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DOS and the Occupy Movement

I haven’t written on this blog in a while (been busy, and not doing much gaming, so I haven’t had a lot of gaming material to write about).  I usually do not delve into politics here.  But after two months of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, I’ve decided to discuss my thoughts on it.

Ever since OWS started, something about the movement has bothered me.  I knew that I did not agree with what the people participating in it were saying, nor what they were doing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Although I absolutely believe in people’s right to protest or demonstrate, I have thought since day 1 that it is not acceptable for people to pitch tents in public parks that expressly do not allow camping, or to so crowd into a public area as to prevent the rest of the public from using it.  However, I could not really articulate the real reasons behind my dislike of the OWS movement, until today.  Watching the news stories of the Occupiers crowding into the area of the New York Stock Exchange and purposely blocking streets to cut off access, I finally realized that what they are doing is the physical equivalent of an old-school Denial of Service attack. Continue Reading »

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Silent Moderation on websites

We’ve all seen it. You are on a forum.  A thread starts getting out of hand.  Suddenly, the next time you log in, the whole thing is gone. Sometimes hundreds of good posts vanish because of a few bad ones.  Almost always, by website policy, no explanation is given. The thread is just gone.  And even discussing it further is verboten.

Once in a while, a thread will disappear for reasons nobody can figure out.  I’ve seen cases where I and the other main participants have PMed each other, and asked why the heck the thread, which none of us thought contained rules violations or rude posts, was deleted or locked.  No explanation has been given so we are all at a loss.  In these cases, inquiries to the higher ups are either met with silence, or with a canned response such as, “By website policy we do not discuss locked or deleted threads.”

Just recently, this happened at another site.  I won’t name the site, but it’s a social type of a site like Photobucket where you can share and discuss user-created content.  On the site you can make up your own social group, sort of like a sub-forum.  Other site members can join the group and discuss the topic, kind of the way Yahoo! groups works.  These groups are public (I don’t think there’s a way to make them private, actually). Anyone can sign up and post. The group creator is the administrator but the administration tools are pretty simplistic.

Anyway, in this group, which had existed for many years, I had occasionally noticed things going on that probably violated the overall site rules. For example, links to certain policed domains are blocked on this website, and people have regularly done things to get around the block. For example, imagine if the site doesn’t allow discussion of MMOs and “guildportal.com” is a blocked domain.  People would post links to say this guild’s site as “****portal.com/shadowfire” where *** = guild.”  Clearly this is a deliberate attempt to get around the domain block.  Yet these things have been allowed to go on for years, so people kept doing it.

Then there was the posting of content, where the rules clearly state you can only post your own content, not copy other people’s content and upload it as your own.  So imagine a site like Sourceforge where you upload someone else’s (copyrighted) computer code into your own repository.  Again this is a no-no.

As I say, I have seen these things going on for at least a couple of years, and always in the back of my head I have wondered if those posts would get deleted.  They never were. Occasionally users got banned (their posts would suddenly be listed as having no author, etc), but the social forum continued unscathed.

Until last night.
Continue Reading »

Farewell Kestrel: 2005-2011

In fall of 2004, I was hired for my second post-doctoral position.  The new position came with some perks, including about a $12,000 per year bump in salary.  Flush with enough money to actually buy some luxury items, I decided to get myself a new desktop personal computer for video gaming as well as for doing work (but let me be honest: work was the secondary purpose).  With the help of a friend, I went to a site I’d used before and loved for customization: Cyberpower PC. I customized a machine with a 256 MB nVidia 6800 GT graphics card, 1 GB of RAM, and a nice new Pentium-4 3.1 GHz processor.  The friend kindly threw in a monitor on his own dime. At the time he claimed he had some sort of a “coupon” for it, but I’ve always suspected he just bought it for me as a gift. He did this because I had a price limit for computer + monitor, and his advice had caused me to spend the entire limit on just the computer.  When I started talking about backing down on the specs to afford a monitor, suddenly he mentioned this “coupon.” I have no doubt that he generously did this because he wanted me to have the better system.

The computer was amazing to me when it arrived. So much faster and slicker and better than my old 1 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 128 MB vid card system, this new system was 3x as fast, had twice as much memory, and twice as much video power.  The games I was playing at the time — Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes — looked so much better with the graphics cranked up, if not to max, at least to “pretty high.” Continue Reading »

Dragon Age was a good game from a story perspective. And I liked the NPCs.  However, some of the game mechanics drove me batty.  The most annoying one was probably how each NPC might be happy or mad at you based on what you did on your quests. This was, in my view, a micro-management nightmare and an almighty pain in the ass. I have a character who would, if played to her role, do X. But if I do X, I get negative faction with half my party.  So now I have to decide. Do I want to lose faction with my party over and over, or do I want to forgo playing my character “right” and “game the system?” Worse, you can work your ass off with a character only to gain +1 or +3 faction with them, and then make a seemingly innocent remark and lose -20.  What the hell is THAT?  IMO, the whole character faction system of DA was done almost as a way of the devs griefing the players.

Unfortunately, although much of the moment-to-moment gameplay of DA 2 is pretty good, and in many ways superior to DA 1, this theme of the devs seeming to do things to grief the players has been magnified to such an extreme that many nights, long before it’s time to turn off the Xbox and go to bed, I shut the game down in aggravation and annoyance.  DA 2 has continued the annoying issues with the NPCs and even magnified them.  But worse, you the game lets you completely, totally screw yourself over and doesn’t do a thing to stop you. Continue Reading »

You see them every time you direct your web browser to any generic news or business website — Yahoo!, Fox News, CNN/FN, and the like.  They’ve proliferated like spawning salmon since the recession hit and people started losing their homes to foreclosure.  You know the kinds of articles I mean:  the author uses himself or some other person as an example of how you can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a month by “trimming unnecessary costs.”  Each and every time I have read these articles, I’ve found them entirely inapplicable to my own situation. And in fact, I don’t know very many people who could save the amounts offered by the articles.

There are generally two reasons why these articles are almost always useless.  First, the people in them are usually wasting obscene amounts of money on things that not only I, but everyone I know would consider a waste, like subscribing to a “fruit of the month club” (that’s an “Everybody Loves Raymond” joke I threw in there).  Second, most of the suggestions are inapplicable to my own personal situation — like ways to save on mortgage, which are useless to me because I pay rent.

To see what I mean, let’s dissect the most recent installment of this inane breed of articles, from Yahoo! finance.  The couple being described in this article saved $500. Let’s see how much of that $500 would be applicable to me, if I were to copy them. Continue Reading »

One of the most highly anticipated MMORPGs slated to launch this year is Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR), an MMORPG derived from the highly successful single-player CRPG, Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which came out in 2003 or so.  Star Wars: TOR will be Bioware’s first foray into the MMORPG class of games, with all their previous offerings being either solo CRPGs (KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1 and 2, and Dragon Age), or designed for a small group playing on their own local server (Neverwinter Nights).  Bioware’s previous offerings have all been smash hits, and the company has built up a reputation with gamers that is very rare in the computer game industry — a reputation for quality products.

Bioware’s RPGs have become more and more sophisticated over the years, with increasingly good animation, cinematics, and voice-overs. At their heart, however, all these games follow the same basic paradigm.  They have very strong stories that are unveiled little by little through the dialog.  They have strong companion NPCs. They have cinematic sequences and theatrical cut-scenes.   The Bioware games feel almost like you are playing a character in a movie.

This paradigm is deliberate, not accidental.  The games have been hugely successful because of these characteristics.  The majority of people who have played Bioware’s RPGs have reacted positively.  People buy Bioware games to have the very experience described above — that of playing your own character in a movie. Continue Reading »

As those who read this blog much know, since it’s the bulk of what I’ve written about, I have been an online gamer for many years.  Although I don’t play any MMORPGs right now, the list of ones I’ve tried, and played for various amounts of time, is as long as my arm.  Over the years, as an intelligent forum poster and a thoughtful gamer, I have managed to make my way into a number of closed betas, including the ones for LOTRO, COH, and Champions Online, to name a few.

In each and every case, when I got into closed beta, I have found that, beyond the fact that the games are (as expected) somewhat buggy, there has been a definite let-down when I saw what each game delivered.  Each game I’ve beta’ed has had major, fundamental flaws in basic game design.  In City of Heroes, the major flaw was basically how violently it departed from the genre.  In Champions Online it was how far the game strayed from Champions, plus the violations of genre, plus the really horrible questing system.  In LOTRO it was almost everything about the game, since it’s just WOW with a Middle Earth reskin, right down to the pedestrian quests.  I’ve complained about these elements in the finished products that launched for all these games, so there’s no point to rehashing it all. Suffice it to say, in every closed beta, I have been shocked and disappointed by how poor certain aspects of the game are. Continue Reading »