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They don`t live here anymore

Furthering my pursuit to stop junk mail, I have begun attacking the mail that I get that it addressed to previous residents of my home or people who have never lived here.

The first step is the catalogs and coupon mailers that come addressed to someone else “or Current Resident”. One previous tenant was a golfer, I’m not, so the weekly (sometimes twice weekly) fliers from the Golfsmith has to go. The fliers contained no information for opting out of their mailing list, no phone number to call, except the local store who informed me that they were not responsible for the fliers and he wouldn’t give me the main office number. But in the age of the Internet, this didn’t stop me. I went to the Golfsmith website and used their contact page. After a few emails back and forth trying to make the customer service team there understand that I hadn’t ordered anything and just wanted off the mailing list, they finally got it and have claimed that I have been removed.

Thankfully, that was the hardest one to deal with so far. Others have immediately understood what I wanted and responded accordingly, so the catalog of horrifically expensive watches should stop, the fishing catalog, and handful of others should stop within the next few weeks.

Next to deal with are the real mail items for other addressees. Legally, I can’t open their mail to find out if there is a contact number. Nor am I supposed to just throw it out. According to the post office, mail not addressed to me should be marked “Not at this address” and left in the mail box. I’ve been doing this for almost a year now and they still deliver mail for the same wrong people. I suppose I may just have to live with it.

The last thing to deal with is random junk mail, usually for local businesses or those packets of coupons for services I don’t need from companies I’ve never heard of. This level of junk is called Direct Marketing, and there just happens to be a Direct Marketing Association and they publish a method to be removed from their lists. You can find the instructions here. Now, unlike the prescreened credit offers I posted about before, being removed from this list isn’t free. It is going to cost you $1 per name/address combo you want removed. But $1 is worth it to me, not only to stop me from getting this junk, but possibly reducing the amount of this junk that gets printed.

The fight against junk mail continues…

Zombies: An MMO Idea

If I could design an MMO, completely from the ground up and I had full control, what would I do? Easy. Zombies.

First off, there would be only one world, and the world, in effect, would be as large as the real world. It would not be a zoneless game, but for most people it would feel like it. When you log in for the first time, you create a character, no classes, just a person (using the obligatory super cool character creator with eleventy billion combinations of body parts and textures and clothes), and you choose where you are going to be from (a nice world map with glowy red dots for player populations, so you could decide to be where there are lots of people, or where there are no people, or somewhere in between). You would also choose a “player type”. This “type” would decide if you are issued a house or if you are given a list of dwellings of appropriate survivor capacities that are currently open to new members (if you pick a type for a size of group to which none is available, a new one will be created for you and new players will begin joining you shortly). In game a player can always choose to change their “type” by simply leaving their current group and joining a group of another type (or if you have decided to abandon people and go it solo, you have to clean out a house and bar the doors for safety).

Welcome to a world populated by endless zombies. You and your group (or just you) need to implement and maintain defences as well as gather survival supplies, food, fresh water, broken pipe replacements, clothes for the winter, a way to stay cool in the summer, weapons, etc etc. And of course the zombies need to be killed, because zombies tend to bunch, and if you don’t keep an eye out you’ll be surrounded and starve to death before you know it. Zombies tend to walk, but some will run when they see food. Rarely do they think, but once in a while they’ll be accidentally crafty. Log in, survive, log out… but don’t forget to make sure you’ve got food before you leave, you might starve while you are gone (working in groups helps, if your mall has 24 residents you can afford to not log in for a month as long as the rest of your group keeps you fed, but be careful, if you don’t pull your weight, they might feed you to the ghouls).

When you are logged out, your character is an NPC in defence mode. Unless other members of your group are online to manage the perimeter, its assumed you will warn people trying to break in and kill them before they succeed.

If a place gets too overpopulated by players, not only will you run out of zombies, but you’ll run out of food, unless you start farming, but farming (unlike your home) isn’t safe and you might get robbed. Get enough people working together and you might rebuild a city, at least until people stop logging in… dead players becomes zombies, and your city might be destroyed from within.

And what about player death? Well, a player can only have one character at a time. If they find out friends or coworkers play, they can always travel to them… if they can survive the trip that is. Death is death, and you have to roll up a new character, but without levels in the game, the only thing you’ll really have lost is your home and your possessions (given to your groupmates if you had any, left for scavengers if you didn’t).

What can you do besides fight zombies and survive? Well, anything you want to really, as long as you are also fighting zombies and surviving. Rebuild a PC and get a working satellite dish and some power and you can hook up to the remains of the internet and communicate with others, even play games… or play games with your group mates or other neighbors when you have them over for tea (or they get cut off while scavenging and needed a place to hide until daybreak). Depending on bandwidth and licensing issues, run your own TV station or radio station… publish a newspaper. Rebuild a car and go for a drive (be sure to lock the doors).

Essentially, Second Life… but with zombies!

The Whole Wide World

If you have played any MMO, you have likely run into a quest that needed you to circumnavigate the world to finish it. Visit some guru in a far off place or take a note to an officer in some city’s army, whatever. You have also likely found a time when you wanted to group with someone who you grouped with yesterday, but today find them to be on another continent. If the game had no travel assistance, like run speed enhancements or teleports or griffin mounts, you probably got a bit annoyed at the twenty or thirty or sixty minutes all this running around was going to take you.

And, if you are like most people out there, you probably wanted them to fix the travel issue with instant travel teleports so that you only had to travel a couple minutes to a portal, port, then a couple minutes to your destination, at most.

In my opinion, though, the problem here has been misidentified and the solution is completely ass backward. The problem is not the travel time, the problem is that you have to travel.

Travel should, to me, be a non-trivial task, like it is in the real world. If you need to run errands in your life, don’t you try to get a few of them together and make one travel loop getting them all done and returning home at the end? I know I do, and that’s because I don’t want to go out and come back for each item, especially if those items are far away. To that end, I try to do things near home if I can, or if I find I’m always going far away for stuff to move my home closers to my interests.

This is the problem with most games: not enough content close to “home” for the player. There should be content for solo, groups, raids, PvE, PvP, every level, every class, whatever boundaries exist in the game within a reasonable distance from “home”. Now, what is a reasonable distance is another argument altogether, but for now we’ll just vaguely say that reasonable is “a travel time for which the majority of players feel no disappointment in making both there and back”.

A long while back, I started down the road in my design thought processes of what I refer to as a “town-centric” design. (If you are so inclided, you can go read the thread and my posts over at the MMO Round Table.) And I still hold that, in my opinion, this is the best way to design a game: start with the player’s home and radiate content out from there. At some point if a player tires of one town, they can move to another town, at which point they will have all the content they need around the new town, all within a reasonable distance from the new town.

I love travel in games, and sometimes just for travel’s sake, but I hate when travel becomes a barrier to fun.

The Shopping Season

Now that the holiday shopping season is pretty much over, I wanted to take a moment and share what it is that I like and don’t like about it.

One thing is fairly consistant among people I talk to is that noone seems to like going to the mall, or near the mall, or even getting on the roads at all from Thanksgiving to January 2nd. Most of this, I find kind of funny. First off, the traffic… yeah, people are stupid, but with some good Christmas tunes (or other music if you are one of those sicko people who hates Christmas songs), a watchful eye, and a zen “I’ll get there when I get there” attitude, traffic is nothing to worry about. Just always give yourself plenty of time, and know that if you are late the simple excuse of “Traffic!” is enough for just about anybody. Then there is parking… my legs ain’t broke, ’nuff said. Well, almost. Look, seriously, most of us out there are perfectly capable of walking, just don’t go shopping on rainy days and you’ll be fine. Nothing tickles me more than watching people drive around the mall looking for the perfect parking spot for an hour when they could have parked at the end, and be halfway done with shopping by now! I am literally filled with glee when I see the vultures circling the aisles. The next thing is the crowds. Now, I completely get why most people don’t like crowds… mainly it is because crowds are pushy and they get in the way. The solution here is just to not be in a rush youself.

That whole not being in a rush thing is at the center of enjoying the holiday shopping season. Number one, don’t wait until the last minute to buy high demand gifts. If you were one of those people clammoring to buy a Wii or PS3 on December 24th… you are an idiot. You should either have bought it sooner, or come up with another plan. If I ever have kids, they are going to love me or hate me, because I simply will not put up with that crazy shopper crap. If I can’t lay my hands on a high demand gift early, they’ll be getting a letter from Santa, an IOU and a substitute gift. Christmas in February! There is just no point in killing yourself for a gift. That said, this season, I had a chance to lay hands on both a Wii and a PS3, but not dying for either, I passed them on to the next person in line. I can wait (for a better bundle deal). I’m not perfect though. I mentioned previously that I was pretty sure I hit a home run in the gift giving department this year (and I did), and part of that was an in demand gift… a Nintendo DS Lite, the pink one. I didn’t act soon enough and so the pink one slid through my fingers. I had a choice to make… get another gift, or get a non-pink one. I went with the non-pink one, because the DS itself was really the gift, the pink color was just a bonus. But that was only half the home run.

See, the DS was one of those “only if” items. I had a budget, and the DS was only on the purchase list if I could manage the other gifts with enough room in the budget left for the DS. This leads to the other side of shopping, the best side: deals.

The wife, for whom the DS was for, also wanted some power tools. Now, under normal circumstances I could have only gotten two, maybe three, tools for the budget, but it was Christmas which meant package deals. ACE Hardware happened to be running one, it was a really nice 6 piece cordless toolset for about $50-60 off the regular package price. I shopped around for other deals, but ACE was the best deal, and decent quality stuff (not top of the line, because top of the line does not go on sale, ever, because it doesn’t need to, its top of the line). None of the ACEs I went to had it, and I tried to order it online, but they weren’t giving the same deal as the in-store, so I kept searching. Finally, I found one, just one, the last one. Yay! But the box was all damaged, so I asked to talk to the manager and asked him if the item had been returned. Yep, it had been. Well, I didn’t want to buy something that was broken, so I wanted to know why it had been returned. He went to pull the customer service report to see the reason stated for return, but couldn’t find it, and I didn’t want to buy it if it was potentially broken, and he didn’t want to sell it to me if there was a possibility of return since he didn’t have any more and wasn’t going to get any more… so, he gave it to me for another $40 off, a total of about $100 off the normal list price. I bought it, took it home and tested all the parts and they all worked! Yay! That left enough room in the budget for the DS and a game.

The wife managed a similar kind of deal when she got for me the Complete Calvin and Hobbes. I know the suggested retail is $150, and Amazon sells it usually for $99… but I know she got it for $68. You can’t always get these kinds of deals just filling virtual carts online.

But back to the rush… see, the most important reason to not be in a rush, is that when you do go out to the stores and malls, you are filled with the warm feeling knowing that you are not one of those crazy people who are surrounding you. I actually like to hit the mall once or twice when my shopping is done (or nearly done) just so I can sit back and watch the people. I’ve always been a people watcher, and the holidays brings out the best and worst in people. It makes for fantastic people watching.

Another Year Over

2006 draws to an end tonight, and I’ll be celebrating with family and friends, as I hope you all are.

So, looking back, what did this year bring me?

The best thing of the year for me is easy… I bought a house. Sure, I saddled myself with a mortgage that I’ll likely be paying for 30 years, but owning a home is just… cool. I have a big back yard and I really look forward to working in it and on it in the coming years. The dog likes the yard too. The house is big… really big. I used to live in a 2 bedroom, 3 floor townhome apartment, and this place puts that thing to shame. Oddly enough, its also cheaper to maintain. My electric, gas and water bills have gone down despite the fact that I have more stuff, a larger place to cool and heat, and a yard to water. Its weird and awesome.

The worst thing of the year… that’s alot tougher. Overall, this has been a pretty good year, but in the end I’d say the worst thing has been having to watch my wife choose between leaving a job that was almost literally killing her and her best friend. Its a huge horrible mess that I won’t go into detail on, but lets just say it was bad. Hopefully next year will bring some healing here.

That’s me… what about you folks? You, if you are reading this, let me know… what was your best and/or worst thing about 2006?

I could go into a long post about events in the world, but mostly the year was pretty sad… this, however, I find disgusting. Please, don’t buy those.

To Wii or not to Wii

That is the question… sort of.

I was a console kid growing up. We had a PC, and I loved the Sierra games: King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and the rest. But I still longed for the days of my Atari and marathon sessions of Yar’s Revenge and Pitfall. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) changed all that. I finally got one and spent endless days playing Super Mario Bros. and Pro Wrestling, Duck Hunt, and every other game I could get my hands on.

After the NES, well, I never got into the Sega Genesis or any of the other systems, and by the time my NES broke, the PC had finally caught up, and in my opinion, surpassed the consoles. It was computers all the way after that.

A couple years back, I was gifted with a Nintendo GameCube for my birthday, and I enjoyed a number of the games I got, but I was really still a PC guy, so I never got too far into it. And while I thought the PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and Xbox were cool systems… I was still a PC guy.

These days, my career is computers, steeped in programming, and frankly, many days I get home and don’t really want to sit in front of the keyboard. My PC at home has fallen behind… and I think that perhaps gaming technology, video cards and processor needs, are excalating too quickly. I really don’t have the desire or the extra cash to keep up any more. So, my eyes have turned back towards consoles.

Thanks to this article at the New York Times, I definately think I’m going to hold off on the PS3. I’m hearing good things about the Xbox 360, except that whole thing where lots of people have to return theirs due to hardware and firmware issues. I am, however, extremely interested in the Nintendo Wii. First off, I’ve always loved the Mario and Zelda games, then there is the fact that people are already confirming that it is 100% backward compatible with GameCube games, but the most interesting feature is the ability to download old NES, Super NES and N64 games from the past. That’s just awesome.

Now, I didn’t go camp out and pick one up this weekend, but I figure in the next month or so I’ll be able to snag one. So, I guess the answer to the question is… To Wii.

The Monsters at My Door

October is over, my favorite month. And one helluva month it has been.

Last night was our first Halloween in our new home, an actual house in an actual neighborhood. See, when you live in apartments, especially ghetto apartments like I lived in, Halloween is scary for all the wrong reasons. You should be scared of the vampires and werewolves and other creatures of the night, you shouldn’t be scared of getting mugged or shot when you stumble across a drug deal. So, we decorated the house. A grave out front with a wheelbarrow full of bones, blood on the windows, a body hanging in the front bedroom window as a single bare light bulb swung behind it, and more… it was a hoot. And people seemed to really like it. Kids liked the scare, and parents stood in the street taking pictures.

The only downside was… well… we live in a fairly small neighborhood, and while we did get visitors from other neighborhoods, we really didn’t get that many Trick-or-treaters. So now we have this gigantic bowl of candy just daring me to eat it… bad candy, bad bad candy.

I was fairly happy with our visitors last night though… plenty of home made costumes, and not very many fairies and sports figures.

Sadly, though, staying at home means I didn’t go to the North River Tavern for their Halloween night… well, since I now know that kids stop coming around about 8pm, next year that’ll be when we close up the house and go out.

Hope you had a Happy Halloween.

X-Men: Dark Mirror

I just finished up X-Men: Dark Mirror, from the line of books based on Marvel properties. And I must say I enjoyed it.

The story is that five of the X-Men (Cyclops, Phoenix, Rogue, Nightcrawler and Wolverine) go out to investigate a mental hospital that is reported to be treating mutants badly. At least, that’s the backstory you get as the tale unfolds. As the book begins, Jean Grey (Phoenix), wakes up as a black man in a straight jacket. And it just gets weirder from there. The X-Men have had their minds somehow transferred into the bodies of mental patients, and have to break out, get home, and try to stop whoever took their bodies from doing anything bad. The most amusing parts of this book come in that Jean is in the body of a man, Scott (Cyclops) is in that of a petite young girl, and Logan (Wolverine) is literally wearing a big chested blonde woman. As they make their break from the asylum, they have to rely on their wits instead of their powers (which they’ve lost) to try to make their way across the US back home.

It was quite interesting to see how the author made them handle their new bodies and lack of powers. A fun book.

2006: Day 1 – The Best Laid Plans

It was simple. I told my boss I’d be off September 1st to the 4th. The wife request off the weekend from work (a year ago). We’d be off, come down to the Con on Friday, get our room first thing and spend four glorious days among the freaks, finally heading back to our regularly scheduled lives on Tuesday.

Wrong.

She didn’t get the day off. So she’s working until 12. Fine, she’ll drive down after work. But then I have work to do in the morning too. So I’ll be a little late. By noon, I’m just finishing up. She comes home instead and we drive down together.

We check in to the room, which is supposed to be right next to the rooms of two friends, we reserved as one and were assured a block of rooms. When we ask if its possible to switch from the two double beds to a single king, we are told that doing so will split us from the group. Well, if we are with the group we can suffer. Only, after we get up to the 28th floor, we learn one group of friends is on 23, and the other is on 35. Back down in the lobby, I complain and get our room switched. We are up on 40 now, much better view, and the king beds are nicer than the doubles for sharing. But… unlike last year’s room we have no fridge and no microwave, and the couch has been replaced by a single comfy chair.

Whatever, its fine. So we head to registration. Its in the Hyatt. There are signs. We follow the signs. At registration we are told that you have to enter from Baker Street, from outside, this is exit only. None of the signs leading us here mentioned that. But we go outside and eventually find the one sign that says it is the registration entrance.

By the time she got home, we load the car, drove downtown, checked in, twice, and registered, its 6. We hooked up with some other friends for a snack and plan to start catching panels at 7. Nothing starts that we want to see until 8:30, at least nothing that we didn’t miss completely. To pass the time until then we go try to find the people we were supposed to be rooming next door to.

They are at Wrestling.

Of all the things you expect to find at a Sci-Fi and Fantasy convension, wrestling isn’t one of them. But its funny. Some of the guys aren’t bad at the acting, some are horrible. Everyone gets into it and is yelling and laughing and screaming.

When that’s done, we stand out in the halls and watch the costumes stroll by. Some people have made excellent costumes, some people… haven’t. Pictures will come eventually.

Pretty much nothing went according to plan the first day, but once we got here it was fun. Hopefully the rest of the weekend will be more of that and less of the other stuff.

The Home Stretch

Yesterday’s home inspection went well. Nothing is wrong with the house that we didn’t already know about and budget for. The lawyers for HUD finally got their act together and the closing is set for next Friday. So in a week I will officially be a homo… err… home owner.

It feels good to finally get through all the mess. The waiting, the preliminary paperwork, the ninja utility work… yeah, the HUD contractors are complete idiots, so we snuck into the house one night and capped all the open water pipes and gas hoses so that we could turn the utilities on for the inspection. If we hadn’t done that I suspect our inspection might have occurred some time in August with us moving in perhaps before 2007.

This whole experience gives me absolutely no confidence in government institutions. Its not just the triple paperwork, but the sincere lack of job pride that these overpaid overbenefitted slackasses possess. I would be hardpressed to find people outside of cushy government jobs who work so little and manage to make it sound like its hard work.

Anyway, one more week and I’m done with them for good.