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November 2004

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What happens when it's actually fun inside the Skinner Box?

EQ was, well, not very fun. You did repetitive tasks to get more power, over and over. The rewards became more infrequent, the tasks more monotonous, until you were left just scratching your head asking why you were bothering - but you'd keep playing, because you just had to get that next level.

After leaving EQ, I simply hadn't encountered another game that had that kind of hold on me. Very few games had even held my attention beyond a day or two, and I had begun to suspect I was done with gaming entirely.

Now along comes WoW, the game that I always wanted EQ to be, and I find myself simply loving it - combat is fun and fast, quests are interesting and varied, and talents and skills are actually powerful against the monsters you're fighting.

Of course, as the levels increase, I do start to feel the Skinner Box closing in around me - quests involve killing more monsters, levels take longer to complete, and you have to rest longer after tough battles. Yet, even though I know what's happening, I just don't care. At level 17 now, I am still gaining levels without even noticing it, and I'm just flat out enjoying almost everything about the game.

I find myself being pulled into WoW the way I was originally pulled into EQ, only this time around the stupid annoyances that always drove me away from EQ are absent. I'm wondering if it's even possible for me to play this game reasonably, without sitting my ass down in front of the computer and pounding through 8-hour marathon sessions as I've been doing so far.

Hopefully the honeymoon is almost over and I'll start playing less, but I'm already starting to feel the first symptoms of MMORPG addiction. And here I was, thinking I was done with games entirely...

So, I threw FreeBSD on my IBM Thinkpad T20 the other day for shits and giggles. I've messed with FreeBSD in the past, and have some degree of familiarity with it, so this time I wasn't going in blind.

Installation was fast this time. I did a minimal install and was up and running with a basic system in about 30 minutes.

So far as I could tell, all of my hardware was working as it should out of the box. Network card "just works", and I got connected without having to do a damn thing. I installed X and had Fluxbox, Thunderbird, and Firefox working in short order (all pulled from the FreeBSD package repository).

FreeBSD is the system that Gentoo wants to be. Have I mentioned that before? If you're using Gentoo, you should probably be using Free or OpenBSD instead (unlease, of course, you're a GPL zealot...)

Let me say this - FreeBSD is flipping fast on this machine. I had previously been running Debian Unstable (my favorite Linux distribution), and I now feel a noticable speed boost in X since I switched. I mean, it's ungodly snappy from a system this old - of course, I *am* running Fluxbox, so it's supposed to be snappy, but I was running BlackBox with Debian so I don't think I can blame the window manager. FreeBSD is just faster.

I'm still a little scared of ports. With Debian, when I get a package, I know people have used the exact same package on tons of other systems. It's been tested, and it will work (well, not always in Unstable...). Ports I just have less faith in, but I'm not sure my lack of faith is really justified. Time will tell.

FreeBSD is so... minimal. It has an incredible manual, far better than anything I've seen for any Linux flavor. But when it comes to crazy system config tools... there just aren't many. You have your pkg_ utilities to deal with packages, and your cvsup and portupgrade utilities to deal with ports... but other than that, it's almost entirely standard Unix tools. I rather like that.

FreeBSD feels very "clean" to me, and it's rather growing on me. I may do more with it in the future.

... or, stuck in the middle with you.

When I was a kid, I always looked to government as a way to solve all sorts of problems. It seemed to me that some people had too much, others had not enough, and somebody really needed to do something to even the scales a little. Shouldn't the people who are doing a little better pitch in to help that poor fellow who lost his job pay for some health care, after all? But if those people with more don't want to help out, shouldn't the government do something?

As I've gotten older, I've begun to really question this form of idealism. It's become pretty obvious what role the Federal government has in this country - it exists only to extend its own powers and to entrench control among the elite.

The Federal government is gradually acquiring powers that are expressly forbidden by the Constitution, and it is at the same time usurping the last ounces of control the individual states hold onto. The Federal government no longer exists to provide for the common defense or ensure domestic tranquility - it's a behemoth that cannot be satiated, and it will continue acquiring control until there is nothing left to acquire.

Now, there are those who believe you can wield that sort of power for the greater good, but it seems as though corruption can only breed corruption, and that the system isy beyond saving. Can we force our government to actually serve the people, protecting their rights and acting on their behalf to ensure everybody has some basic needs met? Can we trust the government to help people who are too ignorant to even pay attention to what's going on in their own neighborhoods, much less the country as a whole? Federal government as benevolent dictator and upholder of justice truly seems to be a pipe dream, as it's become clear that instead of protecting ourselves from our own stupidity, government feeds off of that ignorance to further extend its control and consolidate power.

So then you have to start considering the other end of the spectrum, ideas such as Anarchy, or its more reasonable cousin Libertarianism, wherein the powers of the government are reigned in and people can have the freedoms that our founding fathers thought were self-evident. But how can anyone hope to use the system to limit its own power, when at every juncture in the past it has done the opposite? And the Libertarian form of idealism may throw off the yoke of government oppression, but in its stead we could have equally or potentially more frightening rulership by international conglomerates and capitalist czars who, unchecked by regulation, could consolidate power more effectively than the government could ever hope to by monopolizing production and distribution of goods and services.

So, I don't know what to think. I'm a little worried that I'm becoming a realist, and that I should just accept that we're all fucked.

Oh well, not quite yet. Ralph Nader 2008!

Well, I was all set to pick up the Mac version of Doom 3 as soon it hit the shelves, but it looks as if G4-based systems are left out in the cold. I've heard various arguments as to why this is the case, but really... my PowerBook has a 1.5 GHz RISC processor with a 128 MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700. It plays WoW just fine. This machine should be capable of at least running a game like Doom3...

Ah well, that's a lost sale from me, at least until we see some G5 'books hopefully sometime next year.

After a long period of semi-retirement from gaming, broken only by the occasional FPS bloodbath, I was lured to the World of Warcraft open beta with hopes that I might find a new, refreshing, and original entry to the large scale persistant world RPG market.

Unfortunately, WoW is not such a game.

That's not to say that WoW is bad, mind you - far from it, it's actually quite good - but this is not a groundbreaking or revolutionary title.

I tend to view WoW as a distillation of good gameplay elements from many other games, both massive and not so much. It won't change the way you think about gameplay - but it may change your expectations for quality.

The game WoW feels closest to, in my estimation, is Asheron's Call 2 (at least, before it became Mulliganized). Both games employ a design philosophy I like to refer to as quest-based progression, something I had long begged for in EverQuest and never received. AC2 was the first MMORPG I played that allowed you to simply forget about progression entirely - gaining levels was a side effect of exploration and quest advancement.

In short, with quest-based progression, you seldom (if ever) will be doing something inane simply to "level up" or acquire items.

While AC2 was the first to incorporate this, WoW is undisputedly the best at it. WoW quests have great variety, send you all over the world, and slowly reveal stories that you're actually interested in. Quests reward you with major chunks of experience and items you'll probably be using, and it's not uncommon at all to not even notice that you level in the process.

I have yet to feel like I'm doing "work" to get a "reward" in this game. Now granted, I only levelled up to the mid teens, but it was a constant quest-fest with no downtime and no tedium.

WoW's artwork is excellent, and the game is completely playable on lower-spec systems. The stylized art requires much lower polygon counts to be effective when compared to some other notable new releases, and if you for some reason have something against the style I'm sure you'll learn to live with it. It really does feel like you were plopped down into the world of Warcraft, and the game is stylistically consistant with the RTS series.

As for races and classes... well, pretty standard generic fantasy fare, with a few twists thrown in. Each class and race has at least a couple of important characteristics that help distinguish it from all the others, and that helps a lot. No character is ineffectual, either - it's not like EQ where you need a perfect group of the exact right classes to accomplish things.

All in all, the WoW beta was a great experience, and the retail game is just around the corner... we'll see how good my will power is this time around.

Google has not been forthcoming on this, so I have decided to throw together a list of all of the deal sites I'm pulling RSS feeds from.

Slickdeals.net - a good, general purpose deal site. Not always the fastest or most complete, but this site is selective and will provide only the day's best deals. Biased towards gadgets and gizmos, but will also include things such as magazines and housewares if the deal is slick enough.

Techbargains.com - a little less discriminating than Slickdeals, with even more of a focus on electronics, computers, and software.

Fatwallet.com - the big daddy of deal sites. Almost all deals end up here at some point or another. The RSS feed goes directly to the forums headers, so you'll frequently see dupes and bogus data - but if you want to have the best shot at finding really hot deals as soon as they hit, this is a great place to look. FW posts include all sorts of merchandise.

Gotapex.com - UNOFFICIAL - gotapex is a good tech-oriented dealsite which also covers other items when the price is right. Essentially a less discriminating version of slickdeals. Note that the official RSS feed from gotapex does not seem to work with thunderbird, and the feed listed here is scraped from the page - use at your own risk!

Those are the four sites that I have a good bit of experience using. I've also recently added some more feeds just to get more data, but I don't have enough experience with them to judge yet:

Dealnews.com, crazycooldealz.com, ableshoppers.com, couponblog.com, dealfreak.com, dealmein.net, devsdeals.com, keepcash.com, kickassdeals.com, dealsontheweb.com, deals.lockergnome.com, bargaindiscovery.com, judysguide.com, grupare.com, morestuff4less.com.

I like to consider myself a devil customer. I'm the kind of guy who never makes impulse buys, always does product research, and will never fail to find the cheapest price on an item (well, maybe excepting food and other low-margin-variation items).

Recent technological advances have greatly enhanced my evil shopping ways. When I was looking for some cheap Titlest DCIs on eBay, I employed the excellent jbidwatcher to do my dirty work for me. It scoured, sorted, and found exactly what I was looking for within minutes of it hitting the auction block. The result? A full set of professional-grade irons for under $150.

But that's nothing compared to what I'm wielding now.

There are great sites which exist solely for the purpose of collecting and distributing information about the hottest deals to be had. I've been using slickdeals.net regularly for a year or so, as I simply didn't have time to sort through some of the larger sites (this is how I scored my Dell P4 2.4 GHz system + Palm Zire for $250, as well as my Onkyo HTIB, Planar 17" display, and many other goodies). Slickdeals is a "best of the best" site, which distills good deals from all over and gives you a nice summary of the best ones.

But recently, thanks to Mozilla Thunderbird, I've added another weapon to my arsenal.

In Thunderbird, you can pull down headlines from RSS-enabled sites (for example, fatwallet.com) and then interact with the articles exactly as you would with messages within mail folders. That alone is great - it's much better to have all of the headlines at your disposal in a single location, as opposed to having to load each and every site, scrolling through a bunch of pages of worthless information.

Where the true power lies, though, is in Thunderbird's "saved search" feature. You can use this to create a constantly updated live folder, which will display all items that match your specified criteria - if you're familiar with iTunes's "Smart Playlist" feature, this works in much the same way.

So, for example, I can pull RSS feeds from *every* deal site on the net that has them, and then Thunderbird will look for the terms I'm interested in and display all matches in a single location.

This functionality has greatly increased my proficiency at locating good deals. I have folders for RAM, clothes, usb drives, DVD burners, the whole 9 yards... and this enables me to easily find the stuff I'm interested and ignore the junk that I don't care about. Of course, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

I've kicked it up a notch. Suck it, retail!

Brian Thornhill, one of my 2 uncles on my father's side, passed away earlier tonight due to complications from liver cancer.

Brian was an incredibly caring individual, and one of the nicest people I've ever met. He's lived in California since around the time I was born, and as a result I never knew Brian as well as I wish I had.

We all knew to expect this. Liver cancer is almost invariably fatal, and it progresses very quickly. But no matter how ready you think you are, there is no way to prepare for the death of a loved one.

Brian, you will be missed.

It's out, and you can find it at a mirror near you.

Good browser. Faster than even Safari when dealing with a bunch of tabs. Great extensions. But...



OS X has no included way (that I can discern) to create a network bridge. And I seem to be the only one who wants to do this (I want to give qemu's emulated interface a direct connection to the LAN via a bridged tap device).

This is really, really pissing me off. I just hope that Darwin has the functionality and that it's only the userland tools that are missing - I may try compiling some of them from FreeBSD and see what happens.

I'm a little miffed by this. Even Windows XP includes network bridging these days... come on guys.