Wednesday, November 23, 2005

World of Warcraft Day 7

Today I achieved the goal of reaching level 10, which allows you to train the necessary skills in order to get a pet. This is a big step forward because the Hunter class hallmark is having a pet. The pet can attack, defend, and generally accompany you on your adventures.

I put my talent points into archery-related skills. Talent points seem to be obtained once per level at level 10 and above.

I completed some quests and tried to tame a wild scorpion, which killed me. The animation for taming is several white hearts floating up from my waving hands. It looked like I was fanning some sort of really hot stew on a stove while getting my teeth kicked in by a pissed off scorpion. It was really quite funny.

Mining and blacksmithing are going well. My blacksmithed axe is better than anything I could afford or loot up to now. I don't know if that is typical, or I just haven't been to the "good" zones. No matter, I enjoy tradeskills and using what I make is always a good thing.

I am not a fan of the color palette, the choices of the graphical design of the horde races (and most of the alliance), or most monsters. There are widespread comments about the game looking cartoonish. I think they may have a point, but to me it looks less cartoonish and more like quickly-done comic book.

The brambles aren't brambles, for example. They're one-trunked enormous tree-like objects with a few thorns on them to identify them as brambles. I almost didn't get it due to the obviousness. I was looking for waist-high shrubs, not five-story thorned McDonald's arches.

The graphics that I've been most impressed with so far are things like the zeppelins. That's a pretty neat airship. Other than that, some of the houses and buildings are nicely done.

The dance animations (and many of the others) are almost all achingly anachronistic. The first time you see one, you might think they're funny, but if you're remotely interested in roleplay, it does get old. If you find yourself wanting a more RP feel, then go with an RP server. At least maybe people won't dance like they're at an 80s nightclub or talk like they're hanging out in front of Electronics Boutique.

Another issue that might explain some of the experiences I've had in MMORPGs of various types is this snippet from the very nice website The Daedalus Project.

"The graph above plotting gender against age highlights another very important gender difference. Male players tend to be between 12 and 28, while female players tend to be between 23 and 40. Rather than categorizing MMORPG players as male and female players, it perhaps makes more sense to think of the two main groups as younger male players and older female players."

Hence, the average of 30 for age of players often given by game companies is somewhat incomplete. There is a bimodality in the demographics.

The Daedalus Project is a well-done series of studies on MMORPGs and worth a visit by anyone that's ever wondered who the heck we are that play these games. Consider participating in the surveys if you can.


Monday, November 21, 2005

World of Warcraft Day 6

But, but, what happened to days 4 and 5?

Elementary my dear friends. I didn't get a chance to play on day 4 and 5. So let's fast-forward to Day 6 of 10.

This morning's session began at 6:30am. I wrapped up a centaur-culling quest where I had to burn their battle plans. Funny how they left them laying out in the open in their decrepit little huts. Silly centaurs. I was then joined by my orcish comrade Garoan. He chose the best face that an orc could possibly choose, and had stealthy powers.

With orc and troll power, we completed a quest called Encroachment, where we had to kill pigdog-looking people. The first set were easy to find. The other set were across the road, and therefore quite difficult to find. Really. Like Ren and Stempy, we pretended to take over the world. Or, at least that small corner of Razormane Land.

I realized, through trial and error, that I had to have a pick in order to mine copper from the copper mines. Geez. So I bought one, and mined some copper and some stone. Next step is to actually try and blacksmith something. I also bought a fishing pole, and trained up in some things that I probably should have already trained in, but no matter! Better late than never.

By the end of the morning (8:15am or so) I had worked through all of level 8 and reset my home base to razor hill, just for grins. Having a controllable bind point is nice. I noticed EQ pretty much added this as well.

So it was an enjoyable morning, despite the fact that Xorgo (sitting next to me at his PC playing EQ) complained almost the entire time that I was completing quests and levelling and stuff while he was killing no-exp frogs for a wood elf mask. I laughed at him with Troll-like snarking.

I like the mining, since it's basically foraging with a pick on top of a sparkly rock. I have a way to track mines as well as beasts, so the mines show up on your little map in the upper right.

I noticed that "regular" track doesn't seem to work with quest beasts. Only one type of track can be active at a time. Since the directions to the quested mobs tend to be pretty good, I started just leaving the mine track on all the time and taking diversions to mine stuff while on the way back and forth from various places.

I did die again due to brazen stupidity. I tried to find a heal potion in inventory, but that took more skill than I could muster in the short amount of time I was still alive.

I upgraded my quiver as well from a 6 slot to an 8 slot. Tailors can make backpacks, so I will be on the lookout for maybe getting another pack or two. Buying and selling the quiver taught me to put the pack into inventory first, then try and sell it. I think I accidentally had to buy back the quiver I wanted when I right-clicked it (to open it) and sold it instead.

So, only minor difficulties so far with the interface, mainly due to pilot error.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Xenosaga - Der Wille zur Macht

Having used my Playstation 2 for little more than a DVD player since I got it several years ago, I decided that since a Game Stop store opened in the neighborhood, that I join the legions of unwashed middle-school boys that clog up the place every time I walk by.

I strolled in with Michael once or twice. He grokked immediately that games were sold here, but it took some convincing that some were xBox and some were PS2 and you couldn't choose both at once. This is understandable since he's only 4.

I picked up Risk and Xenosaga. Risk is an electronic version of the board game. Xenosaga had a cool anime style chick on front and the subtitle Der Wille zur Macht. My rusty german gave me the impression that this sentence fragment meant something like "the will to do" or "the will to mightiness" or something like that. It sounded good, so I bought it. Both were used, so they didn't break the bank. In fact, the majority of the games in this store are used PS2 games, which is great - they buy them back as well as sell them.

So, Xenosaga follows the format that seems to be common on PS2. You get a long movie that introduces the plot. You play for a while in either quest/explore mode, with combat interspersed whenever you careen into a bad guy, and then more quest, treasure enjoyment, and vignettes that move the plot along.

The opening scene was quite reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plot is wonderfully close to most manga. You just go along with it, and it makes sense. However, if I tried to explain it by using actual words, it would sound lame. But, it's not! Really. I had fun. I did the tutorial, beat up on some bad guys, and then started the game.

Problem. I don't have a memory card. I will need one, since in this game you level, and I don't want to start over any more often than I have to. So, I will be back to the closet-sized game store in the Rubio's shopping center to get a memory card for my PS2.

Any other game suggestions, send them my way. If you know of any games for little kids that don't suck too bad (4-5 years old) then let me know. Michael loves Grand Turismo and Crash Bandicoot.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Everquest DoN Cultural Armor Day 1

Mission to... Crushbone! Yes, crushbone. I had to kill legionaires, oracles, collect some grody orc-contaminated drops, and then turn them back in to the Tradeskill Quest Giver in Greater Faydark. I got a book on Wood Elven culture in return. Did I not look cultured enough? Well, if you've ever met Trueflight, you know the answer to that. Besides being light reading, the book gives some clues on making the rest of the background supplies for the quest.

The cultural armor is completed in four stages. There is an augmentation symbol that goes along with each armor stage as well. The armor is high AC and low HP, so the augment provides a bit of balance in this regard.

So. It turns out there is a dark blue to 68 mob in Crushbone now. I found this out the hard way, after being hit repeatedly for 930 points of damage. The lesson for the day? Don't kill the messenger. Orc Messenger, that is. Imagine my surprise when I whacked away without considering my ugly orcish opponent, and got killed on the table in the throne room! Killed! Me! DEAD

I met a really nice person who was factioning in crushbone (59 ranger) and we had a great time goofing off.

The mission or quest log seems exactly like World of Warcraft where it keeps track of your tasks and the stage of completion. I like this addition very much. You can share tasks, too - this made the "kill a bunch of legos" fun because the other person's kills counted towards my to-do list.

No discernible experience for turning in any of this stuff, but this part of the cultural armor quest is designed to be done at level 30.

For the next book (2 of 4) I head to Acrylia Caverns. I think I'll get all 4 of the books together first, then start on the smithing, just to save space and juggling inventory. I will have to do 2 levels worth of leveling, due to the fact that the last book quest isn't given below level 70.

So, that's the summary of this evening's fun and adventure in CRUSHBONE!

Another thing I noticed was the veteran rewards. I haven't played in so long, that all the new stuff really stands out to me - the veteran rewards are granted with respect to how long you've had the account active. I'm at 6.3 years, so I got (I think) six different AA type skills. Some of them are pretty nice.

So, if I can complete one of these missions per evening, then the book part might be done in a week or two. If I can run into nice people like the person I met today on a regular basis, then that's icing on the cake of new armor.

The cultural armor isn't as good as top-end raid stuff, but if you are interested in checking it out for comparison, it's called Wirewood.

Here is a link to the chest piece for those interested.

World of Warcraft Day 3

Day 3

More quest work and a bit of time spent hack-and-slashing things that roam around.
Professions picked.

I decided to go with mining/blacksmithing as a profession, but didn't work on any profession-related stuff other than training. I will probably do fishing as a sub-field, because I enjoy the idea of fishing.

6:30am started out and had the fortune of getting spam-invited into a group that was heading over to the next island for some sort of quest. I accepted the invite and tagged along. The location that I was in was a series of islands just offshore. I was collecting stuff for quests and generally soloing things on one island, one mob at a time as two = death.

The quest the group was after was that I'd signed up for, according to the log, so I joined in and fought whatever was pulled. There were three other people for a group of four total including myself. They were not talkative at all. There was no plan besides attacking voodoo-looking type mobs, which we did with abandon. The loot system isn't bad. If there is a quest item you need, then a copy exists for everyone. There was some loot that people rolled for. However, mobs are quite dumb. The don't run, they generally don't protect their own, they don't swarm. The aggro radius seems really small. Chain aggro hasn't occurred at all so far. It was like fish in a barrel this morning at the voodoo camp. The small island I was on was a bit harder, but the mobs popped in the same spot every time, and they were all equidistant with the aggro ranges non-overlapping. I could have stayed there indefinitely, as long as I was careful about catching aggro from the crab guys in the water near the shore.

Once the number of required kills was reached, one person simply started running back to town. Another person pulled a mob. The third person ran off in a different direction. I helped fight the mob, but the person that pulled it died. The mob wandered off, even though I'd hit it several times and it probably could have killed me. I'm not sure why that happened, but I'm glad I didn't have the minor inconvenience of running the short distance back to recover my dumb dead arse.

The reason I didn't get lost at this point, since everyone ran off before I looted the last quest item, is because the map system in WoW provides pretty much all location information on it. You have pointers back to the places that you've already been. I have tracking as a "hunter" (ranger) so I tracked to the nearest group member. People were disbanding as I swam to the island that I had been on earlier.

I thanked the group member (in a say) that I had tracked to for the group, and was asked if I was being sarcastic. I said "no, why would you think that? I appreciate the group and had fun".

There was no response from the other person. So, first group experience could have been played by computer-programmed in-game avatars, rather than people. It was very hard to tell if anyone was having fun while doing this brief expedition to the other island.

Getting your armor repaired, purchasing upgrades, etc is quite straightforward and doesn't tax the finances very much at this point. Completing the island-quests leveled me up to 8 at 8:15 am. I logged out near the fishing village having done quests, a group, profession training, and dying in the water to something that I should have been able to kill on dry land.

I read some of the realm forums and came away with a negative impression of the people that post there. I have to assume that people like me, who type in (generally) complete sentences, enjoy games, and try to be civil and social with other players are simply all in guilds, and post to their own boards there rather than public forums like the one at the World of Warcraft site.

I haven't been invited to a guild at this time - I would reckon it's pretty much required to join one in order to really take advantage of the PVP opportunities on the server that I am on (Agamaggan). It probably wouldn't be that fair of me to join one, since I can only play a few hours in the morning and the jury will be out on WoW until after this 10-day trial.

I am looking forward to being able to have a pet.

From Hunter Site

"What level can I start taming beasts?
You can start taming beasts at level 10 after you complete your Hunter quests. You will need to talk to your local hunter trainer and they will give you a quest to go talk to the hunter trainer that will teach you how to tame beast. You will then receive 3 taming quests each one has you tame a different beast that is local to the area you are in. After you complete the taming quests you will receive Beast Taming, Calling and Dismiss skills, these are in your spell book under Beast skills. You will then receive another quest to talk to the trainer in the main city for your race. After talking to that trainer you will have the Feed, Revive and Training skills. These are also under Beast skills except for Beast training which is under general skills."

It does sound fun. I hope I have enough time to level to 10, learn about pets, and do some mining/blacksmithing in the next week or so.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Old Photo


I have no idea how this photo survived the house fire that happened that year (1991). It must have been in my backpack or wallet, because that's the only things that survived. Maybe I'd given it to someone, and they'd given it back. Booth photos usually come in threes, I think, and this one has been cut from others - you can tell along the top. I wonder where the other ones are.

This was a particularly difficult year, most of which I really can't recall with any degree of accuracy.

So, it's amazing what you find when you start unpacking boxes from three or four moves ago...

World of Warcraft Day 2

Day 2

Start time 6:30am. Started out taking any quest I could find. Trained and sold stuff at starting city along the way.

Attained level 4 by 7:00am. Reached 5th at 7:30. Enjoyed waking up "lazy peons" with a blackjack given to me by a Foreman. The sound of a blackjack hitting troll skull warmed the cockles of my heart.

Reached level 6 at 8:10 then did some more exploring. Found four or five areas of troll population concentration. Encampments are tiny. I like the DAOC style directions that the local thugs give you. Nothing was hard to find in any encampment. The mobs are all quick work. The difficulty level of combat is very similar to DAOC. The "styles" or combat abilities are neat. I only have one so far, though.

All the other players in the zone seem to be quite busy. I've chatted towards a few other people, but they stop for a few seconds then run off. The game was easy enough to where I could continue a long-running conversation with Ken about a particular Bach CD that was profiled in BBC Music Magazine.

I've found miners and fishermen that want to train me, but I haven't taken that on yet. I'd like to get above the early levels and gain a few more class-specific skills before spending any of the limited time I have on that kind of skill. I finished up at 9:00am about halfway through the latest batch of quests.

I like the quest log system, that does help. However, the quests so far are single-step hunt-and-gather type stuff, so pretty easy to remember without the log. So, by 9:00 I had not dinged level 7, but I suspect it's close. Trolls are fun so far!

World of Warcraft Day 1

Day 1

15 minutes to level two with a troll hunter on one of the PVP servers. Took over an hour to patch the program, however. Seems exactly like EQ, except  greatly accelerated exp. Lots of babblebabble adolescent chit chat flying by about guilds and end game content.

Research showed that EQ currently has a little less than half a million subscribers. WoW has two million, and is about to be launched in China. By comparison, EQ2 has 278,000 subscribers as of this past summer.

In order to make any further progress in EQ towards finding a new guild (shok and KHS are empty), I have to do more flagging. No mid-tier and above guilds accept applications without at least elemental flagging. I could join a low to mid-tier guild, but that sounds like what I was trying to progress from, not to. I am going to experiment with monster missions and try to see how it goes. The DoN cultural armor quest looks quite fun (smithing quest). I'll start that soon, and see how it goes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point examines how an idea or trend or fashion becomes "popular". There is a point in time at which things catch on, spread, and all of a sudden everyone is wearing poodle skirts or tie-dyed shirts.

While Blink (written by the same author) attempted to quantify the power of the unconscious in decision-making, The Tipping Point makes a whole-hearted effort at quantifying many non-intuitive ideas regarding epidemics. Like Blink, it's readable, enjoyable, and quotes plenty of solid research, uses historical and current examples to make points, and makes its arguements in a coherent and highly believable way.

Epidemics have three characteristics. The "thing" spread is contagious, little things can have very large effects, and big changes can happen in a short period of time. All epidemics have tipping points. There are three rules to epidemics. These three rules comprise the structure of the discussion of the book. First, the Law of the Few. Second, the Stickiness Factor. Third, the Power of Context. When it comes to epidemics a tiny number of people do the majority of the "work". If fads aren't sticky, then they die out before they can make it mainstream. The context of a fad or idea is sometimes more important than the fad or the idea. If there is metadata or assigned meaning or interpretation to something that's going on, then that context can drive the epidemic. It's like the difference between a fire spreading on a cold damp day vs. a hot dry one.

Now, if these things make perfect sense to you, here comes the hard part. Quantify and prove them. This book does a decent job of gathering enough anecdotes, studies, and statistics to cobble together a very compelling and believable arguement for tipping point characteristics. It's definitely worth a read.

Since it's extremely difficult to impossible to create a repeatable scientific experiment involving people as the subjects, most of what we think of as epidemics, people network and social theory, and other "rules" of human behavior are some of the most difficult to research without making fundamental errors. However, I appreciate people who try! The Tipping Point was fun to read and should resonate with readers of Linked, The Wisdom of Crowds, and other nonfiction work in this area.

Are Politicians Inherently Evil?

Are politicians inherently evil? The answer sometimes is yes. This may also explain why California voters shoot themselves in the feet over and over again. With Democrat friends like this in congress, who needs Republicans?


Richard Rider
The Libertarian Perspective #22 Oct 18, 2005

Evil in Our State Capitol

I've been involved in politics since the Prop 13 campaign in 1977. I've dealt with opponents of every stripe—from honorable adversaries to thieves, liars, incompetents, and idiots. But in all that time I've never felt I was dealing with a person who was truly evil—until last spring.

What was this evil? I saw four state senators, all Democrats, passively watch a tragic collection of distraught and sobbing police widows testifying at their pension hearing, suffering under the mistaken impression that the governor's proposed pension reform measure would cause them to lose all their benefits, leaving them destitute. These senators knew this was not true, but stayed silent for political gain at the expense of these widows' emotional well-being.

Here's the story. In February I was invited by a State Senate committee to testify as one of the three taxpayer advocates on a panel speaking in favor of Governor Schwarzenegger's plan for transitioning new state workers from the current defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan.

The purpose of the governor's proposed pension reform measure was to end the huge taxpayer obligation to fund bloated, guaranteed-payout pension plans, passed retroactively without funding. The full cost comes due years later, usually after the politicians have left office.

Such a modest reform is a crucial first step in bringing our runaway state pension programs under control.

Before we taxpayer advocates had our turn to speak, the labor unions presented dramatic testimony against the change. The dishonesty was stunning.

First, a union official flat out lied. He falsely claimed that the proposed measure would forbid the state government from providing either a death benefit (essentially group life insurance) or a disability benefit to employees. No employer in America, public or private, is forbidden from offering such benefits, and this union hack knew it.

Then this union boss brought forward eight carefully selected people, each of whom had a tragic tale to tell. The three police widows were especially moving. The other speakers were a burned local fireman, a shot-up policeman, a school bus driver having trouble making ends meet, and two school teachers—one working and one retired. Most cried, or were near tears. They weren't acting—these people were generally hurting, or thought they were.

Here's where the evil became apparent. Most of these people had been prepped to believe that they were going to lose their existing pension or disability benefits.

Several of the witnesses pleaded with the state senators to not take these benefits away. Police widows wailed that they didn't know how they would survive without the death benefit annuities that they and their kids were receiving. Yet not one of their legislative "allies" at this hearing would tell them that they were misinformed—indeed, that they had been lied to by their labor union bosses!

I can't emphasize this point too strongly: The measure proposed did not reduce any benefits for the existing employees. It would affect only those employees hired after June 2007.

As despicable as the union's misrepresentation was to its own members, the true evil I saw sat in the elevated state senate seats looking down on the presentations.

Five state senators watched these employee presentations, four Democrats and one Republican. The lone Republican, Tom McClintock, tried desperately to get the committee chair, Senator Joe Dunn, to allow the author of the bill (Assemblyman Keith Richman) to tell these folks that their concerns were totally unfounded.

Senator Dunn would have none of it. The cameras were rolling, and he wanted this dramatic testimony broadcast at any cost. Dunn knew the premise was false, but would say nothing.

The Democratic Party sells itself as the party that cares about people. But you'll never see four more uncaring people than Democratic State Senators Dunn, Nell Soto, Debra Bowen, and Christine Kehoe. Not one of these politicians would tell these frightened people that their benefits were and are safe. To allow those widows to leave the room crying—thinking that they were at risk of losing their husbands' death annuities—was the single most evil act I've witnessed in all my years in politics.

I found it ironic the Senator Dunn would try to make nervous testifiers feel comfortable by intoning that they should feel at ease because "this [Capitol] is your house." Well, I left "my" house feeling unclean and ashamed of our state politicians. I hope I never again witness such a reprehensible act.

The following is from a longer article at

Fabry: How are taxpayers affected by this? (This conversation is on defined-benefit pension plans for public employees vs. defined-contribution. Public sector and a few large, old-school manufacturing companies are the only ones still using defined-benefit plans. Unfunded liabilities killed off defined-benefit plans everywhere else in the US.)

Clifton: If public entities continue to use defined benefit plans, they cannot maintain their financial position without major tax increases. During the 1990s boom, state pension plans were flush and were actually overfunded. The politicians then moved to increase benefits. In 1999, former California Gov. Gray Davis (D) boosted public employee pension benefits dramatically--allowing many to retire at age 50 or 55 with 90 percent of their salary for life--without almost any debate.

Moreover, the benefit enhancements were retroactive. Neither employees nor the state had been paying for these benefits during the workers' lifetime. They were paid from existing plan assets, therefore increasing the unfunded liability.

While this plan was sold as a "cost-free" measure, the change actually cost California $10 billion in added liabilities over 20 years. Many states did this during the 1990s.

Those rapid pension asset gains should have been held without benefit increases to smooth over the down years that followed. Had this been the case, the resulting stock market downturn would not have had a major impact on the pension system. Unfortunately, though, politicians continue to use the pension system as a slush fund to garner votes from public employees.

Fabry: What do you see as the major roadblocks stopping reform?

Clifton: Public employee unions. It is really that simple. I spoke at the pension administrator conference last August and told them, "The crisis is upon us. You can be part of the solution or part of the problem." I offered to work with them in developing solutions. Instead, they continue to keep their head in the sand and want no changes to this antiquated system. At some point they have to realize they are holding onto a dinosaur.

When I testified in California in support of the governor's plan, what I saw was shocking: The public employee unions presented widows of slain police officers and injured firefighters and lied to these people, telling them that under the plan they were going to lose their survivor and disability benefits. Yet, the plan was for retirement only and would never affect these kinds of benefits. The senators holding the hearing knew this was the case and still let the circus continue.

At that point I realized the public employee unions would stop at nothing. For them, it is not about the retirement security of public employees, but about the power of controlling their workers' money as a slush fund for political gain. I was offended by the theatrics, to say the least.

But with all that said, the current system cannot continue. And it just is not sustainable for politicians to continue raising taxes on working families to pay retirement and health care costs for public employees, when these taxpayers are struggling to save for their own retirement and health care.

There will be a breaking point. Hopefully we can reform the system before we reach it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

New York Teacher's Contract, Teacher's Pay In Comparison to Median

Median income for family of four in New York for calendar year 2003: $69,354

For a single earner: $39,463

From CNN today: "The pay of starting teachers [in New York] would increase to $42,000 from $39,000, with a new maximum base pay of about $92,000, up from $81,000."

So the range of starting teacher pay is $42,000 - $92,000, depending on qualifications, experience, etc. This range has at it's midpoint (roughly) the median income for a family of four. The range is completely above the median income for a single-earner household.