Neverwinter Initial Impressions

As Mr. Walker over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun so eloquently stated, “I don’t entirely know how to justify why I’m enjoying Neverwinter quite so much.” I was able to sneak a few spare moments this past weekend to play between newborn infant related tasks such as feeding, burping, holding-so-to-make-it- stop-screaming-why-won’t-it-stop-with-the-screaming while the wife was showering, and the ever-present threat of diaper changes. Rarely can I spend more than about an hour and a half at a time in my “lands” as the wife calls them. But I was afforded enough small windows to find myself truly enjoying this game, and honestly, I’m not sure exactly why.

If you stop reading after this sentence, it is perhaps enough to know that Neverwinter is, if nothing else, as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It can be a casual game you can play here and there, or it can be a game that allows you to invest hundreds of hours exploring every little thing the game has to offer, and even create some content of your own. That dichotomy is evident right off the bat in the initial character generation (a necessary evil for some, an imagination heaven for others). Click “Next” through it and be done in 5 minutes, take an hour or more customizing everything, or find a happy medium. I was off the boat and adventuring in about 10 minutes, myself.

Because none of my gaming friends have delved into this game, I’m just following the story solo style with my Rogue Trickster (Samuel Haines on the Dragon shard, in case you’re interested). There are NPCs to talk to, and they give you all the standard quests we’ve all come to know and love; search & destroy, courier, explore, & protect/escort. Regardless of the task type, there is almost no barrier to entry. It’s been said in other places, and I’ll say it again, in a lot of ways the game feels more like an old school FPS, but with the bells and whistles of a modern-day MMORPG – and I’m saying that with a lot of nostalgic love of the old school FPS (and not a whole lot of experience with MMORPGs). Combat is especially reminiscent of the FPS; whatever beastie is behind your reticle is the beastie you’re targeting. There’s no hard “focus” that you have to explicitly change, making combat feel very fluid.

There are plenty of things to be intimidated by, and I suppose some things to be bothered by, but for some reason, I’m neither intimidated, nor really bothered by much of anything. For instance, there are about 6 currencies in a ridiculously complex monetary system, and each is used for different, yet sometimes overlapping things. I’ve been able to get by with the basic gold/silver/copper currency, and happily ignore the rest so far. There is a guild system, but being solo for the moment, I have no need of it – without friends to help me start a guild, I couldn’t use it even if I wanted to. There are things called “Events” which include other things like dungeon delves, PvP matches, and skirmishes, but I couldn’t tell you much about them, and am doing great so far without them. Crafting is a thing that exists, like in any MMO worth its salt, but it seems fairly complex, and I’ve been happy with loot drops.

There are also companions, which every player can employ. These are actually very nice. I have one now, and foresee having more. They are quite useful in filling whatever gap your own character leaves open. For instance, if you don’t deal a lot of damage, you can hire a damage dealing companion. If you don’t have much by way of survivability, you can hire a tank, or a healer. But choose wisely, you can only have one active at a time. Regardless, they often serve to get the attention of the bad guys, so you can do your thing without being pounded on. Companions are fun.

There is a thing called The Foundry, which is where players create their own adventures (User Generated Content, or UGC), but I haven’t even opened the GUI for that yet. I’d love to, and am really intrigued by the possibilities there, but if I don’t explore it at all, I’ll have fun anyway.

There is, to be honest, one thing I would see improved. There is no waypoint system, which means you have to travel, by foot or hoof, where ever you want to go – or at least to the edge of whatever instanced zone you’re in. Only there can you choose another zone to travel to. No teleporting straight to places you’ve already been from wherever you are. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too long to travel from one place to another, and I’m familiar with this mode of transportation from games I’ve played in the past. It seems a little dated now, though. I’d like a quicker way to get right where I want to go, without having to slog it too long. I’d also like Cryptic to streamline the task of moving from one zone to another. There are a few too many baffling clicks right now – why do I need to choose an instance every time? I don’t know. But honestly, those are petty complaints, given what I’ve paid for it. Which is exactly zero dollars.

I think I’m enjoying it because it’s so very simple, and yet there’s the promise of so much more if I want it (as if I’ll ever have the time). Even if I never peel away the outer layers of this game, I’ve already got more than my money’s worth out of it.

Thinking vs. Feeling

Pardon a brief, but long brewing rant.

Feeling does not equal thinking.

You think ideas.

You feel emotions.

It irks me (admittedly far more than it probably should) when someone says, writes, or otherwise states the following, or any variation of “I feel that {idea} is…”

No. No you don’t. You think {idea} is whatever you think it is. You feel {resultant emotion}.

I always want to ask “You feel WHAT that {idea} is…? Happy? Sad? Indifferent? What?! You tease me with promises of feelings, but then give only thoughts! I think you confuse thoughts and feelings, and I feel frustrated and anxious because of it!”

I read the case of Lorenzo Oliver & his son being arrested for killing an opossum in their backyard (and the subsequent fallout), and the article contained the following phrase: “[assistant city attorney] said the city feels the officers have qualified immunity.”

Blowing right past the problems with police having qualified immunity, and skipping happily over the idea that an institution can independently think or feel anything at all, the city does not feel the idea that the officers have anything. The city thinks the officers have immunity. The city believes the officers have immunity. The city may feel confident in this thought, or conviction, or idea. Perhaps it even feels wounded or troubled that others wouldn’t come to the same conclusion (now now, poor city, it’ll be ok), but it doesn’t feel that idea. It thinks it.

I now conclude this ultimately pointless rant of the day.

Home Fitness Success: Start Slow and Build the Routine

I’m no stranger to the twists, turns, roots, and overall tricky nature of the highly technical single-track that is the Home Fitness Routine. I have had, and sold, two complete weight system contraptions designed for the home gym that ended up being very expensive coat racks.

Now I’m giving it a go again, with the hope that by being older and more mature, I’ll also be more focused and likely to follow through. I’m giving myself a better chance also, by building my routine slowly, one exercise at a time.

A few weeks ago I got things rolling and purchased a commercial spin bike I found via Craig’s List.

Vision ES600

I decided on spinning to avoid the blistering heat that has plagued us here in the midwest, and it’s a lot easier to jump on the spin bike than get geared up for the road bike. Ease of use equals more likelihood to use. I’ve also made the spinning more fun by making sure I have an engaging TV show on DVD to watch. I like that format b/c it’s about the right length at 40-45 minutes, and it keeps me entertained through the workout.

TV on DVD while Spinning

After two weeks, I’m doing well with the spinning, and by well, I mean I’ve used it nearly every day. I think it’s safe to add a couple more exercises. This past week I purchased a joist mounted pull up bar, some leg lift straps, and some push up straps.

Pull Up Bar Mounted to Basement Ceiling Joist

Captain's Chair Straps for Leg Lifts

My intent is to help my weight loss and maintenance by building some additional muscle. I’ve heard that’s a thing that works.

Some can jump right onto a double diamond and make it happen. I’ve learned that I can’t do that. To get the results I’m looking for requires a change in lifestyle and priorities, and I’ll fail if I try too much change all at once. So I’m forcing myself to slow down, work through the easier levels first.

You Geese Are Not Welcome Here!

This morning, for the better part of half an hour, a small ethic woman in high heels and a knee length skirt, carrying a large coffee in one hand and a cigarette in another, chased geese around the grassy strip between her business and mine.

Innocuous Grassy Knoll Where Many Geese Perished

Innocuous Grassy Knoll Where Many Geese Perished

There were two groups (gaggles?) of geese: one on this side of the tree, and one on the other side. She would chase the one group onto our parking lot, and the other would creep towards her lot. So she would run chase after the other group, and the first group would creep back in. And by run, I mean hobble ineffectively in high heels through grass and over uneven asphalt, hindered by her knee length skirt and goose rage. Repeat for nearly 30 minutes.

Eventually the geese gave up and calmly wandered off in a line and away from her. But she wasn’t convinced they were through… as she walked away, she kept glancing back to make sure they weren’t returning.

I’m honestly not sure what her problem was… they were just relaxing in the grass, nibbling here, napping there. But she was serious with the waving hands and the yelling. She was NOT about to let those geese enjoy that grass.

When I get a chance, I’ll upload the video I took. It’s mostly boring, but there are a couple of good moments.

“Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but the absence of vision.” – Anonymous

I am so ready to be able to see again properly and without foggy lenses and blurry edges, yo.

Two weeks ago, on Tuesday, May 8, I went in to have my eyes read and new contacts ordered. I was overdue both in terms of contact wear-n-tear, and prescription changes. Everything went well, and the new contacts were ordered.

They arrived on Monday, May 14, but something just wasn’t right. The left eye was too strong, and the right eye was too weak.

I was able to make an appointment for Thursday, May 17 to have my eyes read again with the new contacts. My optometrist, slightly confused at how bad they really were, got the new numbers and ordered new contacts. I picked them up yesterday, May 21, and something still wasn’t right. This time, the left eye was too weak, and the right eye was too strong. Just the opposite of what they were before.

Fortunately, my optometrist was able to get me in as soon as today and we think we figured it out.

When the first pair arrived, (and this is the crucial part) the tech responsible for verifying that the contacts delivered matched the prescription ordered… didn’t. And guess what! The contacts didn’t quite match the prescription ordered!

Aside: Apparently, this is more or less normal to a slight degree. There will be some variance in the strength delivered vs. the strength ordered. It’s small enough that the eye can very easily compensate, but it’s there all the same. In this case, the variance was way off. I understood the difference to be something like correcting for 20/700 instead of 20/650 (she was talking dioptics and all manner of things that went in one ear and out the other). That’s a difference that the eye, or at least my eye, couldn’t compensate for. It was painful. I felt it in the back of my skull.

Oh, and yes, I’m quite near-sighted.

We were able target the moon with a manned missile in the 1960′s with nothing more than an abacus, a plumb bob, and a chalk line, but we can’t nail down prescriptions for contact lenses today. Does that seem right to you?

So, when I went in complaining that they were wrong, my optometrist, assuming that the techs had done their job, corrected the prescription against the original correct prescription, rather than against the new incorrect contacts, resulting in an order that was twice incorrect.

When those lenses arrived yesterday (May 21, 2012), they also weren’t verified against the order. Not that it would have mattered. They could have matched the order down to an atomic level, and they would still be incorrect for my eyes, because they were ordered using incorrect information.

So today, when I went in complaining that, yet again, the lenses gave me headaches, my optometrist took a step back, thought about it (because she was just as confused as I was), and decided to get a read on the lenses herself (if you want something done right…). What she found, as I’ve already described, is that the first pair ordered was wrong, and that the second pair ordered were wrong again because they were based on the assumption that the first pair was correct.

Fortunately, the pairs were wrong in such a way as to allow the left lens from the first pair (too strong), and the right lens from the second pair (also too strong) to simply be corrected, rather than another brand new pair ordered. That way we eliminate the variable of curvature on the concave side. They sit on my eyes just fine, but the strength is off. That’s easily correctable. If they had to correct the concave side, they would have had to adjust the convex side as well to meet the prescription requirements. Too many variables. This way, they only have to buff out one side.

I hope.

I’ve been with this optometrist for nearly 8 years, and this is the first time I’ve had any difficulty getting a prescription right. That’s not bad, and to be clear, I’m not taking this as a reflection on her skillz, yo. Things happen. Next time, though, I assure you, this thing won’t happen again. I’ll be all like “Yo, you get that lens verificated all up in there right?!”

That’s exactly how I’ll be.

Just like that.

Count on it.

Mobile Device Ownership Verification

Having recently been a participant in a ridiculously annoying and unfortunate set of easily avoidable circumstances involving my own smart phone, I’m of the mind to put together a little guide for use by those in possession of a lost phone and faced with someone claiming it’s theirs, as well as those seeking to reclaim a phone from the person or business currently in possession of it.

YOU ARE IN POSSESSION OF A DEVICE SOMEONE IS CLAIMING

All of the following ideas assume that you are, in fact, of the mind to return the device. If you’re just going to throw it away, or keep it for yourself, then naturally you can ignore this entire post.

Before any of the following steps are taken, ask that the claimant produce a photo ID, and make note of the name for your own records. You might consider asking for additional contact information, such as an alternate phone number and/or email address.

Prior to showing the claimant the device, ask the claimant to describe the carrier, make, and model of the device. Inspect the device for any tell-tale marks, scratches, or unique behaviors (loose keyboards, connections, buttons, etc.) that the device exhibits. Ask the claimant to describe the device, and listen for any description that matches the unique characteristics you noted. Do not volunteer any information about the device.

In each of the following situations, run through at least one of the verification options. Performing all of them might be overkill, but performing none of them is irresponsible.

The Phone Has Power and the Screen is Locked

  • Make the claimant call the phone from another phone. This will, at the very least, prove knowledge of the phone, if not ownership.
  • Make the claimant unlock the phone prior to leaving with it. This will prove a greater degree of knowledge of the phone and owner, if not ownership.
  • In the case of Androids and Blackberry’s, remove the battery and call the carrier. Give them the IMEI and the name of the claimant to confirm the carrier records match the person claiming ownership. Original iPhones have the serial number and IMEI engraved on the back metal case. For the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (GSM model), and iPhone 4S, the SIM tray displays the IMEI number.

The Phone Has Power and is Unlocked

  • Make the claimant call the phone from another phone.
  • Make the claimant verify contents of the phone, such as contact names, pictures, home screen icons, installed applications, or any other unique aspect of the phone contents that prove intimate knowledge of the device. This might appear to be a breach of privacy, but if privacy was a real concern on the part of the owner, it would not be allowed to remain unlocked beyond a very short idle period.
  • In the case of Androids and Blackberry’s, remove the battery and call the carrier. Give them the IMEI and the name of the claimant to confirm the carrier records match the person claiming ownership. Older model iPhones do not provide physical access to this, but do provide this information on the About screen. Original iPhones have the serial number and IMEI engraved on the back metal case. For the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (GSM model), and iPhone 4S, the SIM tray displays the IMEI number.

The Phone Does Not Have Power

  • If a charger is available, charge the device until such a time as it will boot, then proceed with one of the following methods:
    • Make the claimant call the phone from another phone.
    • Make the claimant unlock the phone prior to leaving with it.
    • Make the claimant verify contents of the phone, such as contact names, pictures, home screen icons, installed applications, or any other unique aspect of the phone contents that prove intimate knowledge of the device. This might appear to be a breach of privacy, but if privacy was a real concern on the part of the owner, it would not be allowed to boot into an unlocked state.
  • In the case of Androids and Blackberry’s, remove the battery and call the carrier. Give them the IMEI and the name of the claimant to confirm the carrier records match the person claiming ownership. Original iPhones have the serial number and IMEI engraved on the back metal case. For the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (GSM model), and iPhone 4S, the SIM tray displays the IMEI number.

YOU ARE TRYING TO CLAIM A DEVICE

If you have lost and are claiming a phone, then you should voluntarily offer the following methods to confirm the device is, in fact, yours, rather than someone else’s. This could save you significant inconvenience and will certainly save the real owner significant inconvenience and concern.

  • In all cases, inspect the physical condition of the phone, looking for any tell-tale marks, scratches, or unique behaviors (loose keyboards, connections, buttons, etc.) that you know your device exhibits.

The Phone Has Power, And the Screen is Locked

  • Unlock it. Additionally, in the very unlikely case that you and another owner of the same make and model phone use the same unlock code or pattern, verify the contents of the phone as belonging to you. If the phone has been tampered with, this will also give you the opportunity to identify any issues that might have arisen while it was out of your possession, and follow up with the individual or business who has had possession of the device.

The Phone Has Power, And is Unlocked

  • Confirm the contents of the phone are yours. You know what’s on it. Make sure it’s what you’re expecting. This will also allow you to respond immediately if the phone has been tampered with.

The Phone Does Not Have Power

  • Either bring a charger, or have the person or business call the carrier to verify the IMEI matches what they have on record for your account.

You Send a Friend to Pick it Up

  • If you absolutely must send a friend to pick it up in your stead, provide them with enough identifying information as their trustworthiness allows, whether it be knowledge of the condition of the device, or knowledge of the unlock code or pattern and the contents of the device, so that they are able to answer any questions arising from the above methods and retrieve the correct device.

The above methods, if followed intelligently, will at least provide reasonable assurance that the right device leaves with the right person. No method is fool proof, and a truly determined thief will have done the research to be able to circumvent some of the methods described. But at least you can say you have done what you can to ensure that the device is in the right hands, rather than just giving the device to the first person who walks through the door saying they left behind a black phone with a screen on it.

Consider this a living guide that I will update with any good suggestions left in the comments.

Straight Pool & Equal Offense Scoresheet/Spreadsheet Update

I’ve made some updates to the score sheets.

I’ve uploaded all of them now to GoogleDocs for one. That’s the big change.

Other small changes, currently exclusive to the GoogleDocs versions, are minor formatting changes, formulaic changes to rid the sheets of #DIV/0 errors, and the removal of some extraneous columns to help with formula drag filling.

Furthermore, I’ve shared all the GoogleDocs versions so they’re public for the finding, though I’ve retained exclusive editing rights.

As always, suggestions and tweaks, especially those that stem from trial-by-fire experience, are always welcome.

Straight Pool & Equal Offense Scores and Stats Sheets

Update to Malware Protecting Script

In an attempt to be a little more friendly in terms of bandwidth to the strapped folk over at Malware Domains, I’ve retooled the script I wrote about in the post To Be Protecting Against the Malware.

I’ve added some lines to take advantage of remote zipped files (.zip), which will help them by reducing the number of bits we’re pulling from them.

I’ve added some lines to copy the downloaded malware zones file to other servers behind my firewall, which will help them by not making individual connections from each server to pull the files. I just set up a cron job on each internal “slave” server to bounce named every morning timed for after this process is complete.

Here’s the updated code. It is, as is my wont, rather verbose. It is considerably more verbose than other examples out there that take care of this same problem, but as I said, such is my wont.

Also, it’s relatively untested, and I expect to be tweaking it. Use at your own risk.

On the “master” server, I’m using this…

Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.