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December 2008

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Wow, what a surprise this game was.

I played Fallout 2 way back when, and enjoyed it a great deal. I was shocked that anybody would be making a sequel at this point - the old games were turn based, isometric RPGs. Classics. And it's really hard for me to imagine continuing that tradition now.

Fallout 3 succeeds, in part, by not being bound by this tradition. Bethesda realized that that old style gameplay had no place in today's market. Even though war never changes, video games do.

So they ripped out the turn based combat, got rid of the 3rd person view. This is a first person, action RPG. It's almost at times like playing a straight up shooter. This is, as they say, Obvlivion with guns.

And man, is it awesome.

It's easy to romanticize the earlier games. They earned a lot of praise, and rightfully so - when they were released, they were the cream of the crop. Such a compelling and bizarre retro-apocalyptic setting, such freedom to explore the world and interact with it as you will. The player could do and be whatever he wanted. There was nothing else quite like it.

Some of this is lost in Fallout 3. As the 3d environment now becomes more complex, as every line is now voiced by talented actors, the player's options dwindle a bit. But my god - the second you exit Vault 101 and survey the crushed world from a "scenic overlook," you know it really was all worth it.

SPECIAL is still around, underneath it all. While the game plays like a shooter, the dice are still rolling behind the scenes. Skills and perks matter, especially in VATS, which pauses the action of the "action RPG" and turns it into pseudo turn-based combat, if only in brief spurts. VATS is genius. The best of both worlds.

The glue that holds this all together, the common thread, is that this world really feels like Fallout. Everything feels right - the crazy perks, the retro sci-fi artifacts, the bizarre humor... everything is in place. If they'd screwed this up, it wouldn't have worked. But they didn't. They took the world the first games gave us that distant 3rd person view of, and they placed us right in the middle of it.

The game takes itself a bit more seriously, but it has to. There are elements here that wouldn't have worked otherwise. Wandering through a disintegrating building, listening to audio recordings of a man's slow degeneration into a mindless ghoul. Descending into a failed Vault, uncovering the disastrous experiments that lead all of the inhabitants to their doom. Stumbling across a supermarket filled with raiders, with the corpses of hapless wastelanders strung up on chains.

At times, in the darkest caverns of the Fallout 3 world, you truly feel terror. At times, it feels like you're playing The Road.

The game works on almost all levels. It has its quirks, but it's impossible to care too much about them - there are way more hits than misses. If you play it straight through, sticking to the main plot, you can probably burn through the game in 8-10 hours. But don't do that - take your time, and revel in the horrific glory of the wasteland. You won't be disappointed.

I just bought my first new automobile, a 2009 Volkswagen GTI. This is also the first time I've financed any purchase outside of my mortgage (excepting tricks like using store financing solely to get discounts).

It's hard to claim that I really needed a new car, since the Integra still functions as basic transportation and since Annie's '06 Civic is a great vehicle for everyday use. Still, every month that passes makes the Integra more frustrating to operate - it's 16 years old, and both the exterior and interior are starting to show that age.

Mechanically, though, she's great. Clocking over 185,000 miles, but running like a dream. That's Honda for you.

Anyway, I said to myself, "Self, you can have a nice thing every now and then, even if you don't strictly need it. You've never owned a new car in your life, and right now you can grab the dealers by the balls and walk away with a good price."

This, mind, is after months of obsessive research. I've wanted to replace the Integra for a while, and I've been scouring the internets for a worthy successor. I honestly didn't expect that at the end I would be *buying* such a thing - I really just wanted to know what I should be lusting after.

The GTI was in a close fight with the Civic Si (which is a close relative of the now defunct Integra). Both vehicles had almost everything that lead me to the Integra to begin with: good gas mileage, fun to drive, nice (but conservative) appearance, compact size (but still able to seat 4 comfortably, 5 in a pinch).

Ultimately, 2 factors tipped the scales in the GTI's favor: first, it's not another Civic (and as much as I do love the Civic, I don't think we need two of the things), and second, I fell in love with the hatchback (which allows the GTI to cram more cargo and passenger volume into a vehicle that's actually shorter than the Civic).

My dealership experience was not at all what I expected. I had done such extensive research on the process that I was ready for a major undertaking: I armed myself with all the information I could find, and I used Edmunds to get an idea of what to expect. I was ready for a fight.

On a whim, though, I decided to try the Edmund's service to automatically get quotes from area dealerships via email. Nothing to lose from that, and it would at least give me a good baseline to start from.

Much to my surprise, one guy came in well under the rest (with a price that was well under both Edmund's FMV as well as invoice), and when I shopped the price around the other dealers (with one exception) basically told me they couldn't touch it. I went out to the lot (dragged the guy in on Saturday, when he doesn't even normally work) and tried to drive him down a bit further, but he wasn't budging at all on the price of the car beyond throwing in a couple of extras at cost. I honestly didn't expect anything different, though, given the way other dealers responded to that first quote.

In retrospect, I think I could have done marginally better with the single dealership that was able to match the price, but I don't think it would have been *much* better - a few hundred at most - and the dealer I went with has a better reputation and is more convenient to me. That's worth a few hundred bucks, I think.

Anyway, I'll put up a picture when I get around to it. So far I've got only minimal buyer's remorse, but we'll see how I feel after I start making those hefty payments...

I swear, my luck with hard drives is really rotten. I just lost the OS drive in my MythTV box, and that marks the second time in as many years (and the 3rd time total).

It shouldn't be surprising. I've got 8 drives in always-on systems, and I was sure to lose another eventually. It's just too bad it wasn't one from the RAIDz array.

Anyway, the last time I lost the primary (and at the time only) drive in my MythTV system, I responded by rebuilding the thing with RAID 1. It chugged along happily for a while with no issue.

At some point, I picked up a small form factor bare bones kit to replace the massive Dell tower that I had been using. In moving to the smaller kit, I was forced to sacrifice the second drive.

Of course, now, I pay the price.

Luckily, the price isn't that high. When I set up my RAIDz array a while back, I offloaded all of the actual media files onto that and exported them via NFS. A drive failure in the mythtv system itself doesn't cause me to lose any of those.

At the same time, I also configured bacula to back up everything else "important" to the raidz pool as well, and I rsync those backups to an external drive. This works remarkably well, and until now I've had no cause to use it.

I noticed the drive failure last night, when I tried to upload a newly ripped CD. I didn't have time to do anything then - I just hit the gentoo website and started downloading the latest live CD (since god knows where I put my old one) and told bacula to restore everything to the local filesystem.

This morning, I got up a bit early and swapped out the failed drive with the one that used to be its mirror. I briefly considered trying to recover a bootable system from the outdated mirror, but quickly thought better of it; the data was really stale and would have to be replaced anyway. Might as well just nuke it from orbit and do a bare metal restore.

Once I had the live CD booted, it was pretty straightforward to recover from there. The bacula restore job had finished the night before, so all I had to do was partition the replacement drive and rsync the backup over from the Solaris box.

Unfortunately, I had failed to backup the boot partition. Not a big problem, but I had to go back in and recreate that, building a new initrd and creating a new grub.conf. I also failed to create /dev/console and /dev/null on the actual / partition, which caused boot to fail until I went back and did so. Lessons learned there.

I also lost my large "scratch" partition. I tend to keep a collection of useless junk around, and in this case I had already decided that these things were acceptable losses in a recovery scenario. In a way, it's actually nice to have this cleaned out.

The total time from cracking the case to having the system fully running with the prior night's backup was approximately 3 hours. I know I'm probably not going to see 3 9's on my DVR, but that's not a bad turnaround time from my perspective.