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January 2014

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I've been hearing many Americans whine about gas prices lately. Many people here have chosen to live lifestyles that are based on cheap transportation - they've decided to live a long way from where they work in order to have more space to themselves. They drive massive cars because they've added only a minimal additional economic burden.

To some degree, I can sympathize with these people. They made choices based on the information they had at the time, and now that the situation has changed they're understandably frustrated. I don't exactly feel sorry for them, but I can understand why they're frustrated.

What I can *not* understand is the response I've heard repeated numerous times in the news, which basically boils down to:

"Why did the government let this happen? The government needs to do something about gas prices!"

When I hear this kind of crap, I lose any sympathy I might have for these people.

A little bit of background here: we supposedly live in a free society. With this free society comes the power - and responsibility - of personal choice. And when I hear people begging the government to come bail them out of the ramifications of their own decisions, I hear people who have decided that a free society is, you know, really not for them. I hear people who honestly don't *deserve* to live in a free society.

Guess what - the Government doesn't exist to bail you out when you screw up. It doesn't exist to provide you a nice padded room in which you can't make mistakes.

At its core, the government of a free society has two functions: to protect the core rights of the citizenry, and to protect the nation as a whole from external threats. You can certainly make reasonable arguments about what "core rights" includes, but I have a LOT of trouble figuring out how "cheap fuel" fits in there.

I don't care how things have been in the past - the market changes. If you can't adapt to change, it's not the government's job to bail you out.

I view the whole sub-prime collapse the same way - what did these people really expect? Why would you buy a house you can't afford? Sure, maybe prices keep going up and you can sell for more than you paid, but that's a REALLY risky proposition. No matter what anybody tells you, there's NO sure thing in economics. ANYTHING can happen. And if you take on the risk - either in driving a gas guzzler or in buying a house you can't afford - when things change, YOU need to react instead of crawling to uncle Sam.

And, for god's sake, KEEP SOME PERSPECTIVE. Gas prices here are what, half as high as they are in Europe? We're only JUST NOW getting to the point where people even have to *think* about fuel costs. This is a wonderful development - when fuel costs are high enough to impact purchasing decisions, the market will be forced to respond with more efficient options. If anything, the true cost of fuel has been hidden from us for far too long, and innovation has been stifled due to this.

Learn to adapt. Take nothing for granted. And for God's sake, DO NOT WAIT FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS.

I originally posted this as a comment on a massively article regarding "old school" raiding in MMOs. A key quote was the semi-famous Furor EQ quitting post, where he complains about the Plane of Time in the PoP expansion.

I find Furor's quote there fairly amusing, as he was basically complaining about raid caps and the lengthy keying processes in PoP. EQ certainly did screw this up by requiring traditional zerg-raids to unlock the small raid content, but the smaller raids were the way of the future, and it was this that Furor really feared. EQ was actually on the verge of getting this right, yet here's Furor clamoring for more of the same, since his guild was configured for the zerg raids that were a massive barrier to entry for the competition.

What's really funny to me is that EQ's hard-learned lessons with raid caps had to be re-learned in WoW, which originally started off with 40-man raids and is only now going to fully support 10-man raids. So much legacy baggage from EQ seeped into WoW, and I can only guess that this is due to people like Tigole and other hardcore EQ raiders having a disproportionate amount of sway in the WoW development process.

I feel like WoW is turning a corner with Wrath, though, and the old guard is finally either losing ground or coming around to a more player-friendly view on their own. WoW is such a success in its own right that they have no reason to be looking backwards - unlike with Molten Core, where they apparently just asked "how did they handle this in EQ," they're beginning to realize that they have the freedom to finally make things right without leaning so heavily on the past.

It may have taken a while, but I think Blizzard has finally managed to learn an important lesson on their own - that in order to make a truly great game that appeals to the largest number of players, you really have to ignore the vocal hardcore minority. People who complain about 10-mans being easy mode, or welfare epics, or whatever... they just don't matter, and if you listen to them you make the game less fun for a majority of players. Hopefully future games won't have to suffer through the same process.

We went to Chicago a few weeks ago. I liked it.

There's an inescapable charm to "real" cities, one that's magnified for me by the fact that I've lived in North Carolina my entire life. When I travel, I almost always find myself wishing I lived somewhere else. Chicago had this effect on me, as did Boston and Manhattan.

One thing I found very interesting about the city was the mix of old and new structures dating back to the late 1800s. The fire, of course, had left Chicago a blank slate of sorts - the truly old structures were mostly destroyed. But the timing proved fairly beneficial to the future of the city - as the old structures were wiped out, new higher density structures moved in to take their place. The internets will in fact tell you that Chicago was home to the world's first skyscraper. Many early skyscrapers were constructed there, many of which still stand today.

When fantasizing about moving, there's an immediate practical concern that can bring things to a swift halt - that is, the cost of housing. In this respect I found Chicago pleasantly surprising - it seemed like mortals could actually live there, whereas Manhattan felt like a playground for tourists and the wealthy. $300k for a 2 bedroom condo in downtown Chicago may not sound like a bargain for somebody used to North Carolina prices, but it's actually workable in theory. Compared to a comparable place in Manhattan, which could run you 7 figures easily, it's downright cheap.

Transit is another concern. Chicago of course has the elevated trains, which seemed pretty functional, but we also got around via car a good bit of the time. I'm a major proponent of mass transit and alternate transportation, so the rail system is a major attraction for me. Such things can only really prosper in areas of high density, which means we'll probably never see such a system in the Raleigh/Durham area.

Anyway, it's something to think about, especially as temperatures creep up to near 100 here in NC in early June. Global warming is only going to make Chicago more attractive and NC less so over time, so now might be a good time to beat the rush...

A bit of background - I picked up WoW again shortly after the Burning Crusade expansion was released. I took it really easy this time, and it took months to get my Paladin to 70. After that I played alts and such, but now I'm pretty much done with it again.

In the meantime, I've found a game to look forward to - Age of Conan. I really hadn't thought much about this game until a couple of weeks ago, when I was lucky enough to score a slot in the PvP beta weekend. In this preview, we could do the PvE intro quest up to level 6, and then were whisked away to level 20 and PvP land.

First off - I had very few graphical problems or performance issues. It ran really well on my rig (nothing fancy, Intel quad + 9600GT + 3GB), although I had a couple of crashes over the weekend.

The graphics really are massively better than WoW's. I enjoy the art style in WoW as much as the next guy, but that game definitely feels dated compared to AoC. AoC may not look as good as some single player games, but it looks a LOT better than the other MMOs I've played.

Character appearance and customization options are great. Tons of sliders if you're into heavy duty appearance customization, and a nifty little body type matrix if you just want to get it done. The female models are hawt, and the males look vicious. The gear on the level 20s looked decidedly cool, and the materials looked believable.

I like the AoC universe - it's dark and gritty and brutal. The intro quest tells you right off that you're not in happy fun land. No killing rats and crap to get your first level here.

The combat system is good, for melee classes at least. Moving around intelligently matters hugely in PvP. I'm worried that spellcasting is going to be rather lame in comparison, but I like the direction they've gone with healing (at least at level 20, healing was all about AoE spells).

All that said, I have some doubts. 80 levels seems like an awful lot, and I have no sense for how long the higher levels will take. Loading screens definitely suck, and you get them all the time - death in the PvP minigames sends you through a loading screen before you even resurrect. There are also a ton of unknowns that only the closed beta folks know the answers to, and they're still not able to tell us about them. I also wonder what role PvE gear is going to play in PvP at the higher levels - we know there will be 24 man PvE raids, which I find horribly disappointing.

Despite that, I'm glad I pre-ordered. I'm still really looking forward to this game. We could only do the intro quest up to level 5, and then we were sent to level 20 and PvP land.

After countless frustrations with wordpress, I've decided to create my own weblog. All the old content should have been migrated, all the old URLs should still work. Maybe.

For those who don't know, the "blog" is the rails equivalent of "hello world" - it's the first application in pretty much any rails tutorial. However, I've tried to be far more "feature complete" than in any of the tutorials, and I'm fairly happy with the results so far.

That said, this is a work in progress, and a learning exercise. Please let me know what you think.

The N95-3 is Nokia's flagship device, and it has everything you'd expect in such a thing.

The Camera

The N95 includes a 5 megapixel, autofocus, Carl Zeiss lens camera. We've all come to expect grainy, noisy cell phone pictures (hey, like the ones I've included on this review, which were taken with iSight), so the potential for something better is a big draw in the N95.

On this front, it largely lives up to my expectations - it's surely better than any other phone camera I've seen, though it's not really a match for current cameras. The autofocus is a bit sluggish, but works, and daytime images turn out beautifully. The colors are a bit "off" (when compared to my Sony DSC-N1), due to some extra image processing, but not by a whole lot. The flash is, sadly, LED - it's not as bad as I'd expected in terms of light output, but night pictures taken with the N95's flash still exhibit an unnatural blueish tint.

I ended up using the N95 almost exclusively when taking photos in New York, and you can see some examples in my gallery for that trip. With the exception of the first page (taken with my Nokia 6120 Classic) and the ones from the top of the Empire State Building (which begin with filenames "DSC" and were taken with my Sony DSC-N1), I did everything with the N95. I was so happy with the quality that I left the DSC-N1 in the hotel room for most of the trip.

Even more impressive, at least to me, was the quality of video shot with the N95. I couldn't discern any quality difference between that and the DSC-N1 in day-mode filming. It's a huge win in this department.

The only real disappointment I have with the camera is its horribly slow image processing speeds. The time between taking one picture and being able to take the next is frustrating, reaching 5 seconds or more. The same is true with the "warm up" time to actually take a picture once starting the camera app (which is done, by the way, by pressing and holding the camera key). Euro N95 owners, who have recently received a major firmware update, have reported that this is much improved with the new software. I'm hoping that at some point the US version will see some firmware love too.


The N95 was one of the first Nokia devices to ship with an integrated GPS, though it seems all of their recent high end devices are picking this up as well. I'll start by saying that Nokia's included mapping software is, essentially, crap - when I first used it I was immediately frustrated with the unresponsive UI and the useless search functions. Furthermore, the interesting features - voice navigation and route planning - are all unavailable unless you pay for a subscription service. Uh... no, I don't think so. Fail, Nokia.

For a while after I got the device, I barely even used the GPS, instead relying on maemo mapper and my N800. Luckily, google released an S60 native google maps a couple of months ago, which could finally utilize the GPS receiver. Google Maps is better than Nokia Maps in almost every way, except that it does not support automatic rerouting or voice directions (features that Nokia Maps only gives you if you pay extra anyway). I now use the GPS extensively, and enjoy having it.

In terms of sensitivity, I really don't have any complaints. I believe my GPSlim 240 gets a lock slightly faster, but the N95 does well enough. One quibble I have is that the N95 doesn't have the necessary bluetooth profile so that you can use it as an external GPS with a computer or the N800 - luckily this has been remedied with some third party software.


The interwebs are strong with the N95-3, there's no doubt. The "killer app" for this device is its support of both current North American HSDPA frequencies with its dual-mode 850 / 1900 WCDMA receiver. Due (at least in part) to some longstanding patent disputes, Nokia has yet to release a true HSDPA "world phone" - instead, they've got devices that support Euro 3G, and another device that supports American 3G. You read that right - the N95-3 is the only Nokia device to support US HSDPA.

So, is HSDPA all that it's cracked up to be? In a word, yes. Case in point: while in NYC, we had no free wifi available in our hotel. I did, however, have full bars and a little "3G" icon - so it was tethering time.

I downloaded several TV episodes from my MythTV box, easily capping out the upload on my cable modem. At the same time, I was browsing the internets - watching some youtubes and the like. I ran some speed tests - I was getting over 900 kbit/s, and 250 ms latency via HSDPA. Totally, completely awesome - finally, mobile broadband in a Nokia device. Tethering this thing to the N800 is incredible - it's almost as fast as wifi. And no, your iPhone can't do any of that. I checked my usage after that first day on AT&T's billing site:

data usage

Speaking of wifi, the N95 has it. It works. The UI is pretty crappy, but it gets the job done - honestly, though, if I have 3G I usually don't even bother unless I need to access network resources on a LAN. I don't notice much of a difference.

The S60 "Web" browser is pretty good. It's based on KHTML, and it calls itself safari - it has decent javascript support, and the navigation on it is about as good as you can imagine when relying on the d-pad. It's good enough for casual use, but the N800 and iPhone browsers kill it - if I know I'm going to be doing some serious interwebbing, I still bring the N800 along with me.

The S60 email client works fine - I've started using it with gmail instead of the special gmail client. It does waste a huge amount of space when displaying messages, though, forcing you to move through multiple pages where you might have only one using gmail's mobile web UI.


The N95-3, as an N series device, is advertised as a "multimedia computer" by Nokia. That may seem a little ambitious, but apart from a few annoying weaknesses it's not all that far from the truth.

The built-in music player does a fine job. It does some frustrating things - like, autoscanning your entire memory card, and automatically adding every music file it can play to your library - but it does a good job of putting music into your ears via your preferred method. It does, unfortunately, seem to have a low "hiss" when playing music, but it's not audible most of the time.

The player shows cover art, if it can - whether it can do so or not seems to depend on how the art is presented to it. From what I can tell, it can only display art that's imbedded in ID3 tags. No big deal really. It also supports non-DRM'd AAC and WMA files.

While the multimedia keys might be mostly useless, the volume rocker on the side of the phone is not. A dedicated, physical volume key is a nice thing to have.

The largest weakness in the music player is that it has no daap or UPNP support whatsoever. If you want to stream music from a local media server, you're just SOL - you have to copy the files onto internal memory.

Video fares a bit worse. Included is only realplayer, which can play back only a few specific formats. I tried in vain to master mencoder or ffmpeg's command line and generate files that work properly, but I had no luck - googling around, I discovered it was a solved problem, and found a little shell script that manages to spit out things the N95 likes. Once you give realplayer a file it can handle, it works fine, though it's not in any way impressive.

Photos work pretty well, but with the same (now even more annoying) frustrating behavior of showing every image on the entire device. Why can't I limit this to a single directory?

Other Nokia apps open up more multimedia possibilities. "Podcast," which is available from "Download!" works very well for downloading radio shows directly to the device over wifi or UMTS. "Internet Radio," also available via "Download!", allows you to stream shoutcast stations over UMTS or GSM as well as wifi.

Third party apps provide even more multimedia functions - EmTube, for example, allows you to play pretty much anything on youtube on the N95, and it works great with HSDPA. The N95 can browse the youtube mobile site and play those files out of the box, but EmTube opens up much more content that's not on the mobile site yet.

The N95 supports A2DP, and it works pretty well. I seem to have fewer issues than I did with the 6120C.

The 3.5 mm output jack is quite nice. You can use standard 3.5mm headphones with it, or you can use Nokia's proprietary remote control headphone cord, or you can even use Nokia's video+audio cable to send both video and audio to a device that support composite inputs (read, most modern TVs). TV out works really well, despite defaulting to PAL for some obscure reason (this N95 is sold exclusively in the North American market, so this is puzzling).

The built-in stereo speakers are decent, probably a bit better than my W600i. The laws of physics are obviously against them here, and anything this size will sound rather tinny, but these are probably the best speakers I've heard in a device this small. They work great for listening to NPR, but if you're planning to bust out some bass lines from Kanye West or Gangstalicious you're asking for a disappointing experience.

Everything Else

The N95 is still a phone, even with all of the other features. Its phone functionality is fine - much more easy to use than Windows Mobile device, at least in my opinion. Voice dialing is there, custom ringtones are there, etc. Where the phone wins is in its integrated SIP support, which allows you to use VOIP via wifi - or even HSDPA, if you're totally crazy.

Battery life is decent, but largely depends on how much you're doing. If I use the device constantly, I can drop the battery to nothing in a few hours. A spare battery or a device to recharge the thing in the field could be really useful investments. Hint - HSDPA is the true killer here, especially if you have a weak signal. Best to switch to GSM if you're trying to push the limits of your charge. A2DP also takes a huge toll on battery life. If I just use the thing like a phone and switch off 3G, it should last up to 3 days on a charge. But, your milage may vary.

The N95 has a special "diamond menu" that's launched by the button to the right of the d-pad. Unlike the other keys in the nav cluster, this is not found on most S60 devices, and it's peculiar to the N95 (and possibly some other newer N-Series devices - I need to verify that). This menu is worthless, since it loads slowly and does nothing the normal active standby screen can't do, and I find myself hitting the diamond menu by accident pretty frequently. I would much rather be able to map this key to something manually (hey, how about the music player!) that would be more useful.


The N95 is a slider, pretty obviously, with one little twist - the "dual slide" action that reveals the media keys visible in the first image above. The S60 nav cluster is on the face of the device under the display, and the upward slide reveals a standard keypad. On the top of the device there's a little recessed power button, as with most Nokia phones, and on the right side there's the camera button, the gallery button, and a volume/photo zoom rocker.

The device has stereo speakers, located on the side panels near the top of the phone. It's also got the standard orifices you'd expect - a tiny Nokia power receptacle and mini-USB port on the bottom, and a 3.5mm stereo / TV out jack on the left of the device. The rear shows you the exposed camera, a change from the original Euro N95 which had a manual shutter that protected the surface.

The display is huge and awesome. It's only 320x240 resolution, but it's vivid and bright even in daylight. It does pick up "face grease" when you talk on it.

The "innovation" with the N95's slider mechanism is that row of media keys that's exposed when the face is slid down. The media keys seem neat at first - but I've almost never had a use for them. S60 media player apps are designed to function with phones that do not have the dedicated media keys using the standard D-Pad - which means those dedicated keys are essentially redundant and harder to get to.

I have mixed feelings about this design. Nokia seems incapable of making a slider that feels "solid" - when closed, my slider has a few mm of play, and it wiggles up and down with a minimal amount of pressure. When open in either position it locks into place, but the overall impression of the mechanism is that it just feels way too cheap for such a ridiculously costly device. My N800 feels solid as a rock, but the N95 feels cheap and chintzy in comparison - I'm deadly worried that dropping the thing will result in some serious damage.

The lack of the camera lens cover is another thing that makes me obsess a bit over the device's safety. The autofocus lens is recessed behind a plastic window, but that window is exposed to the world - the anti-glare coating on it WILL be scratched, no matter how obsessive you are. I have yet to see this impact image quality, but it's a bit disturbing nonetheless.

All in all, the form factor is a bit underwhelming. Of course, that's probably not why you're buying this phone...

So a few months ago I posted about the Nokia N800 - a wonderful little gizmo that brought the internets with me wherever I went. Not the crappy cell phone internets, no - the real, Firefox internets. The ones people throw money into, with names that seem like they were devised by preteens - you know, your "digg"s or "flickr"s or "twitters".

Anyway, the N800 is my full browsing experience. It won't go away any time soon - however, it got a new best friend when I was in New York: the Nokia N95(-3).

This is Nokia's flagship superphone for the North American market. The list of features is staggering - integrated GPS, 5 megapixel camera, 3.5G (HSDPA) on AT&T's weird frequencies, wifi, integrated SIP support, TV and audio out... well, it's huge.

And, I have to say, it's the best phone I've ever owned. If you need things the iPhone doesn't do (and I did - specifically I required A2DP, bluetooth tethering, and HSDPA) and don't care about QWERTY (I didn't) this is the best device on the market, hands down.

It's been a busy few months, and I've obviously not been posting. I'm going to try to catch up over the holidays.

I'm getting ready to go to NYC and I'm writing this via my n800 on the plane, using EDGE.