’ve read a small book’s worth of Paul Graham‘s essays (downloaded ahead of time, of course). If you’re thinking about starting a startup, or just looking for a good read, then you should already be clicking.

I’ve also done an obscene amount of programming. I started writing a simple 2D game creator in 2007 to build my portfolio and try new aspects of game development. I’ve worked on it in spurts over the past year or so, but I’ve probably accomplished more in my first internetless month here than I did in the last two semesters of my degree. I still have a lot of work to do, but my little hobby has started to turn into something I’m rather proud of.

I might even follow in my mentor‘s footsteps and release the damn thing.



I saw a physics show known as Physikanten last month, and they blew the crowd away. I couldn’t understand a word they said, but they made suitcases dance on a table, flames reach to the ceiling, giant smoke rings fly over the audience, and a whole lot more. This was probably the highlight of the show:

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How to write the GRE

The following takes place between 22/10/08 04:00 and 23/10/08 01:00.

04:30 – Jack Johnson. Fuck.
04:31 – Snooze.
04:35 – There is no snooze button. Just turned off the alarm. Fuck.
04:40 – Shower. Cereal. Backpack. Snooze button fantasy.
05:25 – Gone.
05:30 – Bus stop. Bus doesn’t exist. Fuck. Plan backup bus route.
05:36 – Ghost bus. Revert to english.
06:01 – Train 1.
07:38 – 500 GRE words. Four still rusty.
07:43 – SIM card active. Gmail.
07:53 – Train 2.
08:02 – Code.
10:44 – Walking. Disoriented.
10:52 – Wrong street.
10:57 – Wrong street. Fuck.
11:04 – Wrong street. FUCK.
11:08 – English cashier + google maps for palm = contingency plan.
11:28 – Dropped train & GRE tickets. FUCK FUCK FUCKFUCKFUCK.
11:30 – Scheduled arrival time. Searching for tickets.
11:34 – Tickets were 0.5km back.
11:46 – Actual arrival time.
11:47 – Urinal.
12:02 – GRE.
14:49 – Done.
15:05 – Satisfaction.
15:14 – Life lacks purpose.
15:15 – Gmail restores purpose.
15:40 – The second street was right. Fuck.
15:50 – Train 3.
16:34 – Didn’t order the kangaroo strips. Tough choice.
17:20 – Train 4.
17:40 – Google maps lied. 400 street numbers off. Fuck.
17:50 – Streetcar 1.
18:04 – Gainful employment.
18:11 – Streetcar 2.
18:38 – Train 5.
18:42 – Train 6.
18:46 – Train station, 4 minutes late for train 6. FUCK.
19:02 – Wallet €66 lighter. Fuck.
19:42 – Train 6.1 beta.
19:50 – Mount Fuji.
22:00 – Code.
23:25 – Train 7.
23:32 – Train 7 actually leaves. Karma restored.
00:10 – Bus 2 left 5 minutes ago, next in 65. Fuck karma.
00:57 – Sleep.



It’s the end of my second day at Crytek, and I have to say, it’s been a pretty cool start. There’s only one small downside, which is that I’m currently without internet access at home. FOR THREE MONTHS.

So these blog posts might be a little more sporadic. I’ll see if I can buy a 3G card for my laptop for a few euros, or a few nights with my body. If you know anything about 3G internet, specifically how to avoid paying through the nose, please let me know.


It’s all gone

The one thing I didn’t have backed up before my emergency laptop reformat was my RSS feeds. I’ve rebuilt most of what I’ve lost, but if you happen to know my reading habits, or if I’ve sent you links, please hook me up.


Generating a stack trace from an ELF.

As fantastic as asserts are, sometimes a vanilla assert leaves a programmer wanting more. Wanting for what, you ask? A stack trace. Preferably a human-readable one. And it’s surprisingly easy to do.
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Drum and Bass 101

Yesterday was the first time I was able to share my love for Pendulum with someone who actually listens to them. It’s good to know that there are more people in the world who enjoy this excellent assortment of beats.

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