Not as private as you may think

Are you a Facebook user?  Do you like posting photos and status updates?  Do you enjoy posting on people’s walls and having them post on your wall?

One of the main issues that I have with Facebook is the illusion.  You log in and you are presented with your news feed.  Over on the left you see the smiling faces of your friends that are online, and your feed is full of them telling you about random stuff.  And see all this friend-centered stuff and you think, “Hey, I’ve got something to say, let me update my status and share it with my friends…”  Who can really see that?  If you’ve gone into your privacy settings then it might just be your friends.  More likely, it’s your “Friends of Friends” or even “Everyone”.

You might have heard that horror story about someone who bitched about their boss and the boss saw it and it got them in trouble, so you haven’t friended your boss.  However, you are unaware that your boss actually went to high school with someone who is your friend.  You’ve got your status updates set to “Friends of Friends” which means your boss, who is a friend of your friend, can see that you just called him a twat, so maybe you don’t get that raise or promotion.

That photo you posted of your girlfriend meeting you at the door when you got home, naked with a beer and a steak… sure, the plate covered all the naughty bits, but you just posted that to your Mobile Photos album (since you uploaded it from your phone) and that album is marked visible by Everyone!  That’s on the Internet now.  Tagged and cached, for-ev-ver.  The next time your girlfriend goes looking for a job, someone just might Google her name, see that photo and decide her future based on it.  Maybe she doesn’t get the job… or maybe she does and her new boss treats her like a girl willing to have half-naked photos of her posted on the Internet… or maybe it doesn’t matter…

I prefer to err on the side of thinking that it matters…

A caution about privacy and the Internet might seem odd coming from a guy who blogs and mentions his real life now and then, but know that every tidbit of information I put into a blog post is carefully considered.  I ask myself, “Do I mind if everyone knows this?”  I have over 1,100 posts here and I’ve probably put just as many in the trash bin.  It’s actually common for me to come here, write out a diatribe on the latest frustration at work or amongst friends, let it sit in draft form for a couple of days and then delete it.  It’s one of the reasons I love blogging and haven’t been a huge fan of most social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, because they are immediate, there is less chance for careful consideration.

So, my Monday morning bit of advice this week is to go to your privacy settings in Facebook and make sure all your sharing is at levels you are comfortable with.  At the very least, be aware of who can see what you say…

Movie Round-Up: July 30th, 2010

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore:

Do I even have to say, “No”?  I shouldn’t have to, but I will.  No.

Charlie St. Cloud:

This movie isn’t getting good reviews.  The few good ones call it a sentimental tearjerker, so if you are into those sorts of films, perhaps you’ll enjoy it.  For me, I don’t mind the tearjerkers, but I’m not going to pay $10 for this.  Someday the wife and I will watch it on Netflix.

Dinner for Schmucks:

I don’t think I could do it.  If my boss told me to come to a dinner and bring an idiot for us to make fun of, I’d probably start looking for another job.  However, watching other people do it?  That’s comedy!  To be honest, I went in to the screening I saw of this movie expecting it to be stupid, but it managed to be funny, heartwarming and creepy.  At moments it was downright hilarious.  You could easily find worse ways to spend your hard earned money.

Jury Duty

I really wish this was a post about how I was going to serve on jury duty, but it isn’t.  As a person who is ready and willing (even eager) to do his duty I will probably never be summoned.  The wife, however, got a summons and is spending this week on a jury.

One of the things I learned this week as she attended her days of duty is that in some places because of the number of people trying to get out of jury duty they’ve had to make changes to what excuses are valid.  No longer can you be automatically excused if you are the sole breadwinner in a family.  Single mother?  Not excused.  Former police?  They’ll still let you sit on misdemeanor cases, just not felonies.  Medical issues?  Only if they prevent you from sitting still for stretches of 4-5 hours.

Another thing I learned is that some companies hate America.  Yeah, I went there, and yeah, I’m exaggerating.  However, our county pays $25 a day for service.  The wife makes that in about 3 hours of work.  To do 5 days of jury duty, she’ll earn $125 but miss out on about 30 hours of work.  (30 / 3 = 10 * $25 = $250)  So the result of this week is that it will cost us half her wages.  (It’s not 40 hours because she works retail, and therefore weekends.)  She talked to her boss and the company she works for makes no concessions for jury duty except the promise not to fire people if they end up on a lengthy trial.  I spoke to my own boss, he said I’d be paid my normal wages AND it wouldn’t cost me any vacation days either.  Probably another reason I won’t be called to serve.

The jury system is one of the things about this country that I love.  It is sad to see people treated quite poorly for their service, not by the government, because I understand they can’t really foot the bill for everyone’s wages (and seriously, they have to treat people equally, if the wife and I were both serving, it would be wrong for me to be paid more for my time on a jury because I make more in the private sector), but by the companies they work for.  Plus, it contributes to the idea that a trial by jury is actually a trial by a group of people who are probably a little upset for having to be there because of the impact it is going to have on them financially especially when the economy sucks.

Anyway… it was on my mind, so here it is…

Wizard 101

This will be my one and only post on the game Wizard 101 under the Freeloading heading on this blog.

Back when this game was under development, I got an invite into beta.  The basics of the game are a collectible card game, not unlike Magic: The Gathering or other similar games, but to speed up the process they’ve removed the concept of land and resources and replaced them with hit points and mana which you have from the start and carry around like any other MMO.  I immediately liked the game.  One, because it was so vastly different from the MMOs that I had played thus far, and also because it seemed like a great game for kids.  Not that I have kids or anything, but I respected the hell out of the game because they obviously chose their market and built a game nearly perfectly designed for that market.  That doesn’t happen as often as it should with MMOs.  Usually MMOs start off very generic and then through beta testing they start tailoring the game to some demographic for launch, which is often not the same demographic they will court over the life of the game.  But Wizard 101 started in one place and have stuck with it, and done it well.  That said, when the game exited beta and launched, I didn’t play… because I was playing other games at the time and this one just wasn’t what I was looking for.

First, let’s get technical.  I’ve got a 2.3Ghz single core processor, 2GB RAM, and a GeForce 7900 GS.  Its an older PC, probably two years at this point, and it wasn’t exactly top of the line when I got it.  Wizard 101 runs like a dream.  It is fast, loads quick, and never lags.  I’ve stood in the Commons with easily 50 or more players on my screen and everything moves fluidly.  And the game looks great.  Sure, its not FarCry level of realistic detail, its cartoony, like World of Warcraft but aimed more at kids.  And I’m running at the highest levels of detail with the best textures all at 1920 x 1200 resolution.  More games need to be able to do this.  Now on to game play…

As with the other game currently appearing in the Freeloading heading, my goal with Wizard 101 was to play without paying.  So I loaded the game up and my beta character was still there.  Level 5 (I think), wearing only gear that he’d gotten playing the game as I had never bought anything.  I’d played through all the content of Unicorn Way in the beta (well, almost all, it seems that a couple of quests had been added since, but those didn’t take any time at all to finish off).  I don’t remember how long it took me to accomplish that, but I can’t imagine it took me more than a couple or three days, maybe 8 hours of play at the most.    So, what remained was Golem Court, Triton Avenue and the Haunted Cave.  Every other door was either locked or would present me with a screen asking me to buy the area or a subscription.  Three days.  Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday Morning.  That’s how long it took me to finish up every single quest I could find that didn’t require entry into an area that wasn’t free, so if I had been starting with a new fresh character it probably would have taken a week.  But then again, this game wasn’t made to be played hardcore like this.  It’s designed to be done in small chunks, a quest or two at a time.

One of the most awesome things about Wizard 101 is that if you need help fighting a boss that is too difficult and there is no one around (likely because the game put you on a lower population server when you logged in) you can go to the options screen and switch to another server or another copy of your area, literally within seconds (one loading screen, which is even faster than other loading screens because you’ve already loaded the zone).  This made getting stuck nearly impossible.  I’d get to a door to a boss and wait a few seconds, look around, and if I didn’t see anyone heading my way, click click click, I’d be on another server.  If there was still no one around, I had to wait 60 seconds to be able to switch servers again.  It never took more than 2 or 3 server hops to find someone else standing at the boss’s door and we’d go in and fight together.

Much like Free Realms, Wizard 101’s greatest weakness is its social interaction.  Being a game aimed at kids, they’ve put in plenty of parental controls and the only way to ensure that another player can read what you say is to stick to the canned text.  Click the word bubble icon in the upper left of the screen and navigate the menu to find something like “I need healing” or “Let’s go fight [insert quest monster here]!”  If you type your own words, you run the risk of people seeing only “…” which is what the game replaces questionable text with.  The most important use of the friend list isn’t actually to keep track of your friends, but to use the “Teleport to Friend” function to get through a door you can’t get through on your own.  Not into pay areas for free, I tried, but some boss doors will not be available to you if you have not gotten to that part of the quest chain yet.  Instead, the person with the quest invites you as a friend, they enter, then you use the teleport function to join them.  My friends list is full of people I used or that used me to get inside towers.  I practically jumped out of my chair the first time I encountered a person who was actually chatting.  We talked for about a minute, but they had to log out.  Its been nothing but canned text ever since.

Again, like Free Realms, even with the social aspects so weak, the game is actually quite fun to play.  Like any collectible card game, there is strategy to building decks, choosing your cards to include, and strategy in the order to play them, and game knowledge of what monsters have what cards and guessing the builds of their decks.  Especially if one gets into the PvP arena area of the game, I can easily see this being many long hours of building decks and playing matches.  I messed around in the practice area myself and quickly realized that if I wanted any real challenge I would need to pay to get access to the ranked arena as my deck simply blew away most of the people I played with.  (Hint: as most card gamers know, a fat deck is not always better, I use the Starter Deck that has less slots so I can more predictably get the cards I want, reducing the luck of the draw.)

The one place that Wizard 101 really shines over Free Realms is how they do their unlocking.  Both offer a subscription that unlocked all game content, Wizard 101’s is more expensive by a couple dollars, but Wizard 101 does not lock any classes or cards (at least that I’ve run into) requiring membership to use.  Free Realms is lousy with them.  Probably 60% of items I get from questing in Free Realms I can’t use as a free player.  Wizard 101 also allows you to buy areas, unlocking them forever.  So if you want to go to Firecat Alley, you can buy it for 750 crowns (in game cash) which equates to about $1.50, less if you buy crowns in bulk.

And this is why this post will be Wizard 101’s one and only appearance under the Freeloading heading.  Where Free Realms hasn’t yet convinced me to spend any money on it at all, yesterday I dropped $10 on Wizard 101 for 5000 crowns so I could unlock more areas to play in.  I’ve heard you can unlock the entire game for $80 (with the exception of the arena, which you pay per fight or per day, or subscribe for unlimited play).  That is about the best review I can give a Free 2 Play game: it hooked me enough to give them money.  You win, Wizard 101.  You win.

Resident Evil: Extinction

I actually saw Resident Evil: Extinction weekend before last, but I figured I’d dig out my thoughts on it for a Zombie Wednesday post. There are going to be spoilers. You have been warned.

I loved the first Resident Evil film. I’ve never played any of the games, so I went into it with just the expectation of a zombie movie, and it delivered. The only mild disappointment I might have had with it was the open ending and the not-quite-zombie monsters at the tail of the film. The second movie was more of the same, until they introduced the boss mob. That was silly. But hey, it didn’t totally suck.

The third movie, well, I was hoping for the end of a trilogy. It even seemed like it was going that direction. The world is infected by the T-Virus, dried up. If people stay in one place too long, the zombies will find them, so they stay on the move, driving around the desert in a caravan. Meanwhile, Umbrella is still around and is actually searching for a cure, sort of, and they happen to be in the desert too. Alice is still running around trying to save the people she can, and Umbrella needs Alice to manufacture the cure.

There are some really cool scenes of the caravan and of Alice as they move through this dead world. Stuff happens, people die, things go wrong… the usual. But then the movie takes a left turn. See, there is this scientist who has been using clones of Alice in place of Alice, and its not working out well. So he decides to go after Alice, but only after he creates some super zombies to fight her. The doctor ends up getting bit by a super zombie, and instead of turning into a zombie or even a super zombie he turns into a boss mob with tentacles and other weird shit (I’m told it is Tyrant from the game). Its lame. And then Alice wins, and she tells all the other hidden Umbrella labs that she’s coming to get them, her and her army… of Alice clones.

There are rumors and allegations going around that they are working on a Resident Evil 4, and as much as I now dread it, I hate movies with giant gaping open endings. Leave a couple loose ends untied? Sure. But the end of this movie was just too much. They need an RE4, if for no other reason than to put an ending stamp on it.

Alliance: Good doesn`t mean Nice

Ishiro and Lorilai head to Winterspring to do battle with demons in the south because Ishiro needs some felcloth. Unfortunately, seeing as we have gotten all our gear doing quests and picking stuff up as we go, never in the auction house, we are poorly equiped to handle level 60 elites as a duo. So after getting our spirits crammed back into our bodies, we decide to do something else instead. Quests in Silithus.

Seems some of the guys there want us to kill more of those Twilight Hammer guys, so we are off to do that. Sadly, the pages they drop are a repeatable quest that people farm for faction to be able to complete other quests. First camp we hit, the one in the far southwest, a group of 60’s are pummelling everything in site. Second camp, just west of the town, also camped by a group of 60’s. Third camp, ah-ha! Only one rogue here. Of course the rogue spots a priest and runs up to me and says, “++”. I ignore him, assuming he doesn’t speak English. “zu” he says. “++”. He keeps running over, helping us kill stuff and repeating “zu” and “++”. Now, at this point I assume he wants something, but I have no idea what. Finally I say, “Sorry, I don’t understand you.” He stands silent a while and then says, “hp”. Hmm… I guess he wants a stamina buff. So I relent and give him one. He then proceeds to steal kills from us, and when he gets caster mobs with pets, he continually dumps the pets on us after he killed the casters. An interesting way to say “thank you”.

Lori and I are happily grinding away. We kill the 10 Geolords they wanted us to kill, and we are now collecting pages for the hermit. 77 kills in total and we got 7 pages. A 1 in 11 drop rate for an item that is also used in a repeatable quest that everyone and their brother appears to want to farm. Ugh. However, prior to the end of our evening, a raid force shows up. We are wondering what is going on, they are Alliance which means I can talk to them, so I ask. No reply. Ask a couple more people, ask in general channel. No answers. Without warning they trigger some god awful boss mob that blasts some area affect poison crap that nearly kills us. We scramble to survive our fight (3 mobs at once, that Keeper bitch keeps showing up at the most inopportune times), and then scramble to heal up. Then we get splattered again with the poison ooze and start healing and running.

After they kill the thing, I ask what it was, what it was for… no answers. I mention it would have been nice to give people a warning before spawning a boss like that… no reply. Then the raid group decides that with the boss dead, they all need faction and pages, so the 40 of them descend on our little camp and make everything dead. Nice.

So we pack it in for the night, still needed 3 more pages for Lori to complete the hermit’s quest. I really want to finish this crap so I can get away from Silithus. The place has been good to us, but there are just far too many wackjobs and assholes running around.

Playing Hooky

Sometimes I just feels good and right to blow off responsibility and do something else. Today I decided that it just wasn’t really worth my time and effort to actually go to work. My boss and our main backend programmer are both on vacation, and my immediate responsibilities involve redesigning a page layout so that its “printer friendly”. So last night, in a burst of brilliance, I turned off my alarm and slept the sleep of the contented soul. I woke up and did my best to do nothing upwardly productive all day long. I played computer games, I browsed the web, I went out for lunch, I went to a bookstore and bought crappy books off the bargain table by authors whom by sheer virtue of their being published I respect but by the fact that they were only published once I figure from their work I can get a taste, perhaps, of how not to write.

Damn, I think when I bought those books I did something that might be considered productive. Crap. Now I’ll have to skip another day in a couple weeks and try again.

There are days when I love being a contract programmer, and confident in the knowledge that no amount of work they can throw at me will ever be more than I can deliver on time.