30 July 2006

Viva (?) Las Vegas

Selling your soul to huge American financial-software makers has its bonuses. One of them is that, once a year, you get paid to travel to Las Vegas and chill out at a beach party.

The event I'm talking about is my employer's annual "Kick Off" week, where most of the company meet to celebrate the financial year-end results and charge up for the new year. Don't ask me why it's "traditionally" held in Vegas, I suppose it's a standard location for sales conferences. The chosen resort, Mandalay Bay, was plush without being too tacky; what about the "realistic" beach complemented by wave-generating pool, the Shark Reef, and the entertainment area including several posh restaurant and nightclubs. I spent Sunday roasting under Las Vegas' sun, a daiquiri in my hand while floating in one of the pools. I got completely wasted on Tuesday, dancing my life out to 4 AM. Life is hard, isn't it?

But hey, it wasn't just fun, it also was fun. I got to meet several key people, the ones we routinely disparage in our tech-support world (bloody developers and consultants) and the ones we constantly praise (thank god for Chris Barbieri, the most honest and passionate supportguy/consultant/developer/manager/advocate I've ever met). I got to speak my mind to people responsible for making things happen, and who knows, they might even listen. And the feeling of being recognised, the subtle vanity in hearing "so it's you!" before shaking hands, really was nice. In a "global" organization where you have constant contacts with people via impersonal media like email and web-based systems, sometimes it feels like nobody really cares about what you do, even if it's not the case.

I came back from Vegas (that, by the way, is more or less Disneyland + sex + gambling, extremely boring after a week) refreshed.... certainly not by the scorching-hot weather (who had this brilliant idea of creating cities in the desert anyway?), but by the passion and knowledge shown by "our" people, and by a new insight in the software I get to fix. American optimism really brushed on to me, I suppose. Now that I'm back to work, I wonder how long it will be before I go back to my usual Italian fatalism and disillusionment! :)

20 July 2006

Retrogaming my way to hell

Retrogaming is for the 70's generation what boat- or plane-modeling is for the baby boomers. You see grown-up men getting all teary-eyed talking about BubbleBobble and Super Mario, and going to great lengths to reproduce their old machines just to play their old games and feel like a kid again.

This to say that I spent the last two nights with a new joypad (I hadn't bought one for myself for 15 years) and several old Amiga games (running thanks to the emulators WinFellow for Windows and E-UAE for Linux). I actually even fell ill by lack of sleep.

These names probably won't say much to non-Amigaers, but I'm having so much fun playing them again, 20 years later, and rediscovering games that were so originally unique and that you could play in 5 second without even looking at the manual once... Kick-Off, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, Arkanoid, Bubble Bobble (ported on Amiga by BT -- yes, British Telecom!), Mousetrap, TestDrive, Barbarian, Ivan Ironman, Turrican (spectacular soundtrack!), Xenon2, Typhoon, Populous... even SimCity (that was born on Amiga first, and then ported to other platforms).
Is this a reaction to taking out a mortgage and preparing my wedding?

18 July 2006

SOAP is for losers

SOAP is the worst thing happening to "Enterprise Computing" since, uhm, forever. His entirely asynchronous nature makes it idiotic to use it as backend for anything but the most simple of application. Here I am, waiting more than 5 minutes for feedback on a very simple table-based dialog after clicking "OK". The entire operation (changing some basic security settings) will take me more than half an hour. The same application, last year, had a Win32 client in which the exact same operation would never take more than 30 seconds. But now "we" moved to a "web" infrastructure, entirely built on SOAP+CORBA. The UI is now web-based, and when I click "OK", behind the scenes my server talks to another server, pushing loads of XML back and forward, and 9 times out of 10 the browser stalls while waiting for feedback. Nevermind that sometimes the operation fails, sometimes it actually succeeds. Last week, while internally demoing the next release (that should come out in a month) the lead designer tried to execute an action and it failed without giving any errors. The comment? "oh, it seems like she doesn't want to do it right now". And that was it. And now, of course, we lose contracts on performance. Don't say!

11 July 2006

Being John Materazzovich

Zinedine Zidane was born in a lower-class family from a bad area of Marseille, from non-French parents.

Marco Materazzi was born in the luxury of a "football family", his father a successful player and then manager in the Italian Serie A.

Zinedine Zidane was born gifted with flexible ankles and delicate feet, making him an almost natural footballer from the age of 12. Some of his goals and gestures will forever be part of football history.

Marco Materazzi was to be known on the Italian pitches for the rude treatment he reserved to the ball and to the opponents' legs.

Zinedine Zidane struggled to be accepted in the professional leagues, because he was "too slow". So he built up his physique like a rugby player, becoming a terrific midfielder. He was playing well with a surprising Bordeaux, but exploded as One of The Greatest Footballers Ever with an infamously "pumped-up" Juventus team (whose medical team was later convicted of cheating anti-doping regulations).

Marco Materazzi struggled to be accepted as a top-flight footballer. He participated in several campaigns with the national Under-21 team, but had to emigrate to Liverpool to get a regular place in a club line-up. In Italy, he was considered a rough player without any class, and supporters of his clubs were usually quite ashamed of him.

Zinedine Zidane won everything with Juventus in a few years. It was discovered in 2006 that the Italian Serie A results were fixed to favour Juventus.

Marco Materazzi played for ages in an Inter Milan club that never managed to win anything, no matter how many stars they bought. It was discovered in 2006 that the Italian Serie A results were fixed to penalise Inter Milan.

Zinedine Zidane earns a lot, from sponsors and advertisers as much as from his team. He is a global icon, a brand. People from the five continents adore him.

Marco Materazzi earns like an average Italian footballer. He would probably go unnoticed while shopping at Tesco. Many "supporters" regularly "boo" him.

Zinedine Zidane won the World Cup in a team composed by a "blessed generation" of wonderful players. He won the Golden Ball for the best European player several times, like his teammate Thierry Henry.

Marco Materazzi won the World Cup in a team of average players, "late bloomers" who struggled to play at all in Serie A. He'll never win any individual trophy.

Zinedine Zidane was begged by the French manager to play in the World Cup.

Marco Materazzi was considered almost unworthy of being capped, and he had to be only a backup for the more gifted Alessandro Nesta. The other central defender, Fabio Cannavaro, played all the time for the entire campaign; it was expected for Nesta to do the same, but he got injured, Materazzi went in, and in less than 5 minutes he had scored a match-breaking goal. He ended up being Italy's top-scorer with two goals, together with striker Luca Toni.

Zinedine Zidane is famous for disappearing from the match for hours, especially when things don't go "according to plan".

Marco Materazzi can't stop running and fighting for a minute, or the striker will be free to score at will.

Zinedine Zidane, last sunday, scored a penalty awarded for a clear dive. He's a quality midfielder.

Marco Materazzi, last sunday, scored in live action, with a powerful header, jumping over a player as strong as Patrick Vieira. He's a defender.

Zinedine Zidane, last sunday, reacted with mindless violence to a standard insult, one that he had probably heard so many times already on the pitches of Marseille, Turin, the entire Europe. He left his team without the natural penalty-taker, a few minutes before going to penalties.

Marco Materazzi pretty much received and dished insults for his entire career, while fighting inside the crowded box, trying to steal the ball from more gifted forwards that took pleasure in humiliating defenders as static as him, or reacting to the unforgiving Italian press. He has made mistakes before, but never while representing his country in the most-watched competition on Earth. Last sunday, he scored an equaliser for his team, "nullified" Thierry Henry as much as possible, and then proceeded to take and score a decisive (as much as unusual, for him) penalty to win the World Cup for his team.

Zinedine Zidane is being publicly "forgiven" for physically assaulting a "brute" defender.

Marco Materazzi will always be condemned for being a "classless" defender.

Post-Euphoric States

To be honest, I feel numb now. Watching Italy winning the World Cup is like living in a dream. 16 years ago, football was everything for me, and when Argentina kicked us out in the semifinal I felt like something inside me was broken... it was one of the first steps in understanding that "Justice Is Not Of This World". From then on, I lived any European or World Cup with the inner certainty that an inevitable defeat, one way or another, would be dished to the Italian team.

But now, 23 players (and a cunning manager) succeeded in breaking that bad spell. They "unbottled" the joyous rage that was rotting inside me since 1990, and I felt the air fizzling with energy for one night.

But then the night passed, and a day, and another night; and now... now what? Everything else seems a bit pointless now, compared to Winning The World Cup and Putting 1990 Right. Also, my well-rehearsed "noir" pose, as the survivor of a thousand (lost) football battles, it's now left without any credibility...

10 July 2006

Football hooligan for a night. (Champions of the motherf***ing world!)

The "Sports Cafe" in Manchester is a bad place. Dark, seedy, home to the worst kind of unsportsmanship and hooliganism. The best place to go watch a World Cup final then! Almost an hour before the kickoff, it's already packed. We struggle to find two chairs with a decent view of one of the two big screens, and will spend the night shuffling between that and the smaller TV nearby. The French are almost undetectable, but when BBC shows the "golden goal" steal of Euro 2000, they start to sing and shout. They'll pay for that, oh yes, and in spades. The match starts, the game seems nervous, the teams cautious; it looks like the match with the U.S.A., it will end up being very similar. Then, a useless french winger, one of those players that will never ever score against us, takes a big dive in the penalty box, and gets away with it because Materazzi (that will became Maserati on the radio, the day after) moves in the wrong way. Zidane scores and the French are exstatic, singing louder than ever; I "know" then that we will win 2-1, and I won't be much wrong. Less than 5 minutes and Materazzi, clearly an instrument to some higher will, scores from up in the sky. 1-1 and the French now are stunned. I-TA-LIA, I-TA-LIA, and I even forget that my ex is just a few seats behind me. Two goals in the first 20 minutes, a rare sight in a World Cup final these days. Then the match stalls. We play better on the sides, but Totti is completely out of the game and Toni is too lonely, easy prey for Thuram. We score again, but a passive offside means it's not good. France grows in confidence, we are again overpowered by their singing "allez les bleus" and "zi-zou, zi-zou". The break is time to relieve ourselves from beer, and I've never seen that toilet so packed. The French can't restrain from shouting even when they pee. I am tempted to start a riot. The second half we suffer. Lippi tries to win it, but Del Piero and De Rossi are not effective and our midfield disappears. Zidane warms up and almost scores, but our goalkeeper is simply too good for any player nowadays. He won't be beaten in live action, only from penalties (and an own goal). Extra time is over us, we are tired, the players are tired, the damn French start to gloat thinking about penalties... but then Zidane loses his cool and gets sent off. I shout BOOOOOO as much as I can, what a shameful way to end a wonderful career. The French are silenced, their talisman is gone, they sense fear. They put on the pitch the two players that killed us in 2000, but this time the stars are with us. Trezeguet, who scored the golden goal at Euro 2000, fails the penalty. Del Piero, who missed so many appointments with glory, this time is ice cold. Fabio Grosso, hard-working defender playing for Palermo, gets the responsability on his shoulders like he did in the semifinal, and starts the party. It's all mad then. The french move out, some shaking hands with me, while the italians are jumping and celebrating. "We are the champions" goes on and on again, until Cannavaro grabs the cup and we dance and jump and hug and sing and I really don't know what happens next.

03 July 2006

World Cup, World Music, African Weather

My weekend started with World Cup action and ended with World Music bits, with in-between cooking and entertainment courtesy of torrid temperatures (that really reminded me more of Morocco than South Wales). Global warming threatens to make the British weather extremely attractive, that's probably why politicians are getting around the idea of stopping it.
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