Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
But first, let me describe how I see a James Cameron film. When I was a teen, I saw Terminator and, like most of my friends, it blew me away. Like Close Encounters before it, it was a perfect blend of the ordinary and completely alien. It also had a swagger to it that appealed to me as a young man. It wasn't until Aliens came out, however, that I learned to recognize the director's signatures: the strong female protagonist; the relentless enemy which was somehow of our own making; the fading, but all-important ember of humanity. When Abyss came out, I was vaguely disappointed until I saw the director's cut (the one that changed how we thought about director's cuts). In its final version, it was nearly the same story as Terminator and Aliens, but it chose a new alien world to explore rather than the shattered future or a marooned spaceship, it was the ocean depths.
So when Titanic was announced, I was confused. It seemed as if it was both not his genre and at the same time something he'd already done. How little I knew. Nearly everyone I've talked to saw Titanic as a love story between DeCaprio and Winslet. Of course, the promotional material for the film didn't help that impression. However, if you dig a bit deeper, it was Cameron up to his old tricks again. Rose is our strong female protagonist; the sea is our relentless enemy, but the ship succumbs to it through our own negligence; and finally there is the fading of humanity. In Titanic we experience death from a dozen different directions. Rose undergoes a transformation due to the death of Jack, sure, but there's also the band that goes down playing; the man who will sacrifice anyone to get off the sinking boat. The movie is full of a dozen ways to die and and even more ways to face it. It is, in fact, a story about the nature one one's choices in the face of death.
So, when I went to see Avatar, I expected all of those things... and got none of them. So, on to the review. (more...)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
- At low levels, make sure you loot the last boss. The reward is apparently on a boss, not given automatically. I lost out due to this.
- If you don't zone in automatically, you can click the "transport to dungeon" or whatever it's called button after the party is formed.
- Don't sign up as leader unless you're familiar with the dungeon and willing to walk people through it
- The penalty for leaving is just a 15 minute time-out. If you get a really bad group, just bow out politely.
- The new zone map is awesome. Use it.
- This will probably be the new way to power-level, since it gets you tons of dungeons faster than you could run to them.
- If you die, you have to run back in. Make sure you know the layout outside the dungeon before going in.
- If there is an option to disenchant, don't hesitate to use it. It's the same priority as "greed." Of course, check sell price for the item first. Greed might be better.
- If someone wants to leave the group, don't get upset. They're automatically replaced.
- If someone is linkdead, give them some time (e.g. a few minutes) and then initiate a group-kick vote.
- When new people come in to an existing group, ask if they need an escort. Don't assume they know the way to where you are in the dungeon.
It's a lot of fun at lower levels. At high levels, it finally makes pugging worth doing for me. I never wanted to pug before, but I think that's because there was so much emphasis on not pugging for players who were good. Now the good and the bad all want to get the rewards from random dungeons, so you're more likely to get an evenly mixed group.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
That seemed odd. So I asked what they would do if the number I wanted to bring in was a Verizon number. They told me that they'd be thrilled to move a number in and replace my current number at no charge and with my current plan. Wait... so, if I were a Verizon customer, I'd get better AT&T service, but because I'm an AT&T customer, they're not even willing to just move a phone number?! No, I had to have heard that wrong. So, I asked to speak to a manager and made it quite clear that all I wanted to do was move a number, not an account and that I wanted to keep my high-priced AT&T iPhone service for a good long time. Nope. I'd have to get a new plan with a new contract.
When I explained that my life would actually be simpler if I payed the $150 to terminate the iPhone and get my partner a Droid, I was told that that was my only workable option and he didn't even try to keep me as a customer.
In the end AT&T would much rather that you become a Verizon customer than close one, old clunky account and move the number around internally. Your customer loyalty for 10 years isn't, it turns out, worth a database record update to AT&T.
Well, two Droids is better than one, I guess...
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Wikipedia is a font of really useful information, but it can also be the source of some of the most obscure information to have graced the Web. Specifically, their "Did you know" section on the front page tends to have some of the most obscure trivia you'll come across. I've turned some of it into a set of trivia questions. See how many you can get by using your scroll bar to hide the next question's answer just off the bottom while you guess (questions after the jump)...
Monday, November 30, 2009
In Perl 5 (released around the dawn of Python) there was no switch equivalent. Many of the same hacks that are used in Python to work around this were suggested to Perl users. However, when crafting a spec for Perl 6, a switch statement was high on the list of user requests, so "given" was introduced. Later, as Perl 6 prototype implementation features were scrutinized for back-porting to Perl 5, given was selected as a useful bit of low-hanging fruit that didn't require massive changes to the language. In Perl 5.10, the given statement is now available with the use of a special pragma. Presumably, this pragma will be removed in future versions.
So, back to Python. Is given the right way to go? Perhaps. Given assumes a lower-level tool called smart-matching, and Python currently has no such mechanism. The introduction of smart-matching has the potential to be disruptive to the language if done poorly. Great care should therefore be taken, but a minimal approach should be acceptable.
(read on for the proposal...)
Friday, November 13, 2009
- The keyboard is nowhere near as annoying as I thought. I am back to iPhone typing speed, and perhaps a bit faster.
- The camera app is still annoying. It's hard to press the camera button long enough to get the app to come up without having it snap a shot immediately, and saving a photo will cause music to skip.
- Initially I thought the lack of a sleep mode (for playing music when I go to bed) was going to annoy me, but as Apple says, there's an app for that.
- Music management is more tolerable since I started using MediaMonkey, an iTunes-alike that handles just about any device. This also does smart playlists ala Apple, but the free version doesn't have that feature ($20 for the pay version).
- Dropped WiFi connections are still a bit of a pain, but not as bad as I'd feared. The phone takes longer to recover than the iPhone, but it does so. Weak WiFi is actually more of an issue, especially for file transfers (e.g. app installation).
- A week in, and I'm getting used to the combined messaging features, but popup would be a nice option.
- I do like the Exchange integration for the iPhone better than for the Droid, but that's a relatively minor issue. They both work.
I still don't think the Droid is an iPhone killer, but then it doesn't have to be. There will always be a core loyal audience for the iPhone, and if this phone cured cancer, I don't think they'd give it up. On the other hand, the Droid is comparable on every level, and better in a few key areas such as navigation and openness.
If you have a Google Apps account (e.g. for work, school or a vanity domain), then you really should get an Android phone. It's capable of syncing from both your normal Google account and your Apps account for mail, calendar and contacts, which is pretty huge. Oddly, though, it won't do IM through Apps as far as I can tell.
It turns out that it's really easy to get this working, and once you do, you'll understand something that's critical about your new phone: everything important shows up in the notice bar at the top of the screen.
When you plug the Droid in to a USB host like a laptop or desktop system, it brings up a notification (USB logo in the status bar). Place your finger off the screen, above this notice, and swipe directly down onto the screen. This will bring up the all-important notification menu. Here, you'll see things like "USB Connected" and various app installation notices if you've recently downloaded anything. Touch the USB notice now and it will bring up a dialog box that asks if you want to mount the SD card on your host computer. Press "Mount" and you'll have full access to the SD card from your system. When you're done, you can either repeat this process or just unplug the USB cable to force it to re-mount internally.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
For those who might want to use some of my images in the future, the best place to look is on my Picasa folders. One of these, Misc Photos, contains what I consider to be some of my best general work, though I have other sections for nature photography; specific events like the Tall Ships and Fireworks; and so on. You need only credit me and provide some way for people to find the original in order to use these images.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Here are a few:
- Keyboard is far too prone to multiple keypress
- Camera is slow, and prone to blurry images
- The iPhone had a sleep function (timed shutoff) that Droid lacks
- Music management is horrible
- Apple's smart playlists are clearly a killer feature
- Recovery from a dropped wifi connection is not as graceful
- No popup SMS/messaging notifications (brief scroll on top bar instead)
- Google Voice / built-in messaging can be confusing (which one am I selecting?)
- An open app store
- Free turn-by-turn navigation with a fairly cheap car-mount
- A keyboard at all (narrowly a win over none... narrowly)
- Great email/SMS integration if you use gmail and Google Voice
- Search by voice for nearly everything
- "Back" button works across apps
- Add a countdown timer that kills the browser and music player when it goes off
- Make the music player automatically create playlists from directories on the SD
- Add smart playlists (see my other post)
- Build in some software guards against multiple keypress
- Improve guessing with respect to poking at links on the Web browser (I often get the wrong link)
- Create a playlist for a kind of music you want to listen to. You can use one of the built-in smart playlists like "Highest Rated" or build your own (for example, I have a "Quiet" playlist of songs I like to go to sleep to)
- Now create a new smart playlist and give it the rule: "Playlist", "is", and the playlist from above.
- Select the checkbox next to "Limit to" enter "50" or "100" for the count and for "selected by" use "Least recently played".
- Now when syncing your phone, go to the "Music" tab under the iPhone's entry in iTunes. Select the option to only place selected playlists on the phone, and select your new smart playlist.
Monday, November 2, 2009
If you just used blackra1n to jailbreak, and SBSettings won't work for you, here's what you do (props to this forum for the fix):
- Re-install Cydia from the blackra1n interface
- Re-install dpkg (this may show up as "Debian Package Manager" or similar) from Cydia
- Re-install SBSettings from Cydia
- Re-boot the phone
Thursday, October 29, 2009
To combat this, Wikipedia really should embrace both styles, and integrate them more deeply. I'd love to see the template mechanism enhanced so that trivia could be encapsulated as template-like objects. (more...)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Jekyll is a BBC drama series about a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story opens in the middle, as the protagonist, Dr. Jackman is dealing with his uncontrollable transformations. There's nothing in this series that knowing the original story can spoil for you. You meet Mr. Hyde in the very first episode. You are told about the original story very early on. Before we get to the spoilers, I want to recommend that you consider buying or renting the series. What follows will certainly ruin a few surprises.(more...)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
As I said, this is a piece of a larger effort to, as the site says, enable "a thought-for-thought translation," of the Christian Bible, "without corruption by liberal bias." Among other changes this means favoring masculine wording in an attempt to revert the, "emasculation of Christianity"; using "powerful new conservative terms"; "explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning," which I quote in full because I can't actually imagine how that pertains to a re-translation; and removing references to the name, "Jehovah" (an example of "liberal wordiness").
What's particularly shocking is that the project aims to re-translate the King James Version of the Bible rather than returning to original sources, thus maintaining any inaccuracies both in that translation, and that have arisen as a consequence of the change in English since that time. Presumably this is being done in order to open the effort up to those who haven't spent years studying dead languages, but of course, it makes the end-result highly suspect, even given a scholarly goal, rather than a political one.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
So, while I understand where the FTC is going with these new guidelines, they don't really affect this site (or its AJS.COM sister sites) at all.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Over time, that changed. Copyright law is a hot issue, and everyone wants to have their say. That lead to some strange policies and a schism between the main site and their image hosting site, Commons that still has strange ramifications to this day (images are routinely moved to Commons from Wikipedia because they are free, but Commons has a stricter definition of "free", so they're then deleted). (more...)
This article was written on my old blog in 2008, and may be slightly out of step with the 2009 event, but should still prove a useful reference
If you're playing WoW, and and not getting the Hallow's End (Halloween) event candy from the various inns around Azeroth and Outland, you really should! Not only is the candy really nice for stackable stat buffs (defense, hit rating (which includes spell and melee hit now), and two kinds of spellpower), but it also gives experience for every inn you get candy from. Here's how I went about collecting them all. (more...)
Sunday, October 4, 2009
4 AM blurring, swimming monochrome before me.Well, there it is. I'm no Cummings, but I hope it was worth a moment of your time to look back with me.
Not bright enough to learn, too bright not to.
To hack in C, shell and Perl all I know.
What rough beast, the nacent Internet swims before me.
Forces gather while I, in key-click slumber
Drift toward rocky shoals of dot-com intrigue.
But innocent, I type; one more demo tweak
Before a dawnlight shuffle home.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
in reference to: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (view on Google Sidewiki)
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I'll ignore the back-and-forth. Here's the bottom-line: Perl 5 is a dead-end platform. Not because of Perl 6, but because it's a deep legacy of parts that have out-grown their use. It's not extensible in ways that people want to use it today (e.g. for Moose and MOPs in general), and to bolt on those features is painful in the extreme, and guaranteed to be orders slower than it should be. I'm not saying Perl 6 is The Way. I'm saying that a re-design of Perl 5 is required to extend it into relevance with respect to today's programming environment. If that's called Perl 5.50 or if it's called Perl 6, it doesn't matter. Perl 5 is and should remain a powerful legacy language whose contributions to the state of the art were significant in their day but whose limitations are the right reason to use it only where required today.As you can see, I'm a fan of what Perl 5 has done. I think it brought some concepts "into the fold" of language design that were downright heretical at the time (grammar ambiguity can yield developer ease, for example). It also promoted regular expressions from library features and the domain of special-purpose languages such as sed or AWK to full-fledged peers in the design of a language.
However, Perl 5 is old and tired. To this day, it lacks such basic features as named subroutine parameters and it still has some deep confusion over types and naming that stem from its original idea that some types were so external that users should manipulate the namespace directly to access them. Why are these archaic features still in the language? Not because the Perl community lacks the skills to fix them, but because the language carries with it a heavy burden of legacy code. Breaking CPAN is such a taboo that maintainers have been forced into resignation over the frustration the community wells up when it or its evil twin, DarkPAN are threatened by the most trivial changes.
So, what are we to do? Moose and its ilk attempt to subvert the legacy code and inject new concepts by force. Sadly, that battle is one of attrition and diminishing returns. Ultimately speed and complexity are major factors in maintaining such a beast. Perl 6 (along with its currently hot implementation, Rakudo) is another path. Re-designed from the ground up, Perl rises from its own ashes with features freshly cast in modern terms. In many ways this is the right solution. Perl 6 is such a radical departure from the traditional design of popular languages that it is almost guaranteed to produce some of the same positive impact that Perl 5 brought us.
However, Perl 6 is fundamentally a new language. There's nothing wrong with implementing a new language that's aimed at the Perl community, but there's a middle ground that I think we need as well. Here are what I see as the design requirements of a new Perl that is still Perl:
- Provide basic functionality that Perl programmers want without cumbersome add-ons to implement them (named parameters, MOP, etc.)
- Maintain syntactic compatibility with Perl 5 as much as possible to ease transition
- Marginalize, deprecate or simply remove features which have hindered the task of implementing secondary implementations of Perl 5 (e.g. on Parrot)
Many times I've heard Perl 6 compared to Python 3. I always point out that this is an unfair comparison because Perl 6 is a radical re-design of the language which requires blazing a new trail through the entire topic of language design and the integration of disparate programming paradigms. What I've suggested here, however, should absolutely be compared to Python 3. A re-evaluation of some core concepts; a re-write of the code; but fundamentally the same language.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Back in April of this year, I posted about Joss Whedon's appearance at Harvard to accept an award from the Humanist Chaplaincy. At the time, I knew that it was recorded, but not when or if it would show up where people could get at it. Well, now it's here. If you go to WGBH's Forum Network, you'll find "Joss Whedon: Cultural Humanist." (note: that seems to be down... not sure if it will come back. see the relevant bits on YouTube) Watch and enjoy. It was a really great event, and well worth listening to his views on the interaction between the religious and non-religious world and the nature of charity and justice towards others.
In perusing this site, I've noticed some really interesting videos. It's sad that these aren't widely publicized, since they're so much more valuable than the typical piano-playing cat that you'll find when searching for videos on the Web. Right now, I'm listening to David Lynch, Fred Travis (spelled "Tavis" incorrectly in the credits) and John Hagelin speaking about Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain.
When I first saw The Boondock Saints it was before Boston had become particularly popular for shooting TV and film location shots (understand that most "Boston" based shows and movies are filmed in Vancouver, e.g. Fringe). It was nice to see my home town featured in movies, so I even enjoyed Blown Away back in the day. But Saints was different. It had more to say than most mob films. It was funnier than most buddy movies. It felt gritty in a way that I can't explain. Ultimately the saddest part was that it was easily the biggest film of its year, had it been marketed at all. Instead it made less than $50,000 and wasn't re-discovered by the public until it hit DVD (mine came from Canada, oddly enough, before it was released in the U.S.).
Over the years, rumors came out about a sequel. Then there was the documentary about the making of the sequel (called Overnight) in which the writer/director imploded in the way that Hollywood has a way of encouraging. I assumed it was a no-go. And then, suddenly, there was a trailer and a release date for Boondock Saints: All Saints Day. The sequel will come out this year, and from what I can see, only the replacement of Willem Dafoe (in what I feel is the funniest performance of his career) bodes ill. The brothers return. Another character returns played by Billy Connolly (if you haven't seen the film, I don't want to tell you more about his character... go see it). And the feel is very similar. True, this franchise risks becoming something between Rambo and Lethal Weapon, but I hold out hope that this cult classic will yield a sequel that's worthy of the first.
Amusing side-note: someone stuck The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers into the movie connections on IMDB for Boondock Saints. Not even remotely true, but funny.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
There are a few other points to consider, but the one that really kills me is that it's Google's motto that hurts them the most in these situations. The first and most predictable reaction to any news about Google is to find a way to refer to it as "evil." Regardless of their clear intentions in an area (e.g. their relationship with the Open Invention Network and strong support patent reform), the motto slips into the argument and immediately becomes the centerpiece. Is Google becoming evil? Is this evil? How evil are they now?
Design patent law is an area of great frustration for people. Design patents are relatively easy to obtain because of what they cover: essentially the identical design or any colorable imitation. As recently stated by the Fed. Cir., the test for design patent infringement is stated: "infringement will not be found unless the accused article 'embod[ies] the patented design or any colorable imitation thereof.'" Egyptian Goddess, Inc. v. Swisa, Inc. Therefore, to invalidate, the design must either embody the prior art or merely be a colorable imitation. This is a tricky analysis.
For companies like Apple and Google, design patents are helpful in preventing knock-offs. In this respect, the line is blurred between trademark and design patent law. However, they are not useful for much else since many of the elements of a design are functional (and a good lawyer can make that argument) and are not merely composed of distinctive elements.
I'm reminded of an Emo Phillips joke that involved a man who was about to jump off a bridge. Emo confronts the man and asks him if he believes in God. The man says yes. He further asks him questions about what religion he's a member of, eventually narrowing down that the two of them are both from a particular denomination of Baptist Christians, but then finds that they're members of very slightly different subsets of that denomination at which point Emo pushes the man off the bridge.
So too do we attack Google, not for being opposed to the general views of the tech community. They are, in fact, one of our greatest champions, supporting FOSS, patent reform and providing alternatives to many monopolistic software suites. And yet, here we are, asking if they've been evil today.
Monday, August 31, 2009
As an example, one person suggested that this was, "bad news for anyone who like mature-themed comics and movies," in a Slashdot feedback post. The problem with this is that Disney is a giant holding corporation that owns everything from Hannah Montana to Kill Bill to Queen. Since the mid-1990s, Disney really hasn't resembled the original Walt Disney Corporation (even though they continue on as one of the many Disney brands).
I'm not a big fan of Marvel comics. I've enjoyed Joss Whedon and Warren Ellis's work for them, but then I'd enjoy their work for the sanitation planning department (actually, no, don't let Ellis near my city's planners, thank you very much, but you get the idea...) There's nothing that I think will be lost once Marvel, an already behemoth corporation, is absorbed by an even larger behemoth. But that doesn't really have anything to do with Disney and what they'll do to the brand. It has to do with the risks that you don't take when you're in charge of billions of dollars worth of intellectual property.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Turbine has two MMOs out that I've tried recently. One is Dungeons & Dragons Online. What I've been playing is the DDO Unlimited beta, which will launch a new free-to-play service on top of their existing MMO starting in early September. Frankly, I'm disappointed in this. Its flaws are legion, and it really doesn't add anything new to the MMO gaming experience that I feel I need. However, as a break from WoW, I was going to give it a shot... until something fun happened.
While testing DDO Unlimted, the downloader started queuing a beta for the next Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) update. I tried it out and liked it enough to start playing the live version, and I haven't looked back at WoW or DDO since (slight lie, I logged into DDO last night to wave goodbye as they prepared to take the beta servers down for the last time before launch).
What follows are my experiences with both games.
First off: DDO. What I like about this game doesn't outweigh what I dislike, but there are plenty of items in both categories. Its faith to the core D&D 3.5 (or is it 3.0?) rules is fairly good. Of course, a video game has different pacing and needs, and that shows. There are more way-points in the leveling experience and feats have been broken up to give you more progression and less waiting for some future level when you'll get to be useful.
What I really liked was the instancing. Nearly every quest involves an instance, even if it's just a single room house where you'll defend boxes from kobolds. This makes questing much less contentious, but for me it also reduced the amount of social play I felt I needed to engage in. I don't mind leveling solo, but if you do, this might be a small minus. Then again, joining groups to run instances is really easy.
Repair and general selling of loot was easy, but I'll touch more on this in the negatives. PvP areas are clearly marked, which was nice. And one of the most important things: the starting area quests were very nice and smooth introductions to the game mechanics and encounter models. I really appreciated that. Interestingly, this is also something that LOTRO gets right, and which WoW really just doesn't.
Obviously, the game is now free, which is a big benefit. You do not need to buy anything with real-world money, but I plunked down $6 to see what it would get me. The dungeons you can buy are very detailed and large, but the thing that bothered me is that their store has almost no indication of how many players you should have for each add-on adventure pack. The correct answer turns out to be "a full group" in every example I saw, so be aware that adventure packs aren't solo content (unless you're out-leveling them).
The down sides, however, are the reasons I won't be playing DDO when it launches, so let's talk about those. First off, one major issue I have with all non-WoW MMOs I've tried is that WoW spoiled me with add-ons. Users can re-write the UI from the ground up, adding new functionality that's as complex as they want to code. In DDO, that's simply not the case, and I found myself wanting things like a mod that would select what to sell to a vendor, manage bars for me in a better way, etc. This hurts most of all when you deal with the auction house. Auctioneer is the single most game-changing mod in WoW (with questhelper coming a close second), and you just don't realize how much it's come to mean until you don't have it. But, these are things I expect to run into in other games, and I don't hold it against DDO too much that it's not WoW. (Note: Turbine claims that a mod-authoring system for LOTRO is in the works, just not launched yet, but it's not clear what this means for other games of theirs.)
Serious DDO issues exist on their own terms, however. There are three classes of vendor loot. One class you can simply sell to any vendor. One class are items that would be useful to players (gear, scrolls, etc.) and will sell just find to normal vendors, but you get more money selling them to vendors that would sell that kind of item... but, you can't sell it to them if they already have too many of that item. This gets annoying, and eventually I just started selling all such items to regular vendors, taking a huge cash inflow hit. The third type of item are useless to vendors, but have special NPCs you can turn them in to for different kinds of loot depending on the NPC. Nice idea, poor execution. There are a dozen of these NPCs, and you have to go around to each of them every time your bags fill up to sell off the piles and piles of crap you have accumulated. Not fun, Turbine; not fun at all. This could be fixed in one quick move: simply add an NPC that will take all of this sort of item that you have, all at once, and return to you the appropriate loot rewards. This would speed the after-instancing bookkeeping tremendously and improve the game for me by a lot.
Second up is the difficulty of dungeons. I ran into some that I could not conquer until I out-leveled them, even on solo mode. Some, which had no solo mode, were trivially soloed before I was of appropriate level. In one or two cases there are warnings (most of these are actually trivial) but in most cases, it's not clear to me how we're supposed to know which dungeons are reasonable. My sense is that the game is just not tuned for solo play at all, which is fine, but they should either fix that or slap more warnings on dungeons to indicate that solo play isn't really an option (Lightfoot dungeon in the Marketplace, I'm looking at you!) This also gives the impression that they've not done a lot of thinking about balancing the leveling content out to ensure a smooth leveling experience. My caveat, here, his that I only got to level 5, so it may get better or not.
OK, so to sum up: DDO Unlimited is uneven, but certainly for a free game, I think it's worth the price (essentially the download time). Try it out, but don't be shocked if 10-15 dollars per month starts to sound good after you do.
LOTRO is another thing entirely. When I first moved from EverQuest (EQ) to WoW, I found that the game felt very much like an "answer" to EQ. In other words, it did most of the same things, but where EQ did something annoying, WoW addressed it. Corpse runs were much more pleasant, the UI was much more configurable, questing was worth doing, instances made quest mob-camping mostly a thing of the past, etc. The game was clearly designed by people who played EQ and understood it enough for their game to be a rebuttal.
So, enter LOTRO. This game feels like a rebuttal to WoW, but in some ways it fails and in some ways it succeeds brilliantly. One of the first things you'll notice, but won't get a good sense of for a bit is that the overall feel of the graphics and the aesthetic sense that the game has, is very, very different from either EQ or WoW. It's a much less explicitly fantastic feel, and really doesn't seem like a fantasy game at all until you see a ghost or some other fantastic creature at later levels. Sure, it's low-tech looking, but even the orcs aren't really all that strange looking. They just look like ragged humans unless you zoom in. Elves have pointed ears and dwarves and hobbits are short... but that's not much in the way of fantasy flavor. In a strange way, this makes the fantasy "pop" all the more. When you see someone throw a lightning bolt or wield a flaming sword it really makes you sit up and take notice.
The next thing you'll notice is that inventory management is fairly klunky. Yeah, that doesn't really get any better, and the UI needs serious attention. There's issues of what right-clicking means. If you're interacting with your bags, it means "use or equip," but if you're looking at your items through a vendor, it means "sell" and if you're looking at the contents of a container, it means "take." This leads, all too often, to wearing or eating something that you meant to store in your vault (bank) or sell. There's also the bags... no search, very inspecific looking icons... color borders for item quality are too small and hard to distinguish... The game really needs an inventory management overhaul that resembles WoW with ARKInventory or one of the similar bag mods.
On playability, I just want to make some high level negative notes before I get into what I like:
- There's too much travel at low levels when you don't have a mount. They need to cut this down or increase run speed (playing a hunter helps, but not a lot).
- On a related point, decreasing the milestone (hearthstone in WoW terms) cooldown would help a great deal.
- The Auction house needs to provide some pricing stats in the post window.
- The Auction house should also not default the price of a stack of items based on the previous stack price, but on the previous per-item price. I really hurt myself selling a stack of 20+ silver bars for the same price I'd just listed 3.
- Quest tracking is black magic to me. Improvements that would help are: pinning a goal should extend to followups; removing a quest from the tracker should pull in another quest to replace it; there should be a "reset tracker" option; "cancel" is a bad label for "abandon quest."
The built-in quest tracker with location info is nice, though I always have a hard time figuring out when and under what circumstances it doesn't have location info (which seems to sometimes be associated with quest targets being indoors).
However, the real item that will retain my interest is the class mechanics. I've played four classes now up to at least the teens, and I'm thrilled with all of their mechanics. Each class has some way to "build up" to more complex skills, much like rogues in WoW, and each of them does so in a different way. There are also equivalents of "talents" from WoW, but instead of getting them based on your level alone, you actually have to use the appropriate skills in order to "earn" or "unlock" access to each trait before you can go to a bard to allocate your traits. This gives you a chance to start doing something new, but to slowly become better at it as both you and your character get used to the new role.
On that point, most classes can do more than one thing. My rune-keeper is either a healer or a nuker, and can switch with minimal difficultly between the two on an encounter-by-encounter basis. The same is true for most other classes, though the healer/nuker roles of the rune-keeper are probably the most extreme difference in play style.
I find the solo game to be fun in LOTRO, but escort quests are fundamentally a harder thing than in many other games, since the NPCs are much weaker and seem to attract agro easier than in WoW, for example. However, the death mechanic is quite forgiving of small mistakes and the quests are nicely varied. It can be hard to tell what quests are intended for groups (I know there's an indication somewhere, but I can never find it), which is one down-side.
There are also quest chains that follow you from character creation through to the end-game, which I find very appealing. This allows a character to pursue their epic quest line, but at the same time pick up other quests along the way to level appropriately.
The stunning part of the game, though, are the roleplaying (RP) touches. If you're someone who likes to RP in other MMOs, you're going to love LOTRO. There are a dizzying array of non-combat clothing options and dyes. There are personal housing options that you can customize to death and lots and lots of emotes, even making WoW look rather sad. During the current summer, there are even dance-emote-related quests where you have to dance with an NPC in order to gain access to new emotes. LOTRO doesn't require using its RP features, but if that's your thing I can't recommend the game highly enough!
So overall, I'd suggest LOTRO over DDO Unlimited, but both are decent games at a minimum. If you're a WoW player who is burned out and looking for something else to do until the next expansion comes out, like myself, then I recommend checking out LOTRO. It's a really reasonable stop-gap.
However, the lack of a mod-authoring system (for now) makes the games feel slightly more clunky than I think they need to, so I'll likely go back to WoW when the expansion comes out... or so I think now. We'll see how I feel when I'm higher level.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The trailer for Capitalism: A Love Story is out, and frankly, I have no idea what to make of it. I respect Moore's dogged pursuit of a vision of the truth that you just won't see on television news. The interviews he conducts can be insightful and provocative, but at the same time, he can be a real ass. The problem with looking at a trailer like this one is that it's the bits where he's an ass that make for great trailer material, so I can't tell if this is a Bowling For Columbine-like film where he's annoying (or downright reprehensibly rude) for 10% of the film, and shockingly insightful for the other 90% or if it's just more of the Fahrenheit 9/11-style yelling at people and trying to construct situations where someone will get annoyed enough at him to take a swing. Honestly, the trailer paints the latter picture, but I'd like to hope... I'd like to hope that the old Roger & Me director has returned to remind us all that going out and interviewing the people affected by world-shaping events can never be replaced by filming a panel of "experts" in a studio.
Unrealistic? Probably, but it's a kind of unrealism I'm comfortable with. I'll probably watch it, but if he just yells at people for the entire film, I may well give up on future Moore works.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Mix this by hand, folding and squeezing until it becomes uniform, and form patties onto a plate to prepare for the grill or pan.1 lb meat (85% works well, but you can mix in veal or pork as well)
1 large egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs, unseasoned
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
hot sauce to taste
Last night I find that I'm caught with no egg. Remembering a wonderful recipe for Mayonnaise Chocolate Cake in The Cake Bible that substituted mayonnaise for its composite ingredients: egg and oil, I reached for my big tub of mayo. This made the whole mixture more oily, so I added a bit of extra bread crumb:
The resulting burgers held together perfectly, were delicious, moist and just perfect all the way around. I can't recommend these strongly enough!1 lb meat (85% works well, but you can mix in veal or pork as well)
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1/3 cup bread crumbs, unseasoned
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
hot sauce to taste
Here's what the crux of it is: the law (as it stands today) says that doctors can (mind you, *can*) report on some quality metrics and receive some extra payment from Medicare, above and beyond the normal payment. This amounts to a small (2%) bump in what they get paid, and they get to determine what quality metrics to report. There's just a requirement that the report on a minimum number of them. One of the (again, existing) metrics is having discussed how you want issues such as life support dealt with. Right now, that's it. You just have to report on the percentage of patients that you've had the conversation with and who have then either created appropriate documents or signed a statement saying that they don't wish to.
The new law, built into the health care reform legislation, would add a new criteria: you would also report on the percentage of times that those wishes are carried out. Therein lies the rub...
You see, this has been mis-interpreted as saying that doctors will be penalized (e.g. won't get that extra 2%) if they allow you to change your mind. This is not what the legislation says. What it says is that the doctor has to report on their enacting of the conditions of your advance care planning wishes. If you are conscious and able to communicate your wishes, then advance care planning doesn't enter into play, and thus no reporting would ever be necessary, but the way it's being portrayed is exactly the opposite.
Now, there are some gotchas. For example, you might become lucid; say "don't unplug me;" and then go back under. What now? The doctor has to decide if they should honor your stated wishes in writing or your stated wishes in person. Today, doctors and next of kin make that choice together (or should... law or no, there are always abuses). Under this law, nothing would change except for the after-the-fact review which doctors could choose to participate in or not.
This is the "death panel." An optional reporting system which considers any choice by the patient to be equally valid (e.g. your advance care planning documents might well request that every effort be made to maintain your vital statistics, and there's nothing wrong with that). Not much of a "death panel" is it? Personally, I'm disappointed. I expected there to be real, substantive debate over this legislation, but instead we're reduced to blowing minor details out of proportion and then inventing imaginary scenarios under which they become literally life-or-death issues.
This isn't the fault of conservatives. This is the fault of a minority of conservatives who push an agenda of deception and "big lie" propaganda. Don't get me wrong; they're not alone. There are a minority of liberals who enjoy exactly the same tactics. The problem is that neither one of these groups represent the majority of Americans, and we really need to demand that they shut up and let us be heard over the din of their trial-by-shouting form of debate. There are some very smart people capable of propelling this debate forward in useful ways, but they don't get a chance to be heard because they say boring things like, "of course the U.S. should have a baseline of healthcare like every other developed nation in the world, but we need to decide if we want to model it on one of the dozen or so systems that are working out there today, or if we need something unique, and if so what. Then we need to get to work on the hard part: transitioning all of our spread-out healthcare programs into the new plan so that we don't just make the problem worse." See? That has no media "zing." It just doesn't sell. So instead, we have an ill-considered rush to push forward a single, probably flawed plan before anyone can build up enough shouting to get it stopped.
Monday, August 24, 2009
First off, I hit Google, searching for jailbreak walkthroughs and found a page that gave some very nice, step-by-step instructions. I followed these and quickly had my phone running the Cydia installer. From there, I just had to search for "GV" and installed the app. Once installed, it shows up just like any other iPhone app. Nothing surprising there.
It did crash on me the first time I used it. If you do follow my lead, I suggest exiting and re-running the app as soon as you enter your Google Voice username and password and selecting the "remember" toggle. That way, you don't have to do that part over again if there's a problem.
So, it isn't at first obvious what this app does. It's not actually dialing out. Instead, it uses the same technology that Google Voice's "Web badges" use. That is, it's going to call your cell phone and simultaneously call your requested number and connect you. That way, the caller gets your Google Voice number as the callback instead of your iPhone number. you can also initiate a call from your iPhone, but have it ring any other phone to connect (e.g. your desk or home). That's what the "phone to ring" option is in the first menu you'll see.
The interface to the contact list and dialer are as expected. The only thing that irked me was that when loading the SMS, history or voicemail screens, it has to wait while it loads the data from the Web. I understand why this is the case, but it seems to me as if this could be optimized (e.g. by showing you cached data while it loads more in the background).
Voice mails play fine, though they have a noticeable pause before they start. Nothing I can't live with. It doesn't show me the transcripts along-side the voicemail, but I already have that sent to my phone via SMS, so no worries there.
Overall, I like the integration, and it was well worth having to jailbreak my phone. Who knows, perhaps I'll even test out some of the other features like the "modem" and running various shells and servers. There's a lot Apple doesn't let you do with your iPhone that I really think is worth doing. Sad. Maybe I'll check out those Android phones anyway....
Friday, August 21, 2009
Goblins and Worgen as depicted on worldofwarcraft.com's Cataclysm site
The word is out, and some of what I've predicted here is right, and some is wrong. Goblins won't be a neutral race, sadly (I really think this would have helped WoW by implying that at least one race is capable of dividing politics from the color of their skin....)
However, Goblins will be one of the two new races. Worgen will be the other. There will be flying mounts in the old world, which we've been asking for forever. Also many of the long-in-the-works items will be in Cataclysm:
- Gilneas (home of the Worgen)
- Rated battlegrounds
There'a lot of art samples up on MMO-Champion (who have been predicting a lot of what's coming up over the past month or two) and they've also put up a FAQ that's quite helpful, though they don't explain where it came from (something at Blizzcon, one imagines).
WoW.com has a really cool map up and a liveblog of the whole announcement panel.
C|Net tried to cover the announcement, but they can't even keep the links on their brief WoW article working. I'll get more info and add it here, as I can.
- Level cap 85
- Worgen will be able to transform to/form wolf form
- Goblins will save Thrall after being decimated by Deathwing, which is why the remaining goblins join the Horde
- Large scale use of phasing (where your actions can place you in a different version of a zone than others see) will be part of the expansion
- Every raid encounter will have a hard-mode
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In a music video send-up of online sex-chat ("cybor") done in collaboration with Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon (the writers/authors of Dollhouse's DVD-only Epitaph One, co-collaborators on Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog and much other goodness) Felicia Day's video and single based on characters from The Guild has been released. Of course, its title had to have more parenthetical than actual title: (Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar (feat. Felicia Day).
What can one say about a video like this... it's at once silly, iconic, funny, sad, accurate, even a bit sexy which is something Day's signature confused shyness has always held back. Overall, it's a knockout performance both in video and audio for Day. There's far too little of the other characters, though Vork and Zaboo have a nice, but all to brief duo. I got the impression that Robin Thorsen and Amy Okuda were not entirely sold on the idea of a video. Hopefully if this does well, we'll see more of them in upcoming efforts. Who knows, maybe there'll even be a The Guild album!
A while back, I wrote up this plan for copyright reform that addresses such issues and explains how copyright reform benefits consumers and producers of copyrighted content.
Copyright in the U.S. is a Constitutionally-mandated system that seeks to achieve a singular benefit: the enrichment of the public domain. It seeks to do this through providing creators of copyrightable works with a period of time when they can reap the benefits of their works exclusively, but in exchange they will eventually lose all protection and the work will enter the public domain.
So, in order to understand this fully, we need to understand what the public domain is. At its simplest, the public domain is our culture. It is the combination of symbols that we all understand, phrases that carry common meaning, works that we can all derive from or modify, etc. As an example, the works of Shakespeare are all in the public domain. There is no restriction on movie directors making a new version of Hamlet, nor are there any prohibitions against the creation of derivative works such as West Side Story (based on Romeo and Juliet) or Forbidden Planet (based on The Tempest). Because these works can be re-told in any form from a faithful reproduction to a radically different story told within the context of the original (such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), our culture can continue to adapt their meaning in order to be relevant.
Copyright therefore, seeks to enrich the public domain by making the creation and publication of works profitable for a time in exchange for their eventual release. Discussion of the public domain, of course, can't exist without a discussion of fair use, and for that I direct you to an excellent fair use piece on the Google Public Policy Blog.
How long should copyright last?There are many ways to measure the period of time over which copyrighted works should be profitable. Certainly if a work were protected for less time than it takes, on average, to recoup its publication costs, then the system has failed. On the other end of the spectrum, a work which is no longer relevant which enters the public domain might well provide little or no benefit to the culture. Moreover, works which last a very long time and are still relevant typically retain their relevance by achieving the status of cultural icon. It can certainly be argued that this process is not wholly the author's or publisher's doing. The culture itself takes part in the establishment of its own icons, and when mere popularity gives way to the entrance of a work into the cultural language, it is difficult to justify continuing to assign the benefits to an individual rather than to the culture as a whole.
The real problem here, however, is that there is no set period of time that meets these criteria. A work might return its publication investment over the course of 10 years or it might return that investment over the course of the opening weekend of a popular film. Relevance is even harder to measure. A song that was relevant to a particular generation might maintain that relevance for 20 to 40 years while a painting that was relevant to a particular change in aesthetic style might conceivably maintain that relevance indefinitely. So it becomes very difficult to set a fixed duration for copyright protection.
It is clear that for many works a period between 10 and 30 years is ideal. Even as the pace of cultural change has increased, this time period has remained fixed because it represents the period of time over which major changes in a generations tastes and interests shift.
There is also the problem of "orphaned" works. These are works that remain under copyright protection, but are not being published or performed actively, effectively removing them from the cultural landscape. In this case, copyright protection benefits no one, and therefore a means should be found to remove such protections. Typically suggestions for solving this problem have focused on the renewal of copyright after a certain period of time, which serves to neatly resolve the issue, but might create a new sort of problem where publishers simple mass-renew all works for which they hold rights without any intention of further publication.
Multiple durationsInstead of assigning a single number to copyright term, this proposal seeks to benefit authors and publishers in multiple classes. These classes are:
- Orphaned works
- Actively published works
- Culturally significant works
As with the current system, copyright for the first 10 years would be automatic. That is, there is no need to file to protect copyright of a work until it is 10 years old.
Culturally significant works would be protected by the same system. However, each year a panel of experts, appointees and other interested parties would meet to determine which (if any) expiring works have both become culturally significant and have benefited their authors and publishers far beyond the norm. For example, a movie which has earned many times its original costs and which is still widely popular and involved in the culture might qualify. These culturally significant works are not renewed (either at the 10 or 20 year renewal), as it is assumed that they have both benefited their creators substantially and have rapidly ingrained themselves upon the cultural landscape. What's more, most such works will have already spurred the creation of follow-on works which are still protected.
As an example of this final category, let us use the 1977 film, Star Wars. In this extraordinary case, the studio responsible for publishing the film, within three weeks of the film's release saw their stock price doubled to a record high. It would be difficult to argue, 10 years later in 1987 with two sequels one of which made $538 million worldwide, that 20th Century Fox had not reaped the rewards of this film. It is also unarguably the case that Star Wars had entered into the cultural language. The film spawned a generation of explosive growth in the science fiction film industry, a revival in science fiction writing and no end of fan films, parody and homage, not just in film but in song, art and other media which continues to this day. Removing copyright protection from this film would have left George Lucas an multi-millionaire in charge of one of the most successful special effects studios in the world among other roles, and 20th Century Fox would have had a decade to re-invest the rich proceeds that the film netted them.
The goal is not to remove protections from works which are hitting the zenith of their potential returns, but rather to slide the scale back to account for those rare works which so rapidly integrate themselves into our culture that they have already achieved that zenith long before comparable works would have.
It is also important to note that different media have different metrics for success. Comparisons between media should never be made in absolute terms (where obviously, film dominates the equation).
The short versionThis plan therefore calls for:
- 10 year copyright terms
- Ability to renew copyright term twice (total of 30 years)
- No requirement for registration for the first 10 years
- Registration required for subsequent renewals
- Renewal blocked for the most successful and culturally significant works
ExamplesThe year is currently 2008. Let's review what this might mean to our existing world of film this year (assuming no transition period, which would almost certainly exist, for sake of example). Films are used as an example, here, because they are a media format that most people are exposed to and which have relatively widely published revenue statistics from which to make a first-pass judgement of success.
The first impact would be to films released in 1998. Here is a list of some films that would likely be renewed and continue to be covered by copyright, sorted by worldwide box-office returns:
- Saving Private Ryan
- There's Something About Mary
- A Bug's Life
- Deep Impact
1988 on the other hand, saw the release of Rain Man, a film whose cultural impact was quite significant and whose financial success far outstripped its mere $25 million budget. It might well not be renewed, but again, this is a difficult call and all renewals might well be approved.
Films from 1978 would expire into the public domain this year. These would include:
- Jaws 2
- Animal House
- The Deer Hunter
Transition planThe easiest way to transition from the existing period of copyright to the new would be to consider all currently copyrighted works to have been newly released in the year the legislation changes are passed. This provides them with an additional 10 years of absolute protection and as much as 30 years in most cases. This quickly eliminates concerns that any existing business will be impacted immediately and even for the most iconic items of the last century which would be expired upon the first application for renewal, 10 years is more than sufficient time to make appropriate plans.
There are problems with this simple plan, however. First of all, it would lead to a massive inflow of renewal applications 10 years after the laws were changed. That would place a large burden on the U.S. Patent and Trademark offices. Further, it would be very difficult to identify the most culturally significant and successful works from most of a century all at once.
To ease the transition, works could be staggered by decade. Those works produced in the late 1920s would be up for renewal in 10 years after the laws were changed. The next year, works from the 1930s would be up for renewal. The next year, works from the 1940s and so on. In this way, works produced in the 1990s would actually have as much as 37 years of protection, and the surge of old works requiring renewal would increase each year for 8 years (or 9 depending on when such laws were enacted) and then the cycle would begin anew with the 20th anniversary of the law and the second renewal. This would also give the public domain interests (libraries, archives and universities for the most part) time to absorb these newly released works.
Side effectsThis plan has many side effects, some of which are foreseeable and some of which most likely are not. Of those that can be foreseen, the widest impact comes from the industry practices in print, film and other media which surround current copyright law. Royalties, for example, are a common compensation tool used to supplement payments to authors, artists and performers. These royalties have been calibrated over time based on expected returns and any change to the copyright system could impact those returns (though it should not be assumed that revenue related to a work whose copyright has expired would drop to zero). These side effects certainly argue for the careful transition from one implementation of copyright law to another, however, new royalties arrangements can easily be devised which accommodate the new system.
Another interesting side-effect would be the change in the relationship between print and film. Today, most works of fiction printed by major publishers are immediately "optioned" for film rights regardless of the likelihood that a film will actually be made. If copyright expired after 10 years on works which the publisher saw no value in renewing then this optioning process might become secondary to finding untapped wells of quality fiction in books which had not caught the public attention. In one sense this is an excellent benefit to the culture, as orphaned works would be revived and renewed. In another sense, authors and publishers might see fewer optioning agreements for works which were ultimately not likely to become films. Since it was never the purpose of copyright law to provide this sort of arbitrage over the potential value of works transitioning from one media to another, it does not seem as if contracting that market would alter the value of copyright law, but it is one more item to consider.
More generally, these changes would result in an explosion in the depth and breadth of the works available to the public domain. What impact that will have is difficult to predict, but certainly that is more in line with the original intent of the Constitution than the current system that the U.S. has.
International ramificationsInternationally, the U.S. has signed treaties agreeing to extremely long-lived copyright terms. These treaties would have to be re-negotiated in order to move forward with a new copyright system. However, the effort required to accomplish this would be returned. Today copyright is routinely violated in some countries. However, if there were a rich well of relatively modern public domain works to draw on there would be radically less incentive to infringe on the remaining, shorter-term copyrights. This is a simple result of the change in cost-benefit. If you can duplicate decade-old DVDs of the most popular movies of the age without any risk, most of the businesses that infringe today would do so. Only a handful would continue to infringe on existing copyrights and those would be easier to police and contain as examples.
ConclusionsSomething must be done about copyright law. Today, the U.S. is working hard to extend copyright law as far as the U.S. Supreme Court will allow, and this will ultimately negate the benefit that the Constitution foresaw in granting copyright protection in the first place. Ultimately, these laws become a subsidy to the entertainment industry rather than a mutually beneficial relationship between producer and consumer of artistic work of all media.
While this plan would be likely to produce useful results, any number of alternatives have been proposed. The key elements of sustainable and enforceable copyright law are:
- Expiration of copyright within a short number of decades
- Consideration of "orphaned" works
- Public access to expired works