Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No Such Thing as Feminism

Well, what can I say? you post on feminism and you get feedback. So one more post to try to explain my stance on feminism.

First of all, there is no feminism, because the term itself has been through too much. Originally it meant that women should have the right to vote. It faded for a while and then came back in the 60s and meant, at least from what I could tell, that women shouldn't have to wear bras or follow the same fashion as their mothers did. So, basically, hippies. Then in the 80s it became this thing about equal pay, and how women should become businessmen just like real Men. Why that was desirable to anyone, I'll never know. Then in the 90s it was about how women should be "empowered" like in the 80s but still retain their feminine identities, which doesn't seem possible to me, and that contradiction is still with us today.

Feminism is by now a muddled post-modern mess that nobody can define. The things I hear a lot about lately are that women should have equal pay, they should be better represented in different "non-traditional" fields, and they should never ever be sexualized. Well, unless they want to be sexualized...but not too much, because if they want to be sexy then they are probably suffering from patriarchal brainwashing. In addition to all of that, women should have kids and a family, and we should be ok with pushing those families off onto day care services and nannies.

What we really have in modern feminism is every possible role a woman could ever want to play, all thrown into one big pot and blended up and labeled "feminism".

In fact, feminism isn't actually a thing at all. When you say "feminism", you're basically saying "women exist, and they do a bunch of different things". The shame of it is that we women start thinking that we're supposed to be everything that "feminism" says we can be. And "feminism", or people who claim to be "feminist",  doesn't shy away from telling us that we are supposed to be every possible thing a woman can be, all at once. In fact if you're a woman and you say something like "I want a career, not a family" then feminists will yell at you for suppressing your female nature. If you say you want to be sexy, then they yell at you for objectifying your body. If you take advantage of your sexuality, you're a criminal - but if an established "approved" industry pays you to be sexy then you're ok. And God forbid you say that you don't want a career and that you just want to stay home and raise your children while your husband works.

In short, with feminism, we all lose. Women and men are confused, frustrated, and oppressed. Feminism was supposed to "liberate" women, but all it does is judge us.

Give me "person-ism", where people can be whoever and whatever they want. Leave me, and the gender I happened to be born as, out of your political and business agenda.

SteamBox At Last

You could knock me over with a feather, because the Steambox is finally finally confirmed.

A Steam-powered console has been a rumor for years but now it's coming true. And better yet, it's almost certainly going to be based on Linux. Well, it's certainly not going to be based on Windows, and Valve of course has made headlines lately by porting Steam to Linux, so I'm sure the Steambox will be Penguin-powered.

The bottom line here is that I am not going to have to put up with Sony EVER again. I'd mention Microsoft except that I never was an XBox user anyway.

Yes, this is a good day in gaming history.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do Not Vote

Have you ever noticed how voting is religiously regarded here in the States? You can insult anything and anyone you want, you can do a standup comedy routine lambasting world religions, cultures, war, death, sex, relationships, your own parents, but don't you dare suggest that someone does not vote.

I am not voting this November. Why? Because at this point, the burden is on the politicians and my "elders" to convince me that voting is worth a f*&k. When will people get it through their heads that nothing changes? You can vote for one of your two parties, or you can even be a "rebel" and vote for a third party, and nothing will change. It's the same political rhetoric year in and year out.

I understand we have to have authority and governance, but the Federal government is not working. Maybe it did at one time (I doubt it) but now there are too many people of too great a diversity for them all to be seved by one big governing body. Local governments need to pick up the slack, and to start making decisions on a state-by-state basis. Maybe then I'd start voting.

The problem with voting is that when you vote, you're signing an agreement. It's similar to playing a video game; you buy the thing, and you break the seal, you put the disc in and go to play it and the first thing you see is this thirty page license agreement that says "oh by the way, now that you've bought the game and opened the packaging, in order to actually play it you have to sign this legal document about what you will and will not do with it, and giving us all of the rights to rule over your ability to play the game". Well at that point you're screwed; what are you going to do, cancel out, repackage it, and return it to the store? Maybe it's technically possible although probably not without a fight. What are you going to say, "oh it's ok, i didn't agree to the licensing terms".  When you vote, you're saying you'd rather have one man in this supposedly important office, but you're also validating the very system that you are convinced is not working. You're saying you want change, but you're agreeing that change should not happen because, well, you're just going to keep voting anyway.

Not me. I'm not voting, and in so doing, I'm voting for real change. Bring it on.


Just got that new Samsung Chromebook. Oh my gawd is it cool. For $250 I have a really nice laptop, great operating system, and a cool new little piece of the future! I don't know if "The Cloud" is really the future (I hope it isn't) but this is an interesting stab in a new direction.

You should go look at one if you haven't seen it and at the price point, if you are in need of a new laptop, I can't see what on earth could keep you from buying one!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Borderlands 2. Oh yes.

I've said before that Borderlands is my favorite game ever. I've also expressed disappointment in the original Borderlands DLC. I'm talking serious disappointment. And it was that disappointment that made me a little nervous to finally try Borderlands 2. I was really afraid that they would have screwed Borderlands up, that the whole game would be a big, badly done DLC pack.

Thank God I was wrong!

Borderlands 2 is Borderlands! They didn't mess it up, they extended and expanded everything that you loved from the original and made it into a solid sequel. Now I've barely even started it so I don't have too much critique or insight, but I will say that Claptrap is thankfully very funny and very true to himself, the other characters are pretty much dead on for Borderlands characters, and the atmosphere is still there. I'm so relieved.

Enough talk. Back to the Borderlands!

Embarrassment of Riches

OK, so let's talk about anti Lara Croftism and the state of modern "feminism". Last post, I clarified my feelings about "feminism", so I  want to relate  that back to my original Tomb Raider post.

For me, that cliche anti Lara Croft sentiment, and actually a lot of "feminist" protests, is largely an embarrassment of riches. We women can complain that we are objectified and that we are placed on a pedestal because - we are! Does that mean we are also not objectified and placed on a pedestal sometimes? Yes it does.

As a female, I'm not objectified and don't suffer barrages of sexual comments because I don't permit it. I don't play into that game, I don't doll myself up in purty dresses and cutesy outfits and put on a lot of make-up, at least no more than most of my guy friends. Sure I'll dress up for a special occasion and put on make-up, but usually it's just me and a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Am I a tomboy? Not really, at least I've never felt like I was. But I'm also not a drone who follows feminine fashion mindlessly, and then get upset that people seem to think I'm just eye candy.

At the same time, I don't think someone who decides to be very girly "deserves" to be treated badly. Don't think I'm saying that. And no, I'm absolutely not saying that anyone deserves harassment, bullying, violence, or discrimination. But once again, that's not just a female issue, technically. Guys who are a little bit "too girly" get that, too, sadly. Is it right? No. Is it a feminist issue? Not really. It's a human issue, and we need to teach our kids not to do that shit.

My point is that women can complain about how horrible it is to be so pretty because that's what women are being. When individuals stop posing naked for their music album covers, stop doing fashion shows, and stop modeling so they're gawked at by millions, then that complaint will go away. But you know what? that's not going to stop because women like being pretty, they like getting attention, they like being coddled and taken care of.  And what's more, so do men. Look at all the pretty boys and models and actors - men vying for your attention based on their rugged looks and too-cool-for-school attitudes.

In other words, we're all human, and it's built in to our chemistry that we like sex. That's not going away, and the politics of how to get noticed and how you feel loved isn't going away. If we want it to change, we can't tell everyone to stop being sexual, we just have to teach our children that looks aren't important, that being nice and honest is what really matters, and so on. And hey, even then, you're still going to get sexualized images and stories, because that's just what some people really like.

But you're not going to hear me complaining about Lara Croft because she has breasts or because her breasts are too big and that males get to look at them during game play. Because if you don't like breasts, then you need to take that up with Nature, not game designers and game players.

Feminism vs Modernism

In my tomb raider post, I ranted a little about the modern state of Feminism. A few friends told me that my point didn't really get through, and I agree. I made little sense. So I'd like to clarify my feelings on the subject.

To reiterate, I don't consider myself a feminist, but I do think most modern young people are basically feminist. The fact that we don't all think women should stay in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant basically makes us "feminists" by the strictest and original definition of the term.

The reason I don't consider myself a feminist is because I don't believe it's a valid word any more. It certainly doesn't describe one specific movement or train of thought. To one person, "feminism" means that you believe women should be treated exactly the same as men, in a professional setting, and that women have the same civil rights as men, in a governmental setting. With that brand of feminism, I'd agree. But really, I think most people do, these days, so I don't really think of that as feminism so much as modernism.

To other people, feminism means that women should be given special treatment because they're women, and they should be "equally represented". If there's a group of men, you're obligated to remove one man and put a woman in his place. If you have two job candidates in an all-male business, you're obligated to hire the woman for equal representation. I understand this view, and I do think it has its place just to buffer against the anti-modern holdouts who are going to fight like hell to make sure women are excluded from their club. But mostly, I disagree with this because it's treating a symptom rather than the cause. Why would a business or club or whatever have only men? well, because women aren't applying in the first place. Why aren't they? because their parents are entering them into beauty pageants and sending them to proms and telling them that the most important thing in the world is finding a good man to take care of her.

And finally, there's the extreme feminism which is a lot more anti-man than anything, where everything in the current world, which sucks by the way, stays the same except that women are in charge and men are what women used to be 50 years ago. That to me is just stupid because it's not even treating the symptom, much less the disease.

So no, I'm not a feminist, and I think that modern "feminism" is often a horrible mish-mash of all of the above. Most people (I mean, men and women alike) don't understand that there are different strains of feminism, so even when a girl starts questioning why she should get entered into beauty pageants and why she'd not encouraged to pursue computers and technical skills, all she gets back is this bug mutated lump of "feminism". It usually ends up as a series of combo moves. Press button A to Hate On Men. Press button B to Rant About Pay Scale Inequality. Press button C to Shop For Shoes. I mean, wtf.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why Closed Source Software is EVIL!!!

OK, when I was a kid, there was a software application called Appleworks that you could buy for your Mac. It was an office application, so it did word processing and spreadsheets. It saved to its own proprietary format of .cwk

At some point along the way, Apple stopped making Appleworks. Most people saw that coming and converted all their old .cwk documents to something more generic like .doc or even MORE generic (and more open) like .txt or whatever, before getting rid of their old computers and buying a new one on which Appleworks wouldn't run even if only to open their old .cwk documents.

 So, what would happen if you were a kid and didn't know any better, and didn't think to change your documents from .cwk to something else? or if you were that kid's parents and weren't really very tech savvy, so you didn't know to convert the documents before Apple killed off the program that created them?

Well, it turns out that you're basically screwed.

Because the .cwk format was closed source, so no application knows how to open them.

You'd think a company would at least have the common decency to say "well, at one point in our history, we created the .cwk format, so our new products, at least, will still support opening .cwk documents" but no, that's not how many companies work.

You might also wish (though you'd be foolish to expect it) that a company might go so far as to say "since we created the .cwk format, we should open up at least the information required to READ .cwk files, so other applications could open those files. ESPECIALLY since we're not even supporting .cwk ourselves any more..."

But again, that's not how many companies work.

In other words, a lot of files out there are now digital paper weights that can not be opened by any modern computer. Did you write the great American novel as a .cwk file? too bad, it's gone. Are important family or financial records in .cwk format? too bad, those are gone too. Are files of pure sentimental value in .cwk files? too bad; your memories are worthless.

Closed source software is truly evil. It doesn't respect you, or your data, or your memories, or art, or self-expression. Oh, maybe it does right now...but just wait. It will screw you over in the end.

That's a depressing way to end this post, so, let's hear about...

The Alternatives

 Open source software wants you to be able to get to your data FOREVER. This means that its file formats are OPEN so anyone who wants to open them CAN. That doesn't mean Apple or Microsoft will bother letting you do it, but other open source applications will.

The data formats are also based on well-known standards, so even if (and that's a big if, so far; Free Software has been around since about 1983 or so, and there's yet to be  a format that's been left behind) - but if a format does go out of fashion and everyone stops supporting it (again, a really unlikely scenario), then someone could still write a program JUST to convert that data to something else. It's basic file parsing; it's done all the time when migrating from one database to another or from one email application to another. Not a big deal - as long as you can look inside the data. And with open source formats, you always can.

So, really, future-proof your digital life. Go open source.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tomb Raider

I just picked up the Tomb Raider trilogy for PS3 because it's been years since i tried Tomb Raider. I always liked it, and I love the movies. So call me a latent Tomb Raider fan.

With a new Tomb Raider game coming out next year, I'm actually really excited to get back into the series, and also a little annoyed at the way controversy follows Lara Croft around.

Originally, I think the controversy was basically that her breasts were too big. Why that's a problem I do not know. Pop culture is very extreme about anatomy, they both love and hate the fact that we're all human with different kinds of bodies. So I'm sorry, Feminists and Religious-Right activists, that women have breasts and that men like them, but not really...actually I'm not sorry at all. It's a fact of life and I see nothing wrong with it.

And now the problem seems to be that Lara Croft is getting beat up in a game. Well, I have news for the critics. In video games, people get beat up. And if the character you're playing in the game is a woman, then she's going to get beat up. It's not "violence against women", it's a video game.

I'm lashing out a little over Tomb Raider, but modern feminism basically disgusts me. Feminism probably meant something once, but at this point I don't even think Feminists know what they want. They want women to be able to be women, but also to achieve the same stupid shit men do in the world. Personally if I'm going to join up with a feminist revolution, it's not going to be to overthrow men and then do exactly what they are doing only with women in power. I don't know if it's because of the testosterone or not, but the world as it is is pretty f***ed up, so emulating when the big strong men do is just useless. That's not feminism, that's wanting to pretend like you're a man except when inconvenient.

OK, back to Tomb Raider.

So Tomb Raider should be the modern feminist's dream game. Strong female lead who is exactly the same as any male lead in any other game, hugely popular, attractive, and kicks ass. And we have people complaining about this?

Tomb Raider is a great series, with a great lead character who has been consistently great in each game release, both movies, and it looks like she'll be better than ever in the new game. So quit it with the controversy. Lara Croft is a modern woman and I'd sooner follow her to a female utopian society than any of the real life feminists making noise out there in the real world.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Steam on LInux and Native GIMP on OS X!

All my wildest dreams are coming true. First, I find out that Steam is coming to Linux. This is flat out exciting for me, because most of my gaming has always been on a console but I would love to start gaming on my computer! It would be beyond cool for me to be able to play an A-List title on a custom-built Linux gaming PC. No, beyond "beyond cool".

OK, so enough of that. The other cool thing is that GIMP, once a second-class citizen on OS X (because X11 itself is obviously a second class citizen at Apple, since they don't lift a finger to integrate it with the rest of your desktop), now has a native build for Mac!

OK, to be honest the GIMP thing isn't that significant to me, personally. Although now when a Mac friend is complaining about Photoshop, I can honestly suggest GIMP. Will they listen to me? no of course not, they'll just go pirate Photoshop. But that's not my problem.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mac Lion is Lyin'

A few of my friends have Macs and a few have upgraded to Lion. It's a hot mess, unfortunately, and that's pretty surprising since Mountain Lion just came out. You'd think that Lion would have all its wrinkles out by now.

There are a lot of problems with Lyin' Lion, most of which I really don't know enough about to comment on intelligently. For all I know, my friends are just doing some things wrong.

But there are some things that are just plain broken. And by broken I mean "stupid". By design.

A couple of the problems don't seem like they should be problems. Apple, for instance, decided to hide the Library folder. Since most of us don't even know what the Library is for, that doesn't seem like a bad idea, until you are installing software that also can't see the hidden Library and suddenly doesn't work on your computer any more. It worked before they installed Lion. Now it doesn't. That might not technically be an Apple problem, but Lion's been out for a year now and the problem still exists, so it's someone's problem. And the thing that broke it was Apple's updated operating system. So, Apple gets the heat for it. That's just how it works, I don't care what OS you run.

There have been a lot of issues with non-Apple software, as a whole, actually. Big name software, like Avid (which a lot of people are switching to now that Final Cut Pro turned into iMovie Pro) and Photoshop. They just don't work like they're supposed to. And people know how they're supposed to work because the same versions of that software work perfectly well on The Other OS That Shall Not Be Named.

It's Apple's right, to a certain point, to change stuff whenever they feel like it. But if they're going to do that, then it's their obligation to their users and developers, to tell people what is different and how everything needs to be changed in order to adapt. It's just not professional and not at all cool to go changing a bunch of policies without letting anyone know about it. Which is what they did. They've changed file permissions and metadata and tags and they're just letting people find out about it as the bugs arise.

That's a bad idea, and it's passive-aggressive behavior against everything that supports Apple, whether it's the users, the third-party software developers, independent developers, or entire industries.

The sad thing is that a lot of users will just keep purchasing Apple products and never complain about it to Apple, which for a big company riding the wave of monetary success is equal to permission to keep screwing people over.

I'm just glad I don't run it.

Amalur DLC

The Curse of Dead Kel and The Teeth of Naros are the two DLC's that have been released for Amalur so far and I was honestly a little hesitant to buy them. I love Amalur, I just don't always love DLC. The Bordlerlands DLC never really appealed to me (quite a feat, given that I've played through Borderlands about three or four times), and even some of the Dragons Age DLC wasn't very good.

Not so with Amalur DLC! These are amazing add-ons that really feel like a whole other chapter in the main story, not like tacked-on adventures that are just more of the same.

OK, actually it is more of the same, in both cases. There isn't anything amazingly revolutionary in the DLC itself, but come on, that's why they call it DLC. It's not a whole new Amalur game, but it is some serious new storyline, lots of fresh gameplay, and well worth every cent.

Dead Kel

OK, so I actually didn't think I'd like Dead Kel because it sounded mostly like the game developers were sitting around in a room thinking "what do people like? oh, I know! Zombies. And pirates! Hey, let's make a DLC that combines them both and stick it into the world of Amalur!"

You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. Dead Kel is seamlessly interwoven into the Amalur world. It introduces another race, the Dverga, although you never actually meet the Dverga. You hear about them in legend, though, and that gives the world that sense of history that Amalur is so full of.

The storytelling style is still really bad. That's one thing that Amalur is clunky with. Sometimes you approach a character and ask them questions and they're telling you about how they need to rescue this person, or find this object in order to solve their problem. The thing is, they haven't even told you what their problem is yet, so you keep asking questions and the third or fourth option down is very obviously the introductory line they really should have started with.

You also finally (finally) get a love interest, which seems like a good idea since Amalur up until this point has been completely devoid of any romance. But the way it's introduced is just plain silly, and it doesn't develop. Nice try though.

The voice acting is still supremely annoying, as well. I don't know where they found the actors for Amalur, but I can't stand any of them. I wish there was an option to turn off all voices; I'll settle for subtitles when the acting is bad, but Grant Hopekirk's music is so amazing that I wouldn't want to miss that.

But the linear story isn't why I play Amalur. I play it for the rich history and lore within the world, and the combat, and the destinies.

Dead Kel introduces some new enemies, provides the player with a new homebase that they can build up, introduces a "pet" system (no, you don't get a wolf that follows you around and helps you, but you can have an NPC raise a pet for you and the pet gives you permanent boosts to health and mana and combat skills). It's set on an island, so there's a new sea-faring flavor that got hinted at in Rathir but is developed more strongly here, and has some really fun and amazing combat opportunities.

I didn't keep track of how many hours I spent on the Dead Kel storyline, but I'd estimate about 2 or 3 weeks of casual play.

Teeth of Naros

I figured the Teeth of Naros would be a big troll someplace that I had to go find and kill. Turns out, it's not a character but a geographic location. The story surprises you a little, so I'm not going to provide any spoilers. Besides, I'm still playing through this one.

I'll just say that this is a fun DLC with, again, lots of new little touches and a few new enemies, and even a new form of Magic. Definitely worth playing.

As for which one you should try? well, both. These are impeccable DLC's. They're true to the original spirit of the game, they're just as fun, and they introduce enough new ideas to keep you surprised and inspired.  As usual, the art and music is amazingly beautiful and the history and lore is rich.

A few problems overall would be that it seems to be capping my level. I'm at lvl 40 with 62 XP points toward lvl 41, but no matter what I do I can't progress. The positive side to this is that I still get fate cards when I accomplish a significant triumph, but it's pretty annoying that no matter who or what I kill or what I accomplish, I'm just not progressing in my stats.

The other problem, really, are the only things I've already mentioned and that seem to be problems with Amalur as a whole: clunky storytelling with dialog choices that seem to have an intended order but are presented to you in a random order, and really really annoying voice acting. Sometimes comically bad.

Anyway, highly recommended overall. GET THESE DLC's@!!!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Rage Today

Strangest thing happened today around 11 AM. I was playing RAGE and I started to feel a little sick to the stomach. I thought that I must have not had enough to eat or I made my coffee too strong this morning, so I made some food and ate an early lunch. Still didn't feel better, so I literally had to lay down and sleep it off.

The rest of the day, I had to do some real work, but I came back to RAGE tonight.  I'd only been playing an hour and realized I was feeling sick again.

You guessed it, RAGE is giving me motion sickness. This is really surprising because I play lots of video games, FPS included, and I never get motion sickness. In fact I don' tget motion sickness ever, in real life or in movies or games. And I'd been playing RAGE before I got distracted by Amalur, and I hadn't ever gotten sick then.

So what has caused my sudden motion sickness? I really don't know. I did get a new monitor right around the time I stopped playing RAGE and started Amalur, so maybe the refresh rate of my screen combined with the frame rate of the game are affecting me.

I might try it on a different screen, if I can find one, because I enjoy the game. I have to admit, I am also suspicious that my brain is trying to force me back to Amalur or to an nth playthrough of Borderlands....

Raging again

Now that Amalur is out of my system, I'm back to Rage.

Ok, I lied. Amalur is not out of my system but three back-to-back playthroughs feels a little silly.

Anyway, it's good to be back in Rage. I thrive on Borderlands and Fallout3, so Rage is refreshing. The exception to that is the voice acting of Rage. I'd forgotten how bad it was. John Goodman's voice acting is good but it's over so soon. The mutants and bandit groups all sound like they were voiced by 18 year old boys who were pretty into the job but were afraid of shouting or emoting too much because they were recording all the work alone in their bedrooms at midnight.

That aside, the gameplay is solid. I'm still getting used to the build-system and finding enough ammo and bandages, but I'm getting there. The driving bits are still pretty difficult for me. I'm good in the races but not so much in the wasteland. I feel the need to practice that more, but the controls continue to confuse me.

More on Rage as I play through it.

winning amalur, Twice

since my last post, i have caught up on real life obligations, and also beat kingdoms of amalur! twice!

my first playthrough took a month or two, and i did nearly every side quest presented to was so much fun, i love the world of amalur. i played as a rogue/sorceror, using mostly daggers in stealth and combat, plus a healthy dose of a staff and lots and lots of potions.

i'm talking, a lot of potions. hardened shell, phasewalk, lightning storm, magebane, essence of fate, damage boost, damage deflection.

i retired a very powerful rogue mage, with two houses, lots of money, trophies, and credit for the mel senshir victory (yeah, i hated that disgraced general and gave her no love after her death!)

the game is such a pleasure to play, the minute i won the first playthrough, i started over with a new character. this time i played as an alfar wth the might/finesse destinies. for the record, i'd only done an immediate re-play with borderlands, previously, so that should put this into perspective.

i thought i'd seen everything and yet during my second playthrough" i discovered a whole new quest in the house of ballads! between a few new quests and the fact that i was playing as a warrior, it literally felt like a completely new game.

This time i didn't do many side quests aside from the house of ballads, so it only took me four or five days to finish.

The only "negative" feedback I have about Amalur is the storyline. The story is pretty standard, which is fine, but they try to stick on the Fate and Fate Weaver plot that makes no sense. I understand that it's my fate to defeat the supreme evil of Amalur, but it doesn't feel any different to me than any other game. It's nice that I can re-align my skill points (which they call my Fate) and specialize in different weapons, but do I really want to do that after I've invested so much gameplay into learning a set of skills already? Also, I don't feel anything about being able to defy Fate. Maybe if I had some special ability to move back or forward in time and alter Fate and really change the course of the story, that would make it hit home a little better.

I also felt like Amalur was the least interactive game, for conversations, that I've played in a long time. I know it's no Bioware game; it's not Dragons Age by any means. But I was painfully aware that nothing I would say would alter the course of the game, ironic for a game that is all about changing fate.

That aside, all in all, kingdom of amalur provided me with great art, a good fantasy tale (good, not great; they had a very well-structured world and back story), great play-style, a huge world with lots of side quests, and hours and hours and hours of fun.  Twice!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amalur crash :(

Well today I experienced my first Amalur crash, and it sucks. It wasn't a crash, actually.  It seems to be more like corrupt save data, but it's not just corrupt save data on one save, it's on the autosave too!

I had just reached the isle of Eammon on Friday. Didn't get a chance to play over the weekend, and then on Monday went to Continue my game and experienced an eternal loading screen.  I quit the game and restarted it, tried to manually load the saved game. Again, it just never loads.  So then I tried loading the auto saved version from about 10 minutes prior to the manually saved game.  Again, it wouldn't load!  Both are on the Isle of Eammon, so I'm not sure if that's significant or not.

Then I tried loading data from earlier in the week (about 4 days earlier) and it loads fine. 

Internet searches don't suggest this is a common problem, so I'm not sure what happened.  The good news is that I only have to resume from level 24 (I was at level 26), but it bugs me to lose progress like that. Not a huge deal. My philosophy is usually that re-playing will actually render better results because it usually does. Still annoying though!

The lesson is the same as usual: save often, and keep old saves around.  I didn't upgrade my harddrive to 320G for nothing!

Some people aren't clear on how much harddrive space saved games take up. Believe me, it's nothing.  We're talking about 2mb for my level 26 saves. By the time I'm at level 36 it will be maybe at 5mb.  So, save like you mean it, because you never know when you'll have to roll your game back a level.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

download sizes

I was watching a friend download Firefox 10 for her Mac and noticed that the download size was 78mb. I noticed because she (tried) to do the download while we were having breakfast, at a diner.  Not exactly the fastest internet around, so she ended up stopping the download any way.  And I had been the one to tell her to go ahead and download it, because I thought, 10 to 12mb at the most.

But 78mb for a web browser? WTF!?

So I went home and went to on my Linux computer, and downloaded the Linux version just to compare download sizes.  Of course I wouldn't really download it from Firefox's site normally, I'd just get it from the software manager on my computer, but I wanted to compare.

Well, on Linux, the download size is 16.2 mb. If I get it from my repository, it's even less (although Linux comes with Firefox already installed but that's just a detail).

16mb compared to 78mb is not something to sneeze at, so I compared more, and generally speaking this is very common. Sometimes the gap is huge and sometimes it's only about a quarter difference or half the difference, but there's usually a big difference in file size.

I asked some friends what was going on, and most of them didn't know, so then I asked some MOAR friends (programmer types) and they of course had the answer.  Don't quote me on this because I have no idea what it means and I could be explaining it wrong, but this is the basic gist.  Mac programs come packaged up in folders that are disguised as applican icons. That part I knew, because there's that old trick of "right-clicking" on an Application and choosing Show Contents, and you can see some of the things that go into making up an application on Mac.  But the reason they are bundled up in this way is because all applications need special code (called libraries) to run.  On Mac, all the libraries are bundled up INSIDE the application.

Now get this. If you have, say, Firefox, which needs a library called XUL, and then you download Thunderbird and it also needs XUL, then guess what?  Yes, you're downloading XUL twice.

That doesn't seem so bad until you start downloading XUL four times, and OPENCL 12 times, and FFTW 8 times and FFMPEG 15 times, ad infinitum.

In other words, imagine if Mac applications could tell in advance that you already have XUL and Gecko and all these other libraries, and so instead of making you download and store 78mb for Firefox, it only sent you 12mb.  And then Libre Office knew that you already had a bunch of Java stuff, so it only sent you 165mb instead of 225mb.  And Celtx, and VLC, and Filezilla, and Chromium, and so on!

Well, it doesn't really matter that much until you're running out of disk space, or you're on a slow internet connection and can't get what you need when you need it.

Interesting, right?

Friday, March 2, 2012

20 hours of Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning

My initial report on kingdoms of Amalur was positive, but after 20 hours of gameplay, I have to report that I was wrong on a few things about Amalur.  It's not a good game, it's possibly one of my favorite games ever!

Readers of my old blog will know that I don't say that lightly. There are games that I like, like Rage, Fallout 3, Bioshock, Res Evil, Dead Island. And then there are games that I love, which includes Borderlands, Dragons Age, Zelda, and Amalur. And those are the only "love" games that come to mind, so yes it takes a lot to get on my "love" list.

But Amalur has made it. Why? Well, first of all the world that it's set in. it's a perfect Fantasy land with all the traditional elements skillfully done and with just enough of a twist to make them unique, but not so drastically to set it completely apart from the genre. Dragons Age is perfect, so I'm not taking away from it when I use it as an example here, but in Dragons Age the ethnic divide between elves and humans is epic, so much so that it really sets it apart from traditional fantasy, for me. In Amalur, there's a little bit of that between humans and the Fae, but its less drastic, so the world still feels comfortingly traditional.  I'm not saying that's all I ever want (obviously, since Dragons Age is perfect) but sometimes it feels good to settle into a comfortable well worn fantasy world.

The fighting in Amalur is the next great thing about it. This is where I see Amalur as a beautiful mix of Dragons Age and Borderlands.  Amalur has all the serious RPG elements of Dragons Age or Neverwinter, but plays like a first person shooter the way Borderlands does. In RPG games, I rarely get a bloodlust and just want to go and hunt down bad guys to gratuitously kill them. It's always a very serious matter to defeat foes in RPGs for me. But in Borderlands and Amalur, the fights are a pleasure, and they make me want to kill again and again! The camera is perfect in Amalur and no matter what happens during a melee attack, I can always manage to manouver around like a pro. The targeting system is automated enough to make sure I'm not just firing blasts of fire off into a nearby plant instead of an enemy attacking me, but not too automated so all I'm doing is mashing buttons until I win. The dodging system is amazing, unlike anything I've ever used before.

The looting system is straight out of Zelda and Fallout 3. Get this, you smash boxes and barrels and urns, just like in Zelda, and you get small change and other little prizes, so if you want to nickel and dime yourself to wealth and riches, you can. The lock picking system is a mini game exactly like Fallout 3 except better. If you really try, you can feel when there's resistance, and back off so you don't break your pick, reposition, and try again. I'm getting damn good at it.

There's also a crafting system for weapons, gems (which upgrade armor and weapons, like ruins in Dragons Age), and potions. Dead Island and Rage both have something like this, and I avoid it in those games. Even in Amalur, I have no interest in the blacksmithing or the sagecrafting (like runecrafting in Dragons Age), but the potions I really enjoy, because no matter what you mix together you usually end up with some potion. The potion could boost your health or hurt you, you never know, but it's fun to play with, and sometimes you discover a recipe and then can mix together potions quickly from plants you find aroudn the world.

And the world is vast. I keep finding new places, climates, lairs, towns. There are so many side quests that in 20 hours of game play I've only bothered with two main quests points. It's just too much fun!

So, yes, Amalur is a game I love. We'll see how it ends...eventually.  But either way, it's a classic in my book.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dragons Age. The End :-(

I finished Dragons Age last week. And by finished Dragons Age, I mean I played every last DLC and Expansion pack ever released. I had bought the Ultimate Edition of Dragons Age: Origins so I had it all.

I have few critiques, it's just one of the best games out there, period. I will say that DLCs are hard to do, I've noticed that even in the Borderlands DLC. It always feels like they get a second-rate writer for them, or that they lose sight of who the characters are. In Dragons Age: Awakening (the expansion pack), Oghren suddenly becomes nothing but the most annoying, crude comic relief character possibly imaginable. And unfortunately for me, he happened to be the strongest warrior on my team so I kept having to bring him along with me. I can have a sailor's mouth just like anyone else, but I wish I'd written down just how many times Oghren mentions his "junk" or his "dangly bits" in his ingame dialogue. Actually it would have been easier to write down the lines that he didn't.  It got to the point where I was removing him from my party just so I wouldn't have to hear his unfunny crude jokes. My question is, when did that happen?  In Origins, he was a drunk and little crude and brash but not disgustingly so.  In Awakenings, they cross the line with that character and are downright offensive. And I'm not one to get offended, believe me. But I do get offended by stupidity, and that character design is stupid in Awakening.

By contrast, Leliana's Song is really good. Sure it's blatantly linear, but I think a lot of DLC is by nature.

The real achievement with Dragons Age is that it draws out the story all the way through to the last DLC. My character declined Morrigan's offer at the end of Origins but I felt like he and Morrigan had developed a relationship, so it pained me that Origins had ended in that way. I understood that life happens that way, sometimes, but it was hard to accept.

Until Witch Hunt. The story comes full circle in the final DLC, and as usual with Dragons Age, you can choose how it ends. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that I was so satisfied with my ending of that final DLC that I felt like the whole world had just shifted back into place for me. Every wrong was righted.

It's games like Dragons Age: Origins that confirm for me that video games are the new movies and books, especially if you relish them and spend time to get to know the world you're immersed in.  This is probably especially true for RPG and RPG-like games, because you can go into your inventory and read the scraps of papers and books that you discover. You get the whole experience, and the experience takes 145 hours. It's not like a movie where everything is compressed into two hours of generalities. It's a month or two of living in that imaginary world, experiencing the details of every possible aspect, discovering new things and new ideas and new characters.  And potentially even playing it again as a different character and having a new version of that experience.

If you have not played Dragons Age: Origins, go out and get the ultimate edition as soon as possible. It's well worth it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur

I picked up Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning last week, a day after release, and I am still in the OMFG stage. Beautiful game, detailed storyline, great gameplay, great combat, great world and level design. In short, I love it.

Now, I'd heard some shockingly lukewarm reviews about it. People said that it was a fine fantasy RPG but it didn't really do anything new or exciting. People said it was beautiful but not innovative in look or design. I don't know what version of Amalur these reviewers played, but I was hooked from the start. The world is beautiful, gorgeous. It's like a moving Hildebrandt painting, only better since I was never really a fan of Hildebrandt!

The opening of the game, set in the Well of Souls, is a little dark. That worried me a little because I hadn't bargained for a dark, shadowy world and I'm usually not a big fan of that experience. But the detail of the gnomes there, and the glowing, vibrant lights of the souls and magical flowers was too much to ignore, and after you get past that initial tutorial, you get out into the world and everything brightens up.

Every character has such detail, it's amazing. Even the wolves (which you sadly have to kill) look perfectly real, and yet like something out of a comic book or fantasy painting. There's so much texture to the game, it felt like my PS3 magically got an upgrade.

Now I just finished Dragons Age (and I do mean all of Dragons Age) and so my comparison is largely based off of my Dragons Age experience. And actually Dragons Age is a lot to live up to. It has one of the best combat systems I've ever used, it has some gorgeous world design, it has a great great story revealed through codex that your character can gather, and it easy to move through the environment.  By contrast, something like Neverwinter Nights, I've always found a little difficult to get the camera under control and I've felt like the combat system is practically not even a combat system.  (Great game though, no disrespect!)

Amalur lives up to Dragons Age in every aspect so far. The combat doesn't feel like RPG combat. You actually fight in realtime, which I'm not used to from both Fallout 3 and New Vegas and Dragons Age, but it's so well done that it took me no time to get used to it. I'm barely into the game but the story is already engrossing.

I'll probably post more about Amalur as i progress through it, and I'll obviously try to avoid any spoilers, but no question about it so far, this is a game to buy and enjoy.  It's big. 4GB of hard drive space required, but it's worth it! 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Being a Geek and Looking the Part

I used to be very sympathetic to people who don't understand computers and if someone asked me to help them with their computer I would only do it as a favor to them. Then during college I started doing it for money because I really needed the money and helping with computers was something I could do easily.

I got out of the habit of charging for computer help until recently. What happened was that I had to take my car to the shop for an oil change. While I sat waiting for them to do the oil change, I kept hearing my dad's voice in my head, reminding me that I could save $50 if I'd just learn to change the oil myself.

My dad's right, and I know that changing engine oil is basically as simple as unscrewing  a cap, draining the old, and pouring in the new. Not a big deal and yet it's actually worth $50 for me to not have to do it.

You probably see the connection.

Car mechanics don't hesitate to charge people $50 for basic, simple tasks, and a lot more for complex ones. They don't ever wave your money away and insist the job wasn't really very hard so they don't want to get paid. No, if you walk into the garage then you're paying money to get back out, no exceptions. And cars are, unfortunately, very important in life. Without your car, you can't get to work. You can't get back home. You can't do shit, in some cities.

So I don't think of myself as just a girl who happens to know computers any more. I'm a geek. I've spent a lot of time learning what I know. Mostly it's been fun because I happen to enjoy it, but there have been whole weeks of frustration too.  So if someone approaches me with a computer and asks me to fix it, then they're not getting away without buying me lunch or paying me or something. And I'm okay with that.

I don't have a garage like a car mechanic does, so I have found that to be identified as a geek, you have to pander a little to what the world thinks a geek looks like.  For me, that means I need to wear geeky glasses, which is easy because I need glasses anyway. But when I go to the optometrist, I am sure to choose geeky frames. Unfortunately, right now that also means that I am choosing hipster frames because hipsters are looting geek culture left and right but that's okay because I can offset it with the second trick of wearing geeky t-shirts. Yes, happily there are many online stores now that offer t-shirts that basically advertise that you are a geek. Video game shirts, snarky computer jokes, you name it. Even better is the fact that nearly every major open source project has a Cafe Press store so you can get really obscure and start wearing Drupal shirts and Wordpress shirts and Dropbox shirts. People know those names, and if you're weird enough to wear their shirts then you must be a geek!

A few girl friends have asked me why I defeminize myself that way, but I don't see this as a gender issue.  I don't look like a boy, I don't lose touch with the fact that I'm a girl or try to hide it. But whether you're a male or female, if you don't look like someone who knows computers then you're not going to get random requests for computer repair jobs.  Are the glasses distinctly male? I don't think so. Am I wearing them only to advertise my own geekness?  Yes, I am, because believe it or not I don't really identify that much with the glasses frames I wear. I will gladly choose frames just to suggest to people that I'm not a typical computer newbie.  The t-shirts are also not distinctly male, especially since most online stores have women's cuts and sizes. And I would actually wear the t-shirts no matter what. They represent the things I'm interested in.

Basically it's like this. If you walked into a car garage and the mechanic was wearing a business suit and sipping tea, you might think twice about having him work on your car. We all know what car mechanics are "supposed to look like".  Same for geeks.

So anyway, need computer work done?  Pay me, I'll do it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 5

If I haven't convinced you that getting out of the Mac bubble is a good idea by now, then maybe you're comfortable in that bubble. And that's okay because so was I.

Like I said, one of the things that turned me was the realization that Mac marketing was not telling me the truth about what I was buying. The other thing that convinced me was the cost and value of the alternatives.

The easiest way to do the price comparison is to go to the online shop and take a look at their most powerful Mac Pro or the second to most powerful, and build something that gets close enough to those tech specs. Finding D.I.Y. kits helps a lot.

Here's a quick example.

The Mac Pro specs, copypasta from their store site today:
  • Two 2.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” processors
  • 6GB (six 1GB) memory
  • 1TB hard 
  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5  
  • Free shipping!
  • $3,499.00
Sounds like a good machine! Keyboard and mouse included. No monitor or monitor adapter.

A D.I.Y. kit from
  • AMD FX-8120 3.10 GHz Eight Core AM3+ CPU
  • 22x DVD-R drive + HD DVD playback
  • 8GB memory
  • 120gb SSD drive
  • 2tb hard drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5  
  • Viewsonic 22" Screen 
  • Keyboard, mouse
  • $1147.00
In case you're not good with numbers and comparison shopping, let me break it down for you.
 Faster CPU (+ 700mhz)
  • Faster DVD (+ 4x) plus hd/dvd upscaling
  • More RAM (+2gb) with fewer memory slots used
  • 120gb SSD hard drive for OS (faster response time)
  • Twice the harddrive space (2tb > 1tb)
  • Same graphics card
  • 22" LED monitor approved by me - see my post on my new viewsonic ;-)
  • keyboard and mouse of your choice
  • $2352 in your pocket.
Put another way, Apple charges two grand for the privilege of owning a Mac. Is it worth it?

It's difficult to say if it's worth it or not. It's up to you. For me, being a Mac owner was not worth a two thousand dollar markup. But hey, I'm a girl, we're sensible shoppers supposedly so maybe for you it's worth not having to learn a new computer.

Then again, how many Macs will you buy in your life time? I was paying off my Mac loan even after my Mac itself had died, if you can believe that. Granted, I'm a poor artist so that didn't help, but do you have any idea how it feels to send in a bill payment to a company that just told you at their Genius Bar that your computer can't be fixed so you should get a new one?  And then to make matters worse, when you take it to your PC-building friend who insists he doesn't even know Macs, he was able to fix it in afternoon?

Feels bad, man.

For the record, I built a $300 machine for a friend who somehow manages to be poorer than me. Within thirty minutes of having the computer built (which took a little longer than it should have because it was the first one I personally built without any help), she had a beautiful computer up and running and was literally editing HD footage on it. Specifically, on an AMD motherboard and CPU, with a built in video chipset.  She didn't even have a video card, and she was editing 1080 HD on Linux.  Let me repeat the price.  $300.  Granted, she didn't have to get a new monitor or keyboard or mouse, so that offset the price, but $300 for an HD editing computer is basically, fucking amazing.

So, fuck Mac, fuck Windows, and learn Linux. You will be so glad you did.

And that's my series on recovering from Mac.  Hope it was informative, and I hope it didn't sound like I was trying to sell you anything.  Like I said, if Mac is working for you then stay with it.  It's not worth bringing your life to a halt to save two thousand dollars at some time in the future.  But future proof yourself by starting to get to know Linux. The sooner you do, the sooner you'll be able to jump ship.

Oh and by the way, you'll love not being part of the Mac cult any more. You won't notice at first, but trust me after you get out, you look back and wonder what you were ever, ever thinking.  Don't be too hard on yourself. You didn't know any better.  I know I didn't!  :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 4

If you want to get away from Mac, one of the most powerful and outrageous ways to do it is to learn how to build a computer. Don't panic, I'm not a hardware gal either, believe me. When I heard about people building computers, I not only thought that it was mysterious and mostly impossible, I also thought it was uninteresting, unappealing waste of time.

I will grant you one thing, that it's uninteresting. I don't sit in front of Firefox all day window shopping for computer parts, and I don't even know what the current line of CPUs is and I don't really care.

I have a friend who's really into building computers. He does it on ebay, he makes money on it, he loves it. He also taught me how to do it, which I have to admit was empowering. And also it happened to be thrifty.  More on that in a moment.

Building computers for the average person is not the big deal it sounds like it is. You can be a casual computer user and still build your own desktop, I promise. It's not like building a car. It's more like a science kit. No, it's way simpler. OK, if you've ever played with Lego bricks, you can build a computer. I swear.

The hardest part is finding a build-it-yourself kit that suits you. If you have a friend, like I do, who builds PCs for fun and a living then just have them pick out all the parts for you! but if not, then you need to know that what you're buying will all work together. Otherwise, you'll build the computer and turn it on and find out way too late that you bought the wrong kind of RAM or forgot a hard drive cable. Not exactly the results you're looking for.

Building custom PCs is such a popular activity in certain circles that there are two websites that cater to just that passtime.  There's newegg and tigerdirect. They sell all the parts you would need to build a computer and they even sell kits. In a kit, someone else has figured out what parts go together, and they bundle it together and give you a discount and sell it to you. So all they don't do is actually put all the pieces together for you, but trust me, if you can use a screwdriver then you can build a computer.

I'm going to do a separate post on why a soon to be former Mac user would ever want to do that. For now, let's keep talking about this building process.

Non-Mac computers are a lot cheaper than Macs, but you need to be sure not to go too cheap.  If you're totally broke, then buying a $300 desktop kit is actually a great idea if you need  a computer. And it will run Linux just fine, but you'll probably have to configure stuff and you're not going to have a very physically sturdy system. I found this out the easy way, because someone had ordered parts for my friend to assemble and he showed me the difference between a $30 computer case and a $60 computer case. One was made of sheet metal that would bend if you held it too tightly.  The other was made of steel and hard plastic and felt like a tank.  Guess which is which.

So, don't go too cheap if you're expecting Mac quality hardware, but at the same time, remember that generic PC hardware is less expensive, so don't waste your money trying to build a computer as expensive as a Mac. If you do that, you are almost guaranteed to have a system more powerful than what you need, even if you are a filmmaker or photoshop guru.

The way I personally decided one what I needed, even though I don't know anything about this, is that I looked at and wrote down what the most expensive Mac Pro had inside of it. To get that information, you have to go through the steps of buying it, so click the buy button, and then just take a look at what they offer. Now go shopping on newegg or tiger direct for something with similar specs. As long as you're in the ballpark, you're probably fine. Believe me, despite the marketing that goes into it, there's really not that much difference between one modern CPU and another, or one modern kind of RAM and another. Now, if you are doing highly specialized work and really do need to know that you're getting the right parts for the job, then it might be time to take a PC gamer (trust me, they always know about this stuff) out to lunch and find out what the deal is on all this fancy computer part scene. Otherwise, shoot in the general direction of a Mac Pro and you'll come out on top, both financially and technically.

And then alls you have to do is install Linux.

Oh and put it all together.

The good kits, like the ones over $300 or so, come with really detailed quickstart manuals.  It shows you where to put in the motherboard. You line up the screws with the holes, and before you know it you've installed a motherboard. Then you put on the CPU, according to the instructions that came with the CPU. Then the fan. Then the RAM. Then the hard drive and DVD drive. And you're done.  It's literally that simple.

Again, I want to emphasize. Spend a little bit extra (in generic PC money, not Mac money) and you will get parts that have friendly manuals and are easy to assemble.  If you go ultra cheap, then you're going to get parts that expect you to know what to do.

My friend showed me an AMD CPU once. They're exactly like Intel chips (the Intels are the ones that Macs use) except a lot cheaper.  So I asked him why they were cheaper, and he takes out a plastic case with a big computer chip in it. That's an AMD.  Then he shows me the Intel chip that is the same chip, basically, but cost $80 more. It came in a nice box with a CPU fan included for "free", an instruction booklet on how to put the chip into your motherboard, how to attach the fan, and a little sticker that you could put on your computer to show everyone that you were running an Intel.  That's Intel.

And that's basically how eveything in building computers goes. Spend a little extra money and you get your hand held through the process.  Go cheap, and you figure it out yourself.

No matter what you do, though, you're getting a more powerful computer for less money than a Mac.  Don't believe me? well, my next post will prove it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 3

Ever heard of Vendor Lock In?

It's a trick that companies do to make sure that their customer can never, ever leave them, without great pains and sometimes serious amounts of money.

An example of this would be a page layout program that might export to some kind of very generic format, like a doc or rtf file, but it won't export the actual layout. Sometimes this is unavoidable, as I understand it, because some programs just do unique things that can't be exported since those tricks don't exist anywhere else. But some applications are so generic in function that it's almost amazing they don't export well to other formats. Almost like the ability to export existed but was broken on purpose. Like, a conspiracy!

Cue the X Files music.

Seriously though, speaking as someone who has been burned very badly by her allegiance to Mac products, I can officially go on record as saying that Mac does its damnedest to lock you into the Mac universe, whether you like it or not. The real crime is that it's doing it to people who don't know any better, which is why it's so weird for me to know better now, because I was so clueless before.

Picture it.  Be me, not knowing any better, you write school papers in iWork, you make art projects in Pages, you do little songs in Garageband, you do some design homework in Indesign. Then you move to another computer and find out that pages files look like this:


when they are opened in another word processor.  I'm not even making that up, actually it looks like that times about 100.  Try it and you'll see.

Garageband files don't even open. They're actually not even files, they're folders with a bunch of other files inside of them.

Indesign is no better. Photoshop actually is a lot better, but not because of Adobe; someone reverse-engineered the PSD format and so other programs can read it. I don't know if Adobe cares or not, but they didn't lift a finger to help.

On the surface, nothing is wrong with any of this, because to be fair, you bought the application and you're using it, so why should its programmers care if other applications can open it or not? That's probably how they think of it.

But that's the problem! They're getting your money for a tool that you're going to use to create something. They should be thanking you, but instead they tell you that the thing you just created with their software? yeah, if you ever want to see that data again, you'll just have to keep buying their software. Imagine going out to dinner and going to pay at the register and they tell you they had poisoned your food and if you don't want to get mild food poisoning, you have to buy an anecdote. I wouldn't go back to that restaurant.

And I wouldn't go back to Mac or Adobe.

If I buy software, I expect to be able to get all of my work back out of it with as little loss of features as possible. I am willing to make an allowance for something that just isn't implemented in a standard format. But the structure and content of my data should be preserved or guess what your software sucks ass. Sorry to tell you that, programmers, but if you can't do basic exports like any computer science college student's free application can, then you and your software suck ass.

The reason I can say that is because free software does export to other applications. It doesn't practice vender lock-in, they don't bribe you to buy their application and they don't resort to extortion if you threaten to leave.

Skeptics might say that without a little old fashioned bribery and extortion, how could a programmer ever make money? And I'd have to say that I am willing to pay for good software. And I do, regularly. If I go to download free software and they have a Suggested Donation link, I always donate whatever price they suggest. If they suggested more, I'd probably pay more. I'm not in this for a free ride and I understand that programmers have to eat too. I'm happy to pay.

What I won't pay for is if a company bribes me by telling me I just have to have their software because it's the "industry standard" and if I don't have it then I'm not a real graphic designer or a real musician or a real anything. And I won't pay to be blackmailed into staying on their software whether I like it or not.

Software should never make it difficult for you to get your work out of it into some universal format.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 demo is out today and someone pointed out to me that it's a good mix of RPG and FPS. That made me think of how much I take for granted the RPG elements in my favorite games, like Borderlands, Bioshock, and obviously traditional RPG games like my favorite Dragons Age.

I can't picture playing a game without RPG elements. I tried Dead Island when it came out last year and even it has some modest RPG choices. I can't imagine trying to play through an entire game without at least a hint of RPG!

The more the merrier, when it comes to RPG.  I want control over my characters, I want to bond with her or him. I want to choose my own path. I'm fine with a linear story (given enough side quests), but I want control over how I play.

Fallout 3 did not execute this mix very well, IMHO.  But Mass Effect 3 looks very promising, though. It looks like they aren't compromising on the RPG aspect and are maximizing on the FPS. The game play felt good, the visuals were gorgeous, and I'm excited about it!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 2

OK, if you just found this blog and you're seeing this post, you should be aware that this is a part in a series (that's why it's called Part 2 =D ) and it's not, despite the name, flame bate. I'm a former Mac user and I found out that Mac isn't all it's cracked up to be, but what is? All computers are going to frustrate you, it's just a matter of how they frustrate you!

Anyways, Mac is headed in a very specific direction. It started on the path a long time ago but nobody saw it...until it was too late!  Too much drama? OK, but seriously, Mac obviously has a very clear idea of where it is heading. If people are ok with that, then that's great! they should keep using their Mac. Just like if you're a gamer, you should hang onto Windows until games get serious about working on Mac or Linux. Meaning you'll be using Windows forever.

Where Mac is heading, is toward a kiosk-mode that has very specific things you can do on it. If you don't like how it's done on Mac, then don't use a Mac. Sure there will always be lifehacker and machack sites that give you a way around the things you really hate, but then you're forever swimming against the tide and after a little while that gets really tiring and you also start to see a lot of things break that you didn't want to break. I know, I've done it.

One major event that I will probably never forget, probably because I'm still recovering from it today, is when I got an emusic gift card for christmas, and went and spent the entire card in one sitting. So I instantly had all of these great mp3s that I'd wanted for a long time, and I spent all afternoon organizing them exactly the way I wanted to use them. I had them in folders and albums and they were named very specifically. I was happy.

Then I put them into iTunes.

Holy hell, it was the worst idea I've ever had. iTunes moved all of my songs out of the folders I'd so carefully placed them into, renamed them, and basically undid everything I'd just spent three hours working on, being the music nerd I am. I was so angry, I can't even describe it, at least not in terms appropriate for the web.

When I finally got into Linux, I was moving all my data from my Mac to my new computer, so I exported all that music to a data DVD through iTunes, and that was even worse. It numbered every song to match the order they happened to be in when I exported them to the DVD, which was basically completely wrong (I think I had listed them alphabetically by song title or something retarded like that, because I didn't know that iTunes was going to lock that order into my export).

To this day, I still am finding folders of music completely out of order, forcing me to go through their id3 tags and re-order them manually.

The moral of that story is that any computer that overrides your work like that, is not a computer I want to use. I know there's a preference somewhere in iTunes that will give you a little more control, so partly it was my fault for not knowing the software better. But the bottom line is that I was doing what anyone using music on a computer would think to do, and it altered my data, seized control of the stuff that I'd bought and did whatever the hell it wanted.

Not cool.

Unforunately, that's only one example out of all the ways that Macs ensure you're doing everything the Mac way. Increasingly, Mac is removing the concept of Preferences, which is why you see all of those scary "defaults write bool=YES" hacks online, when people just want to do stupid-simple things like enable Quicktime to open without resuming in the middle of a previous movie.

I didn't pay $1000 or $2000 to fight my computer on a daily basis, and I didn't pay $1000 or $2000 to submit to Mac's supreme Will.

Skeptics will point out that instead I'll pay $500 or $900 only to have to learn Linux and all of the weird ways it works, and I'll agree that if you're thinking of moving to Linux then you have to be ready for a major learning curve! Learning curve doesn't even describe it. It's more like the scene in V for Vendetta where Natalie Portman gets basically brainwashed by Guy Fawkes (in the prison).

It is some seriously tough shit but do you know the difference?

On Mac, you're buying into something that you then have to fight against, tooth and nail, to do what you want. 

On Linux, you invest in learning something one time, and after that you get to do whatever the hell you want.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

dragons age casual gaming

You know that feeling you get when you just have to go into Game Settings and switch yourself from Normal to Casual? It's not a fun feeling, because you feel like your leveling down. That's because you are. You're admitting to yourself that you're no longer a serious gamer. You're just a casual gamer. You are a gamer who can't take full power damage.

That hurts.

But what Dragons Age: Origins taught me a few weeks ago is that if it's between not finishing the game or just admitting to yourself that you can't handle full damage, then take the hit in pride and dial it down a level.

I'm glad I did, because of all the games I have played, Dragons Age: Origins is one of the most satisfying. They don't cheat you out of anything, and they also don't cheat you out of dealing with the "real life" ingame consquences of the choices you made. I'll admit it, my mage should not have gone down the Morrigan path. I knew it all along, I had the opportunity to pursue Leliana, and I didn't. And then in the end I had to live with that choice. Not satisfying, but real.

Everything else was completely satisfying. The story lines were all resolved, the characters were developed, and in the end I was just so glad to have completed it. How many hours did I clock on that game? Well, considering that I waited until the Broodmother to switch over to Casual mode, it took me about 90 hours to finish the game.

The best thing about it is that I'm not done yet. I still have about 8 DLC's to complete, because I bought the Ultimate Edition.

So if anyone ever blinks at you and asks how you could possibly spend $300 on a console (ok $400, since I upgraded my hard drive to 320gb) and $60 per game, just show them how much entertainment you get from just one of those $60 games.  At 90 hours, I've paid 66 cents a day for an hour of entertainment. A bargain, I assure you. Add to that fact that the really good games are RPG's, IMO, and I firmly believe that more imagination goes into playing an RPG than any tv show or movie out there.

Dragons Age Origins is the shit! go get it plus all of its expansions and DLC.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 1

I'm a former Mac user, as it was what I was taught in art school. When I was a kid, I used Windows but I was never really a computer girl, just a gamer, and most of my gaming has been on consoles.

I have nothing against Macs or even Windows. I can use them just the same as I use Linux, it doesn't really matter to me, as long as it has a web browser and then whatever other app I happen to need. To me it's not the operating system that a computer runs that people use, it's the apps. 

Not everyone feels that way, but that's just how I see it. In my personal life, I don't want to run Mac or Windows. I choose Linux because I can do with it whatever I please, and there's always something new and exciting happening. So there's that.

Despite what a lot of people say, Windows has its advantages in life. If you want to play games on a PC, you're going to do it on Windows.

Mac also has advantages. If you're going to go into the artistic field, you'll find that Macs let you run a lot of artistic applications without really knowing much about how anything works.

So it's up to each person in terms of what they want to run.

For me, and a lot of my friends, the choice was to run Windows, which none of us wanted to do because other than being the default platform for gaming, it's a pretty bad OS.  Mac was working well for a while but there were some things I wanted to get away from.

In the next few posts, I intend to go over some of the reasons a Mac user might want to put a stop to their Mac usage, and how it can be done.  I'm not a computer science major, I'm not an expert at anything on any computer, but I know what I know, and so I want to share it.

Reason One: Knowledge is Power

The first reason I'm going to list is a little but abstract, but I think you'll understand it if I use the power of simile!  Hmmmm, or is it metaphor?  I never was any good at English class.

I was watching an old movie about the plague and someone was going to go into a leprosy colony to help the sick people. Everyone told this person that if he went in to the leper colony, he would die, but he said that if God didn't want him to die, then he wouldn't.  The reason people back in the Middle Ages thought this way is because they didn't know about germs, so they just took everything on faith, and it turns out that they were basically wrong. If they caught the plague, then they caught the plague because of germs, not because God afflicted them. If they didn't catch the plague, then it wasn't that God liked them better than everyone else, they just happened not to get the germs, or their bodies managed to fight the germs off.

Translate that to me as a Mac user. One time I tried gaming on a Mac, and it was when Neverwinter Nights 2 came out. I went to the Mac store with a friend to buy the game. My friend is a PC gamer. He always knows all about the latest CPU's from AMD and INTEL, he knows all about graphics cards and things like that. These are things I probably should have been told about in school, because they were supposed to be training us as art students to use the tools of the trade. And believe it or not, whether you have 192bit 512mb graphic memory or 64bit 128mb graphic memory makes a huge difference when you're applying filters in Photoshop or if you're learning Blender.

But we were not told of these things. My friend knew it all, though, and so on our way to the Mac store, he asked me if I had the right graphics card for the game. Of course I didn't know, and besides I just wanted to play the game! I'd bought a 2500 Mac Pro so in my Mac-user logic, I assumed that naturally I had a sufficient computer for the job.  Why? Because Apple had told me I was purchasing a powerful computer. They didn't tell me what that meant, they didn't quote me numbers like 256mb graphics memory at 32bit depth with DDR2 RAM, they just said it was the best money could buy.  So if you're buying the best money can buy, then you damn well expect your computer to play a new game.

To make a long story short, I had just enough graphics memory to run the game at the lowest graphic settings. To drive the point home, my friend, on his PC that had cost a third of what my Mac had cost, was playing the game on full rez. It literally didn't even look like the same game. I ended up going to his house to play nwn2 because if I dared push my graphic settings up just a little, the game crashed.

I'm not saying a Mac can't handle games. I'm saying that Mac culture hides the useful information from its customers. A PC gamer might tell a Mac user that they can't run a game because they don't have the required 512mb of GPU power. But a Mac user won't listen, because the box says that the minimum requirements is the exact card that they have in their computer, so it must be safe. They don't understand what the numbers mean, they don't even know what the different kinds of graphic cards imply, like a mobile or onboard chipset versus a dedicated card.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next gen of Mac products do away with product names entirely and just features icons on boxes or software downloads. If it's got a green eye on it, then as long as you have an Nvidia Mac then you're theoretically good to go. Even when you're not.

Yes, just because they aren't telling you about germs doesn't mean germs don't exist.  See what I did there? I tied it back to that original example. I'm such an internet writer now!

Anyways, the point is that knowledge is power, and if you start getting into Mac culture too deep, you will have to fight the dumbing-down of computers. I'll never forget my final trip to the Mac store. I was asking intelligent questions, and the salespeople, even the Geniuses (yes, I literally made a Genius appointment because I could tell the salespeople were clueless), could not answer half of my questions. It was actually that very experience that made me realize that I'd outgrown the Mac platform.


So if you want to understand computers and what they can do and why they can or cannot do something, then don't get sucked into the Mac Way. They want their customers to be faithful and to take everything on faith. They're not in the business of educating.

Then again neither is Microsoft. It just so happens that there's a culture of PC builders who are helpful and knowledgeable.  Remove Microsoft from the mix and add Linux, and you have an amazing culture of education and knowledge and computer empowerment.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED: a gamer's delight

Let's get one thing straight: I'm not a "gadget girl", I don't have techno lust, I don't get excited over hardware. I recently had to buy a new monitor, though, because my computer screen developed a row of dead pixels down the middle of it. Way out of warranty, so there wasn't much I could do except buy a new one.

I have not been monitor shopping in years, so I went out expecting to spend about $300, which I really don't have to just throw around, but I need a new monitor! So my first surprise was how cheap monitors have gotten. $140 for an 22" HD screen? I can live with that!

I looked at a few different options. I remember a nice HP monitor and I think a Samsung. Although, I ended up getting a totally nice Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED screen. It has two inputs, a VGA and a DVI and it is fully HD, meaning 1920 by 1050, meaning that blue rays will play natively and my computer will finally be outputting video that is worthy of its GPU.

How will I play BR discs without an HDMI port, you ask? Playstation! Yes, this monitor is now sitting on my desk next to both my desktop and my PS3, and that's where it gets even better. My computer goes to the VGA port and my PS3 goes through an HDMI to DVI converter, into the DVI port. In other words, I just scored two monitors for the price of one.

Unlike the HP and Samsung that I looked at, where you had to go into the menu to switch inputs, the Viewsonic as two handy buttons right on front. If I want to use my computer, I hit 1 and I'm starting at my Gnome 3 desktop. Playstation 3 time? I can hit 2 and start playing Dragons Age like it's going out of style (and actually it kinda is, thanks to Skyrim).

In other words, I'm really impressed with my new monitor in every respect. Quality is great. Value is great. Price was great. And it's user-friendly and practically designed on top of all that. If you're looking for a new one, have a look at the Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


SOPA is the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act. PIPA is the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Both of them come to this: "let's censor the internet!"

You know, it's funny how shit really starts to happen when money is involved. The movie and music companies and game companies are really pushing to make sure copyrights are upheld, and to stop any infringement they are will to take away our freedom of speech.

Apparently we as consumers can't be bothered to just stop purchasing their shit. By that I mean stop supporting movies and music and video games. I've stopped buying and even watching movies for the most part, and I don't buy music. I admit to having a bad case of video game fever, and have had it my entire life. But I have at least stopped purchasing the games NEW, pretty much as of this weekend when I found out about SOPA and PIPA.

But what we as consumers can do is protest, at the very least, by taking down our websites on Jan 18th.

Now, I don't have the ability to take down, obviously. It's not my website, I just post on it.  But consider this my post my anti SOPA and PIPA post. I support Wikipedia and any other site that will be blacking out tomorrow as a display of how empty the internet would be without freedom.

I encourage others to do the same.

And also, vote with your dollars. These industries are trying to push us around, so let's stop supporting them. Even in small ways, you make a big difference!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Me and Vicki and Molly and Jon drove over to Waldorf and I turned on a podcast for us to listen to. It was fun, even though most no one even understood what the guys were talking about it was mostly enjoyable.

But I noticed something, and 3/4ths of the group agreed with me, so I'm posing it to the internet.

How do you know when you're in love with yourself?  The answer: Bloopers.

Yes, if you are an entertainer and one day you decide that you should include bloopers and outtakes at the end of your show, please don't. It's a sure sign that you think way too highly of yourselves, because the theory is that you're so great that everyone wants to hear even your mistakes. Even your mistakes are good.

As Vicki pointed out, there are exceptions. Sometimes bloopers are genuinely funny. Sometimes bloopers are demanded, because people just love the show that much and want more material than they can pump out.  But usually, I'd say 97% of the time, bloopers and outtakes are but a love poem from the artist to the artist. And I'd go as far as to say that it's embarrassing to everyone but the artist. When the bloopers on this particular podcast played, an awkward expectancy fell over the car like we all expected one another to laugh or comment about how great the show was. Just to break the ice, I commented that the bloopers were laaaame and wouldn't you know, no one disagreed.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I hate Microsoft for oh so many reasons, but the latest one is the sheer stupidity of ExFAT.

If you're like me, you probably have never heard of ExFAT but I had a chance encounter with it the other day when a friend brought over a USB thumbdrive with some files on it. I popped it into my computer only to find that the drive couldn't be recognized. OK, fair enough, USB thumbdrives are quirky sometimes. So my friend plugs it into his laptop and it wouldn't recognize it. And yet his work computer used the thumbdrive just fine.

Here's what we discovered after about an hour of research:

Microsoft has invented a new format for thumbdrives and has patented it, so that no one else can use it without paying them a fee.

That goes against every bit of logic and every good technological trend of the modern enlightened world. Think about what thumbdrive is. It's a convenient and easy way for you to take your files from one computer to another, so the ideal format would be open and free so that no matter what computer you put your thumbdrive into, the files can be read. But no, instead Microsoft patents the format and charges money for other companies to use it.

Imagine if the internet worked like that. You went to a website to get some information but the website patented all the way the data was conveyed. It looks like gibberish to you unless the manufacturer of your computer has paid a licensing fee. Or email!  Let's say you email yourself a file. Unfortunately, you have a Yahoo account and your friend has Gmail, and the two don't talk to one another.

I'd be fine if Microsoft would patent their website so that no one could get onto it. But you know they'd never do that, since they want people to go to their site and learn about them (or at least how they market themselves).

My point is that Microsoft is fine with using open standards when it benefits them, and very intentionally closes technology when it also benefits them. This means that they have ensured that anyone who wants to read their thumbdrives must somehow pay a fee.

My friend's laptop is a Macbook. He hadn't updated in a while so it was running Snow Leopard, but not the right version. That's why it wasn't reading the data. I have an HP laptop with Fedora Linux on it. Linux isn't owned by a company so cannot afford to pay Microsoft's extortion fee, so I'll probably never get to read data from an ExFAT drive. My friend ran Software Update and got to a version where his computer would see the data, and then we did some fancy networking tricks to send the data from his Mac to my Fedora laptop, but that's just not why thumbdrives were invented.

So the thing to do is, if you buy a thumbdrive, immediately format it to something you know you and your friends can actually use. Unfortunately, the most universal (only because it's so old and arcane that no one cares about it anymore) is Microsoft's FAT format.

On a Mac, go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility and choose to Erase the thumbdrive. Set the format as FAT if you intend to share data with Linux or PC's.  If you're only going to be around other Macs, you can format it as HFS+ Journaled Case-Sensitive. Don't ask me what all of that means, just trust me.

On Fedora Linux, open up Disk Utility and erase the thumbdrive, choose FAT as the filesystem format. If you're only going to be sharing files with Linux then you can do EXT2 but I find this is rarely the case, for the same reason that I wouldn't advise ExFAT. Thumbdrives are meant to be shared. That's one of the primary reasons we buy them.

Good luck. And don't encourage Microsoft, please. Do not use ExFAT, and do not accept their extortionist ways. And shame on Apple for paying their licensing fee.

Friday, January 6, 2012

RAGE (Video Game)

I've had Rage for about a week now. I was never a fan of Quake and haven't tried Doom much, so I wasn't sure what to expect from Rage. All I knew was that it was a first person shooter with driving sequences, and it was set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Let me begin by saying that if I could buy Rage again, I would. Actually, I'm going to do just that because my current copy is a used copy I picked up from Gamestop and I'm literally going back today to trade in the used copy and buy a New copy just because I want the whole package.

This is one great game. Borderlands, obviously, is the best possible game ever. There will never be another Borderlands. But until Borderlands 2 arrives (assuming it will be any good anyway), Rage is where it's at. Aside from just replaying Borderlands, of course (and there's nothing wrong with that)!

If you can imagine Borderlands and Fallout 3 merging, then you'll have some idea of what Rage is like. You start out as a relic from the past who's just awakened and emerged, I think, from a Vault. You get rescued from bandits by John Goodman and taken back to his little slice of civilization, where he puts you to work. So you go on quests, and mostly they're Fallout3 type of quests. Errands and odd jobs that not only give you experience but lead you into new realms of the world. Eventually, you work your way out of that town and move on to bigger and better places.

There are lots of side-quests, so if you take on a lot of those then you can start to fool yourself into thinking it's an open world game. You find new weapons, you can craft new weapons and tools, and earn different prizes and rewards.

So far it sounds like every other post-apocalyptic first person shooter. But now mix in a little Mad Max. Yes, there is really fun driving action in this game with vehicles you can mod and drive around and raise all kinds of hell.  I was very resistant to it at first, and it was introduced early on in the game. I didn't start to love the racing element until I got to the actual Racetrack in Wellspring; then it gets fun. No, it gets addicting.

The races feel like a mix between a podrace, grand theft auto, and mario cart. It's just plain fun. The very first time you fail in a race, you'll be hooked because you will want to do better. And then better. And then better. And then you realize you're collecting racing certs, and racing certs buy you vehicle mods. And vehicle mods let you frag the bad guys.

Oh yes, this game does fragging right.

The one thing this game doesn't do right is audio atmosphere. The visuals are stunning, the action is fun fun fun, but the audio is plain embarrassing. John Goodman is great, and I wish he were in more of the game, because everyone else is just reading their lines. The mutant voices, which should be haunting my nightmares every night, are laughable instead. There's no sense of character to anyone, no personality, nothing unique. Even the character design itself is pretty drab, like Id raided Railroad Tycoon.

The soundtrack is so unoriginal that I can't even remember for sure that there is music. I'm pretty sure there is, but I don't remember it. And all I listen to lately are video game soundtracks. When you have Skyrim and Borderlands and Dead Island soundtracks, the generic hard rock of Rage is not just boring, it's actually a little all the wrong ways.

But hey, as I said, the game itself, aside from unremarkable voice acting and music and soundscape, is really good. I'm not a fan of first person shooters, usually. But there are exceptions, and this is one of them. If you haven't tried Rage yet, and you liked Borderlands and/or Fallout3 and New Vegas, then pick this one up.  I have a used copy if you're interested ;-)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pleased to meet you

My old blog got old, so I've started a new one! This time on the very popular Blogspot, so hi to everyone both new and old. And by that I do mean new and old to my blog.

A little introduction, perhaps?

Okay but you asked for it! I am a modernist, a gamer, maybe a little bit of a nerd because I admit to loving computers and science fiction and fantasy and weather systems and the space program and all that stuff that normal people just don't think about. I'm also a *not-post* feminist and a socialist/communist. I'm a sometimes-musician (bass), sometimes-groupie, mostly manic, and yes, I wear a lot of black, and a lot of pink.

As bizarre as it may seem, that, my friends, is what came to mind when I thought that I should introduce myself. Why do we describe ourselves in these terms, highlighting certain points and leaving out other things?

I don't know! who knows? maybe during the course of this humble weblog, we will figure that out.