VoteThe title should say it all. And yet, so often I’ve expressed that sentiment to people and they push back with all the reasons why voting doesn’t matter. But it does. In a democracy (or a democratic republic or whatever variation you want to pedantically state we live in) your vote is one of the things you have that matters most.

The elected corrupt have little interest in educating the electorate

While voting is good, voting blind is not. You do yourself and everyone you know a disservice if you don’t do your research. Keeping up with all the positions and politics used to be hard and time-consuming, but we live in the future, and these days in as little as five or ten minutes a day you can learn so much about every issue that faces this nation, and from so many sources that you no longer have to implicitly trust that the reporter is giving you an unbiased opinion. Let the opinions be full of bias, and let the Internet deliver to you so many opinions that you can find the truth for yourself.

Just be careful not to tie yourself down to too few sources, even when.. no, especially when you find yourself agreeing with everything a particular source says. Don’t be lazy because it is so easy to not be lazy. Use Google and Bing, or even Yahoo or Ask or any random search engine, and you’ll get all the information you need. And with the advent of Web 2.0 design, you can participate. If you read something you don’t quite understand, you can ask for clarification and the Internet will clarify it. Millions of people are out there, waiting for someone to ask “Can you explain what is meant by…”, and some of them will even be right!

Don’t wait for the politicians to tell you what the issues are. Go find the issues for yourself. Educate yourself. Because the truth is, the people you’d rather not have in office would rather have voters who are easily distracted by meaningless issues that reek of tabloid level scum than to have voters who actually know what’s going on.

There is no use voting for anyone but the Republican or the Democrat

Republocrats and DemicansIn many cases, when you get to the polls, you’ll find yourself with just two options. Republican or Democrat. (Though, write-in candidates should be supported everywhere, you might just have to search hard for the option or ask for help in locating it – some of these ballots are really poorly designed, even the electronic ones.) But often there will be other choices. These 3rd party candidates are often there to shine a spotlight on a single issue or small set of issues, but you don’t have to ignore them. Include them in your research and if you think those people are the best for the job vote for them.

Some people will call that a “wasted vote”, but it isn’t. Not in principle. Yes, Mr. Third-party may not have a shot in hell of taking the office, but if he can get enough votes then either a) his pet issues will get more air time, or b) the swell of support this time will increase his chances next time. And remember, not everyone votes at the same time, and exit polls start showing predictions early. Your vote of confidence in that other option might inspire others to also throw their weight behind the little guy.

Mostly though, a vote for the best person is never a wasted vote. Voting for someone you don’t want in office because she’s a little less bad than another candidate, that is a wasted vote because you are supporting someone you don’t agree with. And when they get into office, they don’t get results like “62% of the voters voted for you! However, 23% only did so because they didn’t want the other guy to win but they don’t really like you.” They just get the first sentence, the one that tells them they have a mandate from the people. You’ve just given a mandate to a politician you didn’t like enough to vote for on merit alone.

You fool.

Vote for the candidate you want to win!

Tomorrow is election day in the United States. If you haven’t yet, spend a little time today to find out what is going to be on the ballot and learn enough to have an opinion. Tomorrow, vote.

Tell Your Customers

We (don't) Care!
Don't let this be your motto!

Currently, I deal with two companies on a regular basis to whom which we pay a lot of money.  One of them, a co-location facility, is fantastic at communication.  Every time they have scheduled maintenance or even unplanned issues, I get an email.  In fact, I get several.  For a scheduled issue I get an announcement, a reminder, a notification of start, a progress update if the issue is long enough, more if the issue keeps going, a notification of resolution and an after action report.  For unscheduled issues it’s the same only without the lead time.  I even get these emails when the issue isn’t going to affect us, just so I know what is going on and on the off chance that is does end up affecting us.

The other, to whom we pay much more money and they handle out internet and phones, we get nothing.  Even when we have outages, getting an explanation from them is like pulling teeth.  Our internet access, which is needed for our customers to use our products, goes down for twenty minutes, or bounces up and down for several hours (down for 30 seconds, up for 3 minutes, down for 20 second, up for a minute, down for a minute, up for 5, etc..) and the best I get from them is “we’ll look into it”.

Having worked in the telecom industry, and from dealing with various companies over the years, I know that all this equipment is monitored and logged.  Someone, somewhere had to have gotten notification of the problem, so why didn’t they toss out an email that said, “Hey, we are seeing issues in XXX area and some of our customers may be affected. We are working on it!” and later a nice “We found the problem and it was resolved!”  I mean, shit, the co-location facility provides an after action report with more detail than I know what to do with…

The failure was in the 3rd card of the router in room 3E1 that caused packet loss to the network that exceeded the threshold and switched the room to its backup route at the same time room 3E2 was being fault tested which overloaded the network and crashed it.  Our customers in 3E2 were immediately switched to their primary route experiencing only a few seconds of outage but room 3E1 was offline for 63 seconds while the backup route was restarted.  The 3rd card of the router in 3E1 was replaced and the room was placed back on its primary route within one hour.  We have scheduled a replacement of parts of the backup route for tomorrow to ensure it doesn’t crash again when it is needed.  Next week we will begin a full equipment test of all routes that should take two weeks to complete to ensure this same issue doesn’t happen to the other rooms not affected at all by this issue.

All of this comes without me ever once having to call anyone.  Meanwhile, our telecom tells us:

We think there was an outage in XXX, which shouldn’t affect you but might have, and since your service is up now I’m going to close the ticket.

And this is after calling to open a ticket, waiting three hours, escalating through four levels of management and threatening to cancel our service and go with another provider.  I wish I could say that my threat was more than empty, but as I said, I used to work in telecom, and this is par for the course.  No matter who we switch to we’d get the same level of information about failures out of them.

Seriously guys… if there was a line out, or an equipment failure, or someone crossed a line or rebooted something they shouldn’t have, just admit it.  Tell me exactly what it is so that I understand that you actually know what happened, because your current level of non-communication only leads me to believe that you have no idea what happened.

This applies to just about every business in the world.  Admit fault, explain failure and detail resolution.  Even if it all goes over your customer’s head, you have at least demonstrated that you know what you are doing.  Hand waving and secrecy just makes your customers have less faith in your abilities.  If your team is competent, you should want to show it off.

Another brick in the Wall…

Bad Wall Usage
Click to see the Cracked post about the 10 Commandments of Facebook

My birthday has come and gone.  One thing that was very different this year over previous years is that my wall on Facebook wasn’t filled with well wishes.  This was a little sad… and yet, entirely expected.  More than a few people have made mention about not being able to write on my wall there, so I decided that I’d blog about it.

At first, the wall seems like a good idea.  Given the origins of Facebook, the wall is pretty much the chalkboard/whiteboard/corkboard on your dorm door.  People can drop by and, if you aren’t there, leave you a note.  As with many things, this also fits with Facebook’s “everything is public” mentality that those of us who don’t feel that way fight and force them to keep their privacy settings useful.  (If Facebook and Zuckerberg had their way, nothing would be private.)  Most of the things that used to appear on my wall were fine.  Birthday well wishes, holiday cheer, the occasional photo or video.  But every once in a while, something I would prefer to be a private message would show up there.  Thankfully in my case it was never anything bad, but we’ll come back to this.

Another problem (in my opinion) with the wall is that they opened it up for applications.  At the beginning, games would spam your news feed.  “Jason has a new cow in Farmville!  Click here to get a free cow too!”  All in an attempt to get your friends to all play.  But now you also get “Jason has given you a roofing nail in Farmville!  Click here to collect it!” written on your wall.  Seeing as how I don’t like very many of those games, disabling the wall stopped a bunch of those without me having to block the applications.

Anyway… back to the inappropriate comments.  The main issue with the wall is that it is (mostly) public.  If you allow people to post on your wall, your visibility options are: Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends Only, and Custom.  Now, under Custom it allows you to block certain people or only allow trusted people, but it is a pain to do and doesn’t really solve the issue.  (Choosing “Only Me” is effectively the same as turning off the Wall.)  The majority of people never look at their security settings (and Facebook is counting on that).  Instead, most people think the wall is like sending a personal message.  The result is that over the years I’ve seen a number of things posted on walls that should be in private messages, or at least restricted to Friends Only.  Phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, test results (yes, those kinds of tests), family secrets, and so on.  Sometimes I think about when people have bluetooth headsets for their cell phones.  They seem to forget that now that they aren’t hunched over their phone and talking into it, they are now projecting and everyone within twenty feet can hear that they are frustrated about not getting laid in the last eight months, and that since they haven’t been laid they don’t know why they have itching and burning in their crotch.  The wall on Facebook is like that.

So, back when I was running through all my security settings a few months ago, I decided to just go ahead and turn the wall off.  Don’t need it.  If you have something to say to me you can either send me a private message, or you can post it in your news feed and dedicate it to me.  I’d recommend the private message.  Sure, I’m ruining the social network aspects, the viral nature, of Facebook.  I don’t care.

The Secondary Market

It was April 9th of this year.  I went down to the bookstore at the first opportunity I’d had to pick up the latest of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books.  At the store there was a shelf right inside the door with about three or four dozen copies of the hardback.  I picked one up and flipped it over to make sure I had enough cash to buy it when suddenly I saw a second rack of books.  Above it was a sign for “Previously Owned Books” and on that shelf was a copy of the book I had in my hands, only instead of being $26 like the one I was holding, it was $20.  Sure, I had $30 on me and could afford to buy the new copy, but who doesn’t want to save $6?  I put the new copy down and picked up the used copy, bought it, and marched home with my new book to read.

The preceding paragraph isn’t true.  I’m not sure it could be.  Yeah, you can buy used books, but the number of times you’ll have the opportunity to buy a used copy of a hardcover book just three days after release is so small as to be non-existent.  But what am I getting at?

I posted a couple weeks ago about the issue that blew up the gaming sphere of the Internet.  Discussion has continued, and many people keep on trying to equate the sale of used games with the sale of used… well… anything else.  My book example above, I’ve never seen that happen.  I’ve also never seen someone buy a $30,ooo car, drive it for 2 or 3 days and then go sell it to CarMax for half the value so that CarMax can sell it for $28,000 (if anything, they’d return to the dealer and try to undo the sale and get a lot more of their money back).  Now, I’ve seen that happen with music CDs, but that’s because people buy, rip and then resell since they don’t need the CD anymore to enjoy the music, but that is a whole different issue.  We aren’t talking about people making illegal copies of games.  But speaking of games, I’ve known plenty of folks who will buy a game new, play it for 3 days, either finishing it or disliking it, and then sell it to Gamestop or some other used game reseller.  I have walked into a Gamestop just 2 or 3 days after the release of a new game and found used copies $5 to $10 cheaper than the new one sharing shelf space with the new copy.

The fact is, in most products with a healthy secondary market, that secondary market doesn’t have a large impact on the initial release and first month (or two) of sales, and that is really the meat of the matter.  Video games, in some respects, have such a short shelf life (except for the occasional blockbuster that bucks the norm) that anything which hurts that hurts the industry.  To combat that you have companies trying to offer multiplayer experiences that encourage the consumer to retain the game instead of reselling it, and one-time access codes that reduce the value of the game on resale.  And of course you have digital distribution models that prevent reselling altogether.

I think secondary markets are great, even vital, but I also think that the creators of a product need a reasonable amount of time to make their money before the secondary market kicks in and takes that away.  I don’t like the idea that game companies are looking for ways to eliminate or hamstring the used games market, but I also hate seeing places like Gamestop selling used games within that first month of release, knowing that’s it’s contributing to less profits for the creators (and more for the secondary market).

Eventually, I think the game companies will win, and destroy the secondary market with unlock codes and digital distribution.  Imagine a future where you buy a game for $60 and inside is a one-time code that you must enter to play the game.  If you buy the game used, it’s little more than a demo, giving you 30-60 minutes of play unless you buy an unlock code from the marketplace for $60 (perhaps a bit less… $50?  $40?) to open the rest of the game.  Suddenly, the used game would only have a limited value (the disc being needed in the drive to play), which kills the resale value.  Your $60 first purchase becomes a $5 resale that Gamestop can sell for $10… or maybe Gamestop can sell you the disc AND the unlock code for $60.  Who knows…

Luckily for me, I only buy games that I know that I’ll keep, and I don’t buy used games (if I want an older game, I’ll just buy in new when it drops to $20 on Amazon or at BestBuy).  But I do occasionally lend a game to a friend, or borrow one, and whatever they do will impact that as well.  We’ll just have to wait and see what they decide to do…

Netbooking It

A while back I got a netbook.  An ASUS 1005HA.  Sure, it’s not the graphical monster that the Dell/Alienware MX11 or whatever it’s called is, but it suits my needs just fine.  Those needs?  Browsing the net, email, writing, and the occasional game.  Oh, and it is awesome for traveling.  Much better than lugging around a full laptop with a 15″ or 17″ screen.

Obviously, such a machine is limited in it’s gaming capabilities.  Though, mainly the issue is resolution.  It has a 1024 x 600 desktop.  I can run it at 1024 x 768, but that squishes everything.  The 600 height is native.  Puzzle Pirates runs great on it.  So does Wizard 101.  Free Realms absolutely fails.  Most flash games run, though some websites hosting them expect a larger than 600 height so their ads and layout can make playing an issue.

As you can tell by my list, I’m looking for MMOs that will run on it.  I’ve heard that World of Warcraft will run, though not optimally, plus I’m not playing that game anymore anyway.  But what other MMOs are out there that will run in a 1024 x 600 resolution and run well without needing a super graphics card?  What’s a good MMO On The Go?

Removing Grouping – Part III

Now that communications and combat status updates are out of the way, what else does a group provide?  Loot!  Or, more generically, reward sharing.

Personally, one aspect of design I’m eager to change is level based progression, but that’s a separate issue.  Reward sharing actually comes in two forms. The first I’m going to call inherent. These rewards are things like experience points or deed flags where simple membership in the group (and proximity to the event in most games) garners you a share.  The main reason for this sort of structure is to prevent exclusion of “support classes” from rewards.  If your group is fighting a group of monsters and you are the healer and during the entire kill of one of them you cast no spells, the group structure ensures you get a share.  Obviously, more complicated “cast spell on person who fought” award trees could work most of the time, but I specified “cast no spells” for a reason.  You are a vital part of the group, they need you, but it just so happens that for sixty seconds during one fight no one was hurt enough to require healing, so you didn’t.  I suppose you could get even more complicated and add to the award tree anyone who cast a spell on someone who engages the monster within the last X minutes, but that could easily bog down the system with keeping track.  A better solution is actually to remove rewards from the act of defeating a monster, at least for experience and move it to quests/tasks.  A number of games, most notably World of Warcraft, have already begun moving in this direction where grinding experience points fighting monsters is far less rewarding that fighting monsters that contribute to a quest that will yield a large chunk of experience as a reward.  Even though, group membership is still used to assign the quest flag (the kill of a rat for a “kill ten rats” quest).

At this point, we could start looking into different methods of awarding flags, such as the award being an area effect so that any player character within range gets the flag whether they contributed or not.  Each of them valid, and each can be done, but every method, even grouping, has exploitable elements, so the issue becomes which exploitability are you more comfortable with and to begin looking into ways to combat it -like logging out people who are AFK too long and trying to eliminate users who “macro”.  Of course, the main reason some people don’t participate in combat is because combat design around things like the holy trinity (tank/healer/dps) encourage it, but that is a separate issue.

Its beginning to look like the current design of the reward structure, how players progress, and how combat functions in many MMOs (primarily the Diku style ones) are very dependent on the group structure and trying to remove that group element is going to require thinking the whole thing over from the ground up.

Thirty-five and One Thousand

35… Well, I haven’t had a midlife crisis yet, so I’ve got that going for me…

Today is my birthday… again… so, lets look back at “Thirty-four” and see how I did.

I got my work ethic back, I suppose.  I have a new job, though it did take a few too many months to get one (Thanks Economy! You suck!), and I enjoy it.  I’m back to working for a small company, so gone are all the retarded hour long meetings where nothing gets done but settling on who to blame for why nothing got done from the previous meeting.  We have projects, we do them, and then they are done.  Ahh… the sweet life.

Over the past year, I got myself under two hundred pounds, which is pretty nice.  But I’ve kinda plateaued.  I just haven’t found anything yet to motivate me to take it further.  Wii Fit Plus showed up on the doorstep this week and it promises to fix the major issue I had with the original, that of having to stop between every exercise, so we will see how that goes.  I’m also still struggling with getting my diet under control.  The main issue is that I’m hungry all the time, and I need to learn to ignore it.

And as for projects around the house… yep… still need doing, but again, I’m not going anywhere.

I did try the NaNoWriMo as well as Script Frenzy, but I finished neither.  The attempts, however, were important and should lead to better participation this time around.

That explains “Thirty-five”, now for the “One Thousand”.

This marks my one thousandth entry on this blog.  Kinda neat that it happened today.  Do you believe in signs or omens?  Sometimes I think I do, and sometimes I don’t… but I can’t help but wonder if this means something.  Its not exactly a pile of mashed potatoes that looks like the Devil’s Tower, but it is what it is.

Anyway.  This is my thirty-fifth birthday.  This is my one thousandth post.  Enjoy!

Print is Dead

Personally, I’ve never been a big newspaper reader.  Mostly, though, its because I never wanted to spend the time reading the news, not for any dislike of newspapers themselves.  I wasn’t replacing the newspaper with TV, radio or websites, I just avoid most news outlets since they tend to report primarily bad news.  If I had the inclination and the time, I probably would subscribe to and read the newspaper, because I do like the format.

But like the title says, print is dead, or at least is dying.

The thing I like most about newspapers that is lost as they move to the Internet is that they are a snapshot.  You can go to a library and pull up a newspaper for 40 years ago, or even just a month ago, and see exactly what was considered news on that day, exactly what was fit to print.  Try doing that on CNN, or even the sites of print newspapers.  You might be able to gather a collection of stories that were published on the site a month ago, maybe piece together an idea of what was newsworthy on a particular day, but not really.  With news websites’ penchant for “updating” stories and new information breaks, often rewriting rather than just appending, news reported on a Monday might carry the date and time stamp of Friday when the story stopped developing.

I would absolutely love to see news websites that mimic print news papers.  Big publications of stories once a day, with an archive so you can always pull up a previous issue, and then maintain a “breaking news” blog type feed that puts out mini stories and facts and things happen throughout the day, all of which will be rolled up into full stories for the next day’s issue.  But I suppose, perhaps, I am in the minority about this, seeing as how every news website out there is following the style layout of “news now” and anything that doesn’t make the front page that minute is lost to the search field, which even defaults to a web search instead of a site search.

A man can dream though…

The Path Not Spoiled

One discussion that always seems to come up with me over and over again is the problem with spoiler sites.

My first issue with them is that they are usually just information dumps. There is never any care put into the presentation of the information. Here is the quest, here are links to the item stats and maps for drops and comments from users including location coordinates and more. I would love to see sites that actually care for the game offering tiers of information, a couple levels of “hints” before the final reveal. Of course, that takes effort and since many spoiler sites ultimately strive to be ad driven click fountains of cash, its much easier to just dump information in its most Googleable form to generate as much traffic as possible.

The next issue is the justifications used by players who frequent spoiler sites. The big excuse is that they want to know what’s up with a dungeon or instance before they go so as to minimize the chance of a wipe out, especially since wiping out wastes time and costs in-game money for repairs and/or recovery. I tend to avoid spoiler sites, and when I get in groups and head into dungeons, I do my best to force my group to assess fights before charging in, to consider consequences. We don’t usually wipe out, but even if we do I try to ensure that everyone has fun doing it. Encourage people that we can do it and try again. The people who wipe out most groups are often the ones who went to a spoiler site. Either they got bad information, or incomplete information, or worse… they got spoiler tunnel vision. This happens when you need monster X for a quest and find the directions on where to find him and how to beat him, but the page you looked at didn’t mention the trap encounter in the room prior, or the 57 other encounters you have to get past before the one you want. After enough outings like this, the spoiler-reader will just up his research, making sure they know a dungeon inside out, soup to nuts, before stepping foot inside. People justify going to spoiler sites to avoid wipe outs, but it seems to me that most wipe outs occur from people using spoiler sites to avoid actually learning to play the game.

To me, games like MMOs are about the journey, the “how” of getting to your destination. The social interaction, working with others toward common goals, that is where the fun is at. It seems, from my experience, that lots of people focus entirely on the destination, and the answer to “how” is “as quickly and easily as possible.” I just don’t understand why people would invest so much time and effort into the game reducing it to collecting widgets, be it levels or items. Why play a game in a manner that intentionally avoids most of the game?

I used to play tennis. I was actually pretty good. Many of my opponents were confused by my play style (I have no back hand, I actually switch hands to utilize two fore hand swings). But I wasn’t great. I practiced, I played in a league, but as much fun as I had and as much as I wanted to play, there was a ceiling to my level of skill. So, I settled into a level of play where my opponents were challenging, where I had opportunities to both win and lose without dominating my playtime with either. And that is the approach I take toward all gaming. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, and I try to win more than I lose, but neither winning all the time nor losing all the time is fun. But even so, I enjoyed tennis most when practicing and leading up to a match, or playing the match. At the end, I won or I lost, and neither matter to me at long as I felt good about how I got there.

Was I raised differently than most people? Can someone help me understand why so many folks are focused completely on the ends and are willing to justify so many means to skip right to it?

Amazon vs Lord of the Rings Online

At the last possible moment… okay, not the last moment, but close… Saturday, I decided the wife and I would play Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. So, I threw a copy into the Amazon shopping cart, changed the quantity to two and placed my order. The reason I started by saying it was a close call was that the game released on Tuesday, and you had to order it before then as a pre-order to get the super cool Founder’s bonus stuff, most importantly the $9.99 a month rate. Since the normal rate would be $14.99, $5 a month times 2 is $120 a year savings.

If we end up playing for two years, I might kick myself for not taking the Lifetime subscription, but then again, if I paid $200 and then canceled after six month I’d kick myself. Damned if you do…

Back to my point though… we ordered our two copies of the game and then I went to the digital download section to claim our pre-order key… wait. Key? Singular? Shouldn’t I have two keys?

Why yes, yes I should.

So I call Amazon Customer Service… or rather, I go to the web page, enter my phone number and click the button to have their help desk (helpfully located in India) call me. The woman is nice enough, at least the broken formal English she is reading from her CS manual is nice enough. After many unsuccessful attempts to explain how the pre-order, account registration and all that is supposed to work, and trying to point out that I ordered two copies of the game but only got one key… to give a quick example, it went sorta like this:

Me: “I ordered two copies of the game, only got one pre-order key.”
Her: “Order shows one item.”
Me: “With a quantity of two.”
Her: “Not two, just one item on order.”
Me: “There is one item, with a quantity of two.”
Her: “Sir, your order has only one item. Digital downloads are given one per item.”
Me: “The item cost $50, my invoice is for $100 because I bought two.”
Her: “But there is only one line item.”
Me: “With a quantity of two.”

Finally, she grasps the concept… one item, quantity of two… and determines that she is not capable of resolving my issue. She says that I should have ordered the items at separate lines, then forwards my problem to another department, says they will email me the resolution, and hangs up.

Now, there are many things I am not, but one thing I am is a Web Programmer. You would think, if Amazon has an issue with providing digital content on multiple quantity single line items someone over there might be able to trap a flag and issue a warning to the user, or even not allow multiple quantities for items with digital content. A nice little pop up that says, “This item includes a digital download and product key, please add multiples to the cart separately.”

In any event, we are now waiting to hear from Amazon. They owe us a pre-order key, or they owe us $5 a month. Let’s see how long this takes to resolve…

Update: As bad as the first call was, my follow up 48 hours later was good. The woman was pleasant, contacted the department needed, got us all on the phone, got the issue reviewed and resolved, and she apologized for it taking a second call to get the work done. Apparently the first woman hadn’t actually forwarded my issue to the other department. All is good now.