Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Charging Money for Work

Here's a quick note to my fellow geeks out there. I wrote a little about this in my post "Being a Geek and Looking the Part" but that was a while ago and i never really followed up on it. So here's the follow up.

I decided long ago that I was going to stop giving away my computer expert services. I don't really think I'm an expert, but compared to others, oh my God..I am a goddess. I can resurrect "dead" computers, I can bring data back from Hades. Yes, I am that good.

I know, I know, any geek can do those things. Here on the internet it seems simple. But the minute I step out of my apartment, I suddenly really am that good.

I used to give out computer help because, ya know, I'm a nice person! I like to help people. When I rescue someone's wedding photos, I feel happy because they are happy, and they say nice things to me. Sometimes they offer to pay.

And sometimes they don't.

I tried not helping people with computer problems for a few reasons. Number one, I need money like everyone else. Number two, I'm sick and fuckin' tired of helping jackasses remove malware from their PCs, and helping artistic jackasses recover their broken or corrupt project files from whatever Mac application they made the mistake of investing in. Number three, I have better things to do than be a wandering vigilante for computer health.

At first, it didn't really work out. I do not want to be a mean person or an uncaring person, so I would always, eventually, cave. People would beg, and then I'd help them. Then I realized that people associate my computer help as being a part of who I am. I'm Samantha. I help people with computers.

No no no no no no. That's no who I am. That's my JOB.

And that's all it took. The minute I started saying that it was my j-o-b to help people with computer problems, hardly anybody approached me for free computer help. Admittedly, a few family members and close friends still did (some still do. hi, mom and dad!) but mostly, once I started really pushing the idea that I was a Professional computer person (usually saying "like the geek squad" would help. I try to avoid likening myself to the "genius bar" because  of the negative connotations most people have for the "geniuses" at the Apple Stores), people just stopped assuming that it was OK to ask me for free help.

To really drive it home, I printed up some business cards (I think it was ten dollars online) with my name and a short list of all the problems I can solve, like dead computers, setting up a network, data rescue, malware removal, yadda yadda yadda...  Printed up those cards, handed them out to people when they looked like they needed it, and especially handed them to people who dared talk to me about their computer problems. I did that as a preventative measure. Give them the professional business card before they could ask me for a friendly helping hand.

And so far it has worked out pretty well. I have not actually gotten that many jobs just from not helping people and handing them a business card. That has, however, stopped me from taking non-paying work that eats up a lot of my time and effort. What I have gotten a lot of paying work from are the usual ads posted on community boards, craigslist, bulletin boards at local schools, and word of mouth.

Those for-free jobs are great for experience. But you start noticing something about those jobs. It's always the same. You're a good enough geek to know how to rescue their ass when malware is chewing up their data, but somehow once it's all rescued and cleaned, I'm just a dumb nerd who can't stop talking about how Firefox is better than IE, how bad links lead to malware, and how Linux would be a lot easier to support.

So here's my philosophy. If you're only going to listen to a third of what I say, and only up until your problem is solved, then you get to pay for everything I do. Period. I would say that was pretty fair.

Hey, I saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck a long time ago. It said "Yes this is my pickup. No I will not help you move."

 I thought it seemed rude at the time.  I don't think that any more.

Next Gen or No Gen?

I have been a Playstation gal for as long as I have played games, mostly because it was better than the NES systems and it wasn't Microsoft. That being said, I have no special allegiance to Sony itself, or even to the Playstation as a platform.

Lately, a lot of interesting new possibilities have been arising on the horizon. The two that have caught my attention are both, coincidentally, pretty damn portable. And, also coincidentally, based on fvcking Linux, which is pretty freakin' awesome since Linux is my platform of choice for everything and it is the one platform (I would say "company" except it's not a company) that I do have a special allegiance to.


When I first heard about the Ouya console, I was, to be honest, not impressed. I never saw Android as a gaming platform and I'd never seen a proper immersive RPG or FPS or anything available for Android. All the games for Android tend(ed) to be aimed at the time-killer market. Games on mobile operating systems are always very very aware that they have to be games that people can drop in and out of at any time, and they are careful never to have long sections of gameplay where interruption would be damaging to your success. This means short and simple storylines, short and simple tasks or quests, few or very brief cut scenes. They are also all built for mobile platforms, so the control scheme is usually horrible, since they have to allow for the idea that people are poking and stroking the touchscreens of their phones and do not have the luxury of having multiple buttons or even a good d-pad.

I looked at the game listing for Ouya recently, though, and it really has boosted my interest. Obviously I have not actually played any of the games that are listed as Ouya titles because I do not (yet?) own an Ouya, but the list looks very promising! Titles like Bard's Tale, Ravensword, Final Fantasy 3 (yes, that Final Fantasy), Legends of Aethereus, and a hell of a lot more, I can actually see the Ouya as being at least a semi-serious console. Almost a cross between a casual gamer's console like the Wii (yeah you heard me) and a "real" console. PLUS it has the obligatory media center tools like XBMC, Plex, and even VLC.

At $100, I don't really see a good reason not to get it. At worse, it would be a casual gaming box that sits next to my monitor that gets used for light gaming, media streaming. But that's not all!  It's also a tiny little cube that I could literally throw into my bag when I'm going over to a friend's place or to visit my parents, or whatever.


I don't think Ouya is prepped to be my only gaming console, at least not any time soon. But what is poised to be that for me is Valve's Steam console. I'd buy one of those at pretty much any cost (I mean any competitive cost compared to the PS4) in part because I love the idea of Steam, and in part just to get more Linux into my home!

Steam as a platform is great because it is portable. I can play a game on my SteamBox, or if I'm out with just a laptop, I could play the game on that. That's leveraging a cloud in a way I can actually live with.

Steam as a platform on Linux is just too amazing to even describe. So, yes, I want SteamOS, I want SteamBox, I want it all. Give it to me, Gabe!

Next Gen or No Gen?

I can't say I'm ready to give up the idea of the next generation of consoles. PS4 looks amazing and the games are looking beautiful and exciting. But let me put it this way...if SteamOS/Box starts getting most of the AAA titles that PS4 and Xbox are getting, and Ouya keeps getting more serious about gaming, I don't see why I would want to bother with a PS4.

And hey, if all of that fails, at least I can still get a PS4 and be happy knowing it is running BSD underneath!

Seige Continues

Update on my Dungeon Seige III experience! The more I play, the more involved in the story I become, which is good, since that is one of the main reasons I play RPG and RPG-like games.

I said in an earlier post that I felt the fighting was not quite as strategic and realtime as I would like...

...and then I fought Rajani.

The Rajani bossfight actually changed a lot for me. First of all, the fighting became very very obviously strategic. To get through that fight, you have to dodge. You have to attack at the right moments (as you usually do, with bosses), you have to heal your companion and be healed by your companion (basically, tag-team ressurection because you WILL die...a few times), you have to gain health by blocking attacks. This was NOT a button-mashing fight like most of the other fights have been.

The story, up until the Rajani battle, felt mostly pre-determined, like Amalur rather than Dragons Age for example. I never felt that a choice I made actually altered the outcome of the later story. But when I defeated Rajani, I did have to make the choice of what to do with her. I could kill her, I could set her free, or I could set her free with a message for Jayne Kassinder. I cannot be sure that it changed the outcome of the story yet but it felt like I hadn't seen the last of Rajani, and it felt that since I let her go, she might possibly return as an ally.

Very much enjoying Dungeon Seige III, obviously!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Seige Begins

I've been playing Dundeon Seige III for a few days now. So far, I'm very pleased with it. It scratches the RPG itch and is a pretty good game.

I don't love the fighting mechanic. It's not as real-time/interactive as something like Borderlands or Kingdoms of Amalur, and yet it's not as strategic and tactical as Dragon's Age or Fallout 3. It tries to be real-time, but it boils down to just aimlessly pressing the FIRE button and letting the AI make sure that your projectile finds a target. There is some strategy, because you can dodge and block and do intelligent fighting and whatnot. Still, I think I would have preferred if they chose one extreme or the other. But this is a minor gripe and it's not taking away from the enjoyment of the game.

I really like the story and lore that they are building up in the world. I'm definitely hooked, and I mostly get hooked on the story of games. The music is really nice and I wish I could find a soundtrack.

I would definitely recommend this game to anyone looking for a good RPG experience. Don't expect Dragon's Age, but expect something pretty close to it!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Video Game Characters

When I first heard that Borderlands 2 was coming out, I was afraid that they would spoil the awesome legacy that is Borderlands. I bought the game anyway, and found that it was actually fairly true to Borderlands. There is a painful amount of hipster humor that is very very jarring in the context of the far off world of Pandora, but otherwise the game is pretty true to its origins.

The part that they did get wrong is the playable characters. Mordecai, Lilith, Roland, and Brick were great characters. Literally each one of them was a blast to play. This time around, we have Zero, Salvador, Somebody, and Somebody. In all the interviews and pre-release noise, everyone was saying that if you liked Mordecai, then you should play as Zero. If you liked Lilith, then you should play as what's her name. And so on.

They could not have been more wrong.

I started playing Zero and at first I loathed him. But I thought that maybe I was just missing Mordecai, so I continued through a few level-ups. Still hated him. Finally, two-thirds through the game, I realized that I hated Zero because he's nothing like Mordecai, and that was the playing experience I was really looking for. He might be tall and thin, but that's where the similarities end.

Mordecai's special attack was a long-range falcon who would fly out and tear opponents' eyes out of their sockets, leaving only loot behind. Zero's ability is to project an image of himself to distract his enemies for five seconds, during which Zero cannot actually fight or else he will give his location away. Um, yeah.

The siren characters are nothing alike, either. The new siren suspends enemies in a shield for a few seconds. Lilith? she phase walked, inflicting damage to everyone in her way.

The new abilities inflict no damage. That makes them pretty useless and not really much fun to use.

Now I'm playing as Salvador. So far, I am liking him a lot more than I'd have thought. I don't consider myself a gun nut, but as far as playability, he seems to be the best character.

This issue doesn't really limit itself to Borderlands. I think a lot of games suffer, through no fault of their own, from our own preconceptions of what character types there are. In Borderlands' case, we all had existing expectations of what the tall-thin character would play like,what the siren would play like, what the big-burly dude would do, and so on. But they tricked us, and made Salvador the Mordecai of B2, the soldier the soldier, and, well, they just screwed us over with Zero and Mira or whatever her name is.

I've heard this said before, though, and I am going to echo it here: games should use the Kingdoms of Amalor model, where you can change your mind at any point during the game! It's not like it costs the game programmers to let the players do this, so why not? I just started Dungeon Seige III, and as usual I was presented with a choice in characters. I chose the long-range character because it sounded like that was the gameplay style I enjoy. I start the game and realize that there's no WAY in DS3 to stay out of the fray. Long range fighting with pistols and rifles is ridiculous. You're in battle where people are beating you with swords and all you can do is rapid fire from your pistols, and it takes 8 hits to take someone down. So I switched to a fighter character and am having a lot more fun, but it meant that I had to start back at the beginning, and that's dumb.

Next Gen, PLEASE. Let us switch classes!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lynda dot com is a waste of time and money

I had heard of for a while, and always meant to try it out. I did not have a pressing need for it, so I never did...until now.

Yes, I signed up for and started watching some videos, and in short, I was extremely extremely disappointed. If you are a video site, you are automatically competing with a few very famous other video sites, like and The Entire Fracking INTERNET. I can see that could be filling a niche, because generally speaking, here is my experience online when trying to learn something new:

  1. Declare to myself that I want to learn something new.
  2. Do a Google search for lessons on that topic.
  3. Find a zillion links to tutorials on the topic.
  4. Waste three days watching videos that are poorly made or that are made by people who should not be trying to teach anyone anything ever, or that are great but WAY too advanced for me yet.
  5. Finally find some good starter videos.
  6. Watch the starter videos.
  7. Watch some intermediate videos.
  8. Watch advanced videos.
  9. Profit!
You would think that if you were going to pay for videos online that the THING YOU ARE BUYING is a process that looks like this:

  1. Pay the big bucks.
  2. Log in.
  3. Have your hand held, step-by-step, through beginner courses, into intermediate, into advanced.
  4. Profit!
 Let it suffice to say that this was NOT my experience on

When I logged into after eagerly throwing my money at them, instead of finding the magical educational wonderland that I expected, I found....well, I found problems. Here is what I think the issues are:

  • There is no structure to the lessons. You click on a subject that you'd like to learn and they just throw a bunch of videos at you. No indication of where to start and no sense of actually working your way through lessons. They are just random videos on random subjects. For instance, I thought it might be neat to learn Blender. There are five or six videos on Blender, none of them appear to be related to the other, and mostly they are just overviews of specific topics within Blender without any higher level explanation of how they fit together.
  • It's little more than an advertisement site for paid software. The first few pages you wade through are littered with, basically, videos that just advertise the new features in paid software. As if  Apple and Adobe really need to sell me their software? I am pretty sure I could get ads for Adobe and Apple, oh, everywhere else online, without paying for it.
  • There is a clear bias for paid software.  OK, I should temper this criticism with praise: at least has videos on GIMP, Blender, PHP, Perl, Python, Android development, Java, and so on. But all in all, the bias for paid-for software is pretty obvious and, frankly, unfair. You could argue that is just responding to customer needs, which I would understand if they were actually any good. But the quality of education on is not any good, so I find it hard to believe that they're just responding to customer requests. I'm pretty sure they're just posting whatever they happen to be getting from their video instructors, and that is all. So if you can pay some guy to drone on for six hours about new features in some paid software, you might as well pay someone to do an actually informative video on something free. Yes I know my logic is not logical, but hey, I'm a paying customer now and I want more coverage of free software.
  • Some instructors are not very good. I understand that different people have different teaching styles, but I'm paying for now. I expect instructors to be good at instructing, not just good at the software or programming language they are teaching. So far I have personally spent about six hours watching videos that, in the end, I literally wanted my money back. And you know the universal process of online videos, don't you? The first one you watch, you think it's bad but it's just this one that's bad. The others will be better. Second one you watch is bad, but you think it's just a freak accident that you got two bad videos in a row. The others will be MUCH better. The third and fourth ones are bad and you're starting to get worried. Fifth and sixth are bad, and you're writing angry blogposts. Hey, take it from me. I know.
  • You are competing with free!,,,, Standford University Courseware. There are literally dozens of FREE video sites and video training resources online that are, yes, FREE. No one NEEDS to pay for Lynda unless there is a reasonable expectation that Lynda will actually provide something unique and special that other random sites do not.
I have news for you. is not worth it. Do not pay for it. I have canceled my account and will never ever ever go back. I have to assume that they are riding on suckers like me who sign up, stick around long enough to discover that is actually a rip-off, and then leaves. Once they cycle through all of us suckers, will hopefully go away for good., if you're reading this, get better instructors, cover more free software for people who see beyond marketing campaigns and actually want to get stuff done, and get organized. Or go away.