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November 28, 2009

Champions Online Lag

Lag is a sometimes fact of life for massively multiplayer online game players. Even the best games have periods of time, either daily, weekly, or monthly, where their servers or the connections to the servers are not as good as others, and the large number of gamers connecting to the application causes the game to slow down and "rubberbanding" and other effects to occur.

I have played or currently play World of Warcraft (WoW), Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO), Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO), City of Heroes (COH), EverQuest (EQ), and some games that could be played online with smaller groups, like Diablo II, NeverWinter Nights (NWN), et al.

I cannot remember ever having the lag issues in any of those games like I experience each and every time I connect to the Champions Online servers.

I build my own machines; have since 1987 when my dad and I built my first PC. I know the quality of the products and the capabilities of the hardware within my box. It is built to be a gaming machine. I am currently playing LotRO, DDO, and COH without any noticeable lag, rubberbanding, disconnection, or load issues. I play most of those game on the highest allowed settings for video with barely a decline in my Frames Per Second (FPS)-- and certainly nothing to worry about or even that I notice. We have the next-to-fastest available DSL connection provided by our ISP. I have a gigabit network card in my machine.

When I connect to Champions Online, however, it is a different story. I get frequent disconnects (although this particular aspect of the game issues seems to have been mostly rectified; the last few days have seen no disconnects). Rubberbanding is so bad that my character frequently runs completely past a combat before my video can refresh and show it to me. I suffer many defeats because I don't know how low my health is getting due to the refresh issues.

The developers introduced proxy servers for the US and EU that you could use which, they claimed, should help with the server issues. I tried them both today. While both improved the lag slightly, the issues remained and the game is still almost unplayable due to these issues.

What is the most frustrating is that if you contact Cryptic, they turn it around and tell you it is your ISP, network card, router/modem, or video card/drivers. If you post on the game boards, you get a bunch of people telling you how it is not Cryptic's fault regardless of the overwhelming evidence of posts that says it is an issue. I was on the boards today trying to find if anyone had some suggestions for things to do to relieve lag issues in the game; I found 10 lag-related posts, each with many multiple of pages of responses. In each, a quick count indicated about a 2 to 1 ratio of those having lag issues to those who are not... but in every case, the conclusion was that those who were not were somehow "right" and those of us with issues were "wrong." And in all cases, the 'fanbois' tried to explain how it was our ISP's fault or our machine's fault.

It was particularly amusing to read the detailed post of on fanboi who put where he was located, his machine specs, his ISP and network specs, and told everyone how he hasn't had issues from Closed Beta through to today. Another poster wrote a response that indicated he is in the same area, uses the same ISP, and has a better machine and network, and he has had nothing but issues-- yet somehow the first poster's response to that was that the second guy must be an idiot, must not have set something up right, and/or must have viruses or spyware on his machine if he has issues.*
*Note: I, too, have a better machine and set up than that poster, and I had minor issues in closed beta and slightly more issues in open beta, and now find the game unplayable in Live.
It is sort of the same mentality you see in conspiracy theorists, who must ignore copious quantities of facts in order to maintain their theories. These fanbois will continue to claim it is somehow our fault, our ISP's fault, or some other issue is at stake even after we do each and every one of the tests or suggestions they claim will solve the issue. I've pinged the servers and received faster ping return times than fanbois-- but still it can't be the server, they say. I've done throughput testing and had faster throughputs than the fanbois-- but still it can't be the server, they say. I've done all the video tweaking the fanbois insist will solve the problem to no effect-- but still it can't be the servers, they say. They ignore all this data that, taken individually and as a whole indicates that for a large number of people all over America, Canada, and the world, server lag and connection is an issue.

I worked for a company once that had one really bad manager. Every department he lead had the highest employee turnover rate in the company. I know people who went to HR to complain. I know people who went to that manager's superiors to complain. I know people who talked about it with the then owner and CEO of the company. I know a number of people who, during their exit interview, specifically said they were leaving due to that manager's poor decisions, bad leadership, and improper conduct. And the company's response each and every time was "It's an isolated incidence." It seems to be the same with the fanbois who refuse to admit there may be something wrong with Champions Online servers; at what point do the overwhelming number of "isolated incidences" finally point to the real problem?

The problem is that I like Champions Online. I don't like it as much as City of Heroes, but it has some differences that make it fun, I enjoy the more "cartoony" graphics, and some aspects of the combat system are an improvement over COH's. I really want to like and play this game. However, the consistently horrible lag issues that I experience make me avoid it and I will simply go back to the other games I can play virtually lag-free.

Maybe I'll check in on Champions Online on their next free play period and see if any improvements have been made. 'Cause I'd really like to give them my money and have fun with the game.

November 25, 2009

NFL Football; Injuries, Longer Season

I think there are two easy solutions that will help the NFL in two areas: injuries (especially concussions) and the fear of playing 17-18 games in a regular season.

1. Do away with the roster limit of 53 people. This is an anachronism from an earlier time when teams frequently had two-way players and special teams was primarily filled with generalist instead of specialists. Today's NFL needs more players on a team for a variety of reasons, but injuries are the primary one. As it is, coaches play fast and loose with the injured reserve list and practice squad in order to carry closer to 60 players on their roster than the 53 mandated by the NFL. I say, do away with the limit all together. If a Jerry Jones or a Dan Snyder wants to pay the luxury taxes involved and load up with 60, 70, 80 players, let them!

Many may say that the more income-rich teams could then buy the Super Bowl like the Yankees do in MLB. I don't think so. There are so many fewer games in which to shine, players are so much more egotistical, and everyone is vying for playing time so much that I don't think the stars and super stars of the NFL will be willing to sign with the team willing to pay the most if they are going to be the third, fourth, or fifth string option in case of injuries or special match ups.

I also feel that if a team is mismanaged or badly coached, throwing more players at it will not solve the inherent problem. Yes, the coach may have more talent to use, but if he fails to use the talent he's got, what will more do for him?

Lastly, with more players in any one position to choose from, a coach can have more player rotation during a game and that may minimize the injury and fatigue issues that players face today.

2. Do away with protection. I know this seems like an oxymoron, but by doing away with the huge pads and helmets that NFL players use, or at least curbing their size and protective capabilities, the NFL would actually help its players to play smarter, tackle better, and have fewer injuries. Look at any other sport in the world and compare it to the NFL; in nearly every case the players wear less gear to no gear and the rates of injuries are much, much lower. Take rugby, for instance. Nearly as violent and with as much potential for injury as American football, yet it has a microscopic injury problem in comparison.

Players in the NFL are either taught or come to simply play by lowering their head and hitting. Leaping into the air at full speed and ramming shoulders into shoulders, stomachs, and chests. They think little about the penalties for spearing and on nearly every play you can see someone on the field lower their helmet and leap head-first into another player. Do you think these players would do that if they had minimal head or body protection? Some few might, but the majority would switch to trying to make a classic, by the book tackle instead, as the classic tackle actually minimizes damage to either player and has the benefit of being a better, more sure way of actually stopping the player being tackled than simply hitting him and hoping he goes down. How often do you see these huge hits and the guy with the ball simply bounces off, pushes the hitter aside, and keeps going? I saw it on at least four plays in the three games I watched this last weekend alone -- and, in each case, a classic tackle would have been more effective at stopping the player's momentum, holding him long enough for help to arrive, and keeping him from gaining too many yards.

As a last, non-enumerated point: If the NFL is serious about going to a 17-18 regular season schedule, without doing anything to solve the injury issue, they will be forced to increase the roster size.

In the end, a longer season may help the NFL understand that it needs to increase or do away with the roster limits, allowing more players to play. More players may help keep existing players fresher, as coaches figure out new rotation schemes with the increase in players at any one position. And, if the NFL cuts back on the safety equipment that makes players feel invulnerable, the players will be forced to learn new techniques and styles of play that keep them from injuring themselves and others.

November 18, 2009

Insurance "Debate"

If the President of the United States tells you to do something, you do it or make your very best effort. Right or wrong, good or bad, President Obama asked our leadership to come up with a plan for "universal" health care for all Americans, so that Americans can enjoy the same basic privilege of every other industrial nation. He outlined the following minimum requirements for this plan to be signed into law.

The Democrats, those of the same party as the President and the party with a majority on both sides of Congress, went to it with relish. They turned in a massive, bloated, and potentially problematic law that may not solve the problem, but at least covered what the President asked for in most ways. By all accounts, they tried to get Republicans to help with the plan and got a little bit of cooperation.

And the Republicans.... did nothing. Well, not nothing. They poo-pooed the plan the Democrats came up with, they poo-pooed the President and the President's proposal. Even after the President came right out and told them, if you have better ideas, we're open to them. Tell us. Prior to, during, and after the speech by the President and the Democrats creation of the bill, the Republicans have consistently and without conscious have lied about what the President said the bill should be and what the Democrats have come up with.

My parents taught me to take active participation in anything that is important to me. In this way, if I have an opinion, I can express it and possibly get my needs addressed in whatever is going on. Oftentimes, by expressing those opinions and needs, I am speaking for those who may not have a voice or feel they can speak up. Oftentimes, expressing these things changes the end result for all, but for the better of the group as a whole.

The Republicans have had every opportunity to be a part of this plan. To provide ideas and to constructively help this country in ways that will be immeasurable down the line to future generations. They have had every chance to look at the plethora of models around the world for universal health care, find the parts they like and are ideologically close to theirs and try to institute them. To come up with their own ideas and work them into the bargain. I'm certain that the Republicans help and ideas would have improved the plan the Democrats came up with in many ways.

Instead, the vast majority of them just want to sit this one out and make disparaging comments about everything and everyone involved. I see nothing constructive or helpful coming from them on this debate.

So, frankly, they must live with what is proposed unless and until they can come up with their own plan. Of course, nothing they come up with on their own will pass Congress without Democratic buy-in, so it seems like working with the Dems instead of against them would be best for both sides.

I used to be a proud Republican. I used to engender most of the party's ideals and beliefs. But the party slowly became exclusionary, ignored the moderates, voted based on hyperbole and fraction, and lied to me and the American people in general so often that I just couldn't align with them any more. Not that the Democrats were any better, mind you, so I disassociated from either party and voted my conscience based on the best information I could find.

The best info I can find on universal health care is that it can and should be cheap, easy, impact taxes and the economy of a national minimally, and should put the care of the individual in the hands of the doctor, not insurance companies. Canada is one of the world's worst models, yet they manage to do most of this. Japan, Germany, France, and other nations are paragons of what universal health care can and should be, and they hit all of these criteria. There are abundant examples of how this process can and should work, how it can be cost-effective, and how to keep the government out of the American people's health business.

Yet the Democrats are making the wheel anew, instead of looking to existing, working examples and modeling after them. The result is a bloated plan that may not serve the public in the best ways possible. The Republicans, meanwhile, are doing nothing except lying to the people, exaggerating the costs and effects, and throwing negativity at it without doing anything at all.

Is this what we deserve from our leadership, America?

November 9, 2009

Gun Laws and Tragedies

One of my favorite sportswriters is Peter King from SI. While I find his NFL knowledge timely and well-researched, he frequently digresses into politics and non-football related topics. Those digressions usually wind up being fairly knee-jerk reactions that do not have his usual research or thought-out responses.

A case in point. In his most current Monday Morning Quarterback article, he has this little throw-out near the end:
My heart goes out to the victims of the Fort Hood and Orlando shootings and their loved ones. Senseless, senseless incidents. I will not go quietly into the night on this one. America needs to do something about idiots with handguns. How many more Fort Hoods and Orlandos do there have to be before our political leaders have the guts to severely restrict access to murderous weapons?
While I definitely agree with the sentiment he shows for the victims, the rest of that is, in essence, an anti-gun diatribe that has little to do with the facts. Because of this, I took the time to write him a response:
America has literally thousands of very restrictive gun laws on the books, that are specifically designed to keep guns of all sorts out of the hands of nut cases, criminals, and even average citizens. The problem is that those laws are not a high priority to enforce and there are a lot of loopholes. If our incredible police force had the manpower, which they simply don't, to allow them to put in the effort to enforce those laws, gun crimes would significantly drop.

Secondly, the vast, vast majority of gun owners you never read about. The vast, vast majority follow the laws, don't use their weapons to commit crimes, and, for the most part, are law-abiding citizens. The majority of gun crimes are committed by criminals who a) can't legally procure a gun, so get it illegally and b) would commit the crime using something other than a gun anyway if a gun was not available to them. The only thing more gun laws do is make it harder for those who follow the law to get the gun of their choice. Not one of the thousands of laws on the books stops a criminal from illegally obtaining a weapon.

Lastly, far more violent crimes are committed by knives (kitchen, pocket, hunting, etc.), should we ban all knives? Far more violence is committed by those with blunt weapons (bats, chains, crowbars, rocks) than by knives or guns, should we ban everything blunt that could conceivably be used for violence? The problem is not the weapon of choice, it is the person who uses it. Never forget that.

These facts are easily found by even a cursory search online. While Fort Hood was a tragedy, it was the individual who decided to use the gun to shoot some 30+ people who should be blamed, nothing and no one else. It is his fault and he should pay for his decision to commit these acts of violence.
I simply do not understand why a large portion of the American public insists on blaming the weapon for the crime that was committed. I own guns. I know for an absolute fact from personal experience that you can leave a Government Model Colt .45 semi-automatic handgun cocked, locked, and loaded and nothing bad will happen for years on end unless someone/thing handles the gun. The only time, barring something being made improperly or broken, that a gun or ammunition will harm anyone is when someone or something intervenes on the weapon, handles it, and causes it to go off.

I was raised in a household with guns. At an early age, my father taught both his children to respect the tool that a gun is, to understand the consequences of using that tool, and showed us how to use it properly. We took gun safety courses. I have a gun license. My parents left a loaded gun in a drawer by the bed for home defense.

And nothing bad ever happened.

Nothing bad happened because my parents were educated in gun safety, rules, and etiquette, they educated their children, and we all respected that this tool had one purpose and was deadly efficient at performing that duty.

I got angry when I was a child. I had screaming arguments with my parents and sibling at times. I had huge arguments with friends/enemies who lived around me, or while at school, or on bus trips to other cities. And never once did it even dawn on me to grab my father's easily accessible, loaded weapon and shoot anyone. Instead, I worked out my problems with the person, or avoided them, or on very rare occasion got into fisticuffs with them. This is all because I was educated on the weapon and knew that it wasn't meant to be used in those cases; there were better solutions that didn't involve deadly force.

Some people are broken. Some are idiots. Some are amoral and just don't give a shit. Some are so depressed/angry/hurt they see no other solution but horrific violence (to themselves or others). These people will ALWAYS find some way to act out their need for violence regardless of whether they can get their hands on a gun. People have committed violence against themselves and others long before guns were created and will continue to do so long after guns become passe or something more lethal comes along.

The UK has some of the most restrictive gun laws of any industrial nation. On a per capita basis, you are about twice as likely to be the victim of a crime involving a knife in the UK as you are of a gun in the United States. This indicates that if guns were done away with as a whole, crime wouldn't go away, but criminals would use whatever other threatening weapon was available to them.

The biggest issues with guns are the combination of 1) impulse control in the human being with access to the gun and 2) the deadly efficiency of the tool. If you suddenly get the idea to do someone or yourself fatal harm using, say, a baseball bat, there is a lack of immediacy to the results; in nearly every case it takes multiple hits with the bat to kill someone, is bloody/messy, and the violence takes real effort to the one performing it. In most cases, the same is true with knives, rocks, and even overdoses-- each takes time and possible reapplication of the tool to get the result needed. They each take surprising effort to accomplish your goal.

Guns, on the other hand, are much better at being immediately fatal. If you fire a reasonably powered gun into someone else or yourself, especially in the upper chest or head, the chances of you or the person dying immediately or after one application is much higher than using most other forms of violence. There is no chance to "take it back" or "quit while you're ahead" or show remorse. And this is why the entire country has legally enforceable waiting periods between when you purchase a gun and when you can take possession of the gun. However, criminals don't get their guns from reputable gun dealers who abide by these laws. And those who are "in a fit of passion" or similar, will simply turn to the next most fatal object they can get their hands on in order to enact the violence they feel.

We have thousands of gun laws per state and for the entire nation. These laws spell out who can and can't have a gun. They spell out which types of guns are okay for citizens and which are not okay. They limit magazine size, where you can shoot, what you can shoot, when you can shoot. They even regulate when you can have, get, purchase, and possess your gun. There are state laws that say the same thing as federal laws.

The one thing that these laws do not seem to understand is the base truth that criminals don't follow these rules. Criminals do not go to the gun shop and legally purchase the gun (because they can't-- if they have a record, they will be caught on the background check and disallowed from the purchase). In general, the only people affected by gun laws are those who are following the gun laws already; who are, generally speaking, the people least likely to mishandle or misuse the weapon.

The violence committed with guns of all sorts is heinous. I do not dispute that. But let's never forget that it is the PERSON who uses the gun who is at fault. And it is against that person whom we should turn our anger, frustration, and hatred over the heinous act. The person should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Last Dance?

I grilled steaks last night. It took forever to cook them, as they were good, thick, Costco steaks and high quality. I actually thought they were done after 18 minutes of cooking (I even cut into one to check, something I try to avoid doing). However, they were not done cooking and I took them back out for another 6 minutes with the grill on high.

When I brought them back into the house this time, they were a nice medium... a bit of pink in the middle with a nice sear on the outside. And boy were they juicy and tender.

However, the sadness is that we are rapidly running out of grilling days. It is November now, and the temps are getting to or below freezing at night and the days aren't warming up much. The rains have started, and we've even seen some flurries and some light dustings on the ground once or twice.

It is nearly time to roll the grill into the shed for the winter. My wife is fighting it as long as she can, but even she knows the inevitable is just about here.

The good thing is that I am getting fairly good at broiling. I showed her we could have steaks during the winter and, while maybe not as good as the grill, they still can be pretty tasty and will suffice until the next spring when we can roll out the grill again.

November 3, 2009


Today we went across the border. While there, we picked up two gallons of milk, in plastic jugs, for a cost of $3.32 USD each, or $6.64 total. In SJ, we can only purchase up to a 2 litre amount in handy plastic jugs and those cost us $3.72 CND each. Since the two dollars are close to the same value right now, that indicates that in America, an hour and a half away from here, in a location that does not have a bottling and distribution center in the same city, we pay approximately the same amount of money for almost twice the amount of milk.

The other thing we cannot fathom is why Baxter, the main milk producer/distributor available in SJ, does not provide larger than a 2L plastic jug. Oh, you can purchase more milk than that, you just have to buy it in bags. Yes, you read that correctly, bags. You can purchase a 4L bag (which, in almost every case, is actually two 2L bags sold together in one larger bag), but you then have to pour that milk into something else in order to drink/use it effectively.

Now, the Baxter milk plant is on the road I take to the hospital for my doctor visits. It is right here in SJ. There is virtually no shipping cost associated with them providing milk to the greater SJ area, as they are right here in town. Why is the milk, considered a staple food by most governments, so much more expensive? Why can't Baxter bottle the milk in more convenient bulk packages?

This mystery baffles me. It makes no sense to me that this product (among many others) is so much more expensive here. It further causes me to shake my head that we can't get bulk milk in anything except a damn bag.