Saturday, December 29, 2007

Internet Wasteland

I installed a new spam filter at work as our poor e-mail server was straining under the load of serving up mailboxes AND processing the phenomenal amount of 'spam' attacks. Ah for the day when spam was just spam, now the traffic consists of address book attacks, trojan horse virus payloads and targeted 'spear' phishing (which is particularly scary).

Anyway this new filter sends out a daily report and yesterday we had around 36000 email attempts of which not even one percent got through. Particularly outrageous was the 6 PM hour where we got 3440 attempts (close to one a second) and you can take a guess at how many were judged legit enough to make it through the filter. It was closer to ten than ten percent I'll guarantee you that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Canned Cake

I've mentioned it several times, and here it is, British canned cake:

Here it is out of the can getting ready to be nuked in order to partially melt the icing:

Of course the Brits don't call it 'cake', the call it 'sponge pudding', the word 'pudding' I'm guessing being a euphimisim for quick breads since I had popovers over there and they called those 'puddings' as well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I've liked role playing games since I was a wee one, but I'm late to the electronic versions of RPGs since I never really thought that the graphics and limited game play on the early gen stuff could compete with the wide open, albeit imaginary, areas of a traditional RPG like Dungeons and Dragons. That changed when my brother turned me onto Final Fantasy X. If there was ever a gateway drug this was it since FFX is, at least in my very limited experience, one of the best single player RPGs to date.

It's worth pointing out that computer RPGs work much like their pen and paper ancestors: you start out with a base character(s) that fight monsters so that they can level up and fight harder monsters while gaining special abilities. All this leveling should sit atop a story that makes it worthwhile to spend hours in dungeons and whatnot leveling up your (hopefully) entertaining characters.

With that, let's take a look at some RPGs that I've blown some time on while I wait for Final Fantasy 13....

Xenosaga: Episode I

Synopsis: In the future Japanese anime type characters have to fight aliens and misguided...others, in order

Good points: Logged in at a brief (by RPG scales) 40 hours worth of game play. The game nails the 'space opera' motif with gargantuan ships performing feats that might be envisioned by the more pioneering minds. The artwork is quite 'Star War'-sie with narrow platforms over deep gaps and lots of flashing lights, robots, and all the other appropriate sci-fi stuff. Characters for the most part are entertaining. Oh yeah, did I mention that this series of games is best known for being watched for as long as they're played due to the length and frequency of their (for the most part excellent) cut scenes?

Bad points: Some enemies are uneven with bosses ridiculously harder than the run of the mill monsters in the dungeon and some bosses much easier than the creatures you had to fight to get to them. Like many newer RPGs you get more characters than you can have in battle at any one time, leading to half your characters sitting 'on the bench' and not fighting and thus (for the most part) not leveling up. The number of Characters and skills are wide, but shallow and for the back third of the game I found myself using the same two moves with the same three characters over and over and over again. The plot appears to have a Christian theme that was written by non-Christians (like all these games, it was made in Japan). I found out at the end of the game that 'Xenosaga 1' isn't like the Final Fantasy games wherein Final Fantasy 1-12 have absolutely nothing to do with each other; 'Xenosaga 1' is actually the first of a trilogy that I probably won't get around to playing out, despite the favorable reviews for the final entry.

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time

Synopsis: Galactic losers assault backwards planets and fourth dimensional near-do-wells.

Good points: Dungeon design is some of the best I've seen and the game features a punchy soundtrack. The story for the first half of the game is involving and interesting.

Bad points: The story eventually takes a third rate 'Matrix' type turn which elicits groans more than anything else. About the same time, in order to artificially pad the play time, the dungeon monsters get ridiculously overcharged further exposing the game's absolutely horrid leveling system wherein your characters can only really level up in a rather arbitrary bonus scheme. Fast paced battles are devoid of strategy and are more closely related to a dungeon crawler like Diablo. New abilities seem to be handed out randomly and bench characters don't level at all, meaning that adding new, irritating level 1 characters halfway through the game is completely pointless. I made it to the final boss, but didn't make an effort to beat him since I knew there'd be another serving of inane dialog on the other side of the fight. And lastly, and the big rub for me, despite being sold with a sci-fi motif, the game has very little to do with anything remotely 'sci-fi'.

Final Fantasy VII

Synopsis: Square's classic RPG where a rebel group of misfits attempts to save the planet.

Good points: I've not played an RPG that started as quickly as this one (check out the remade beginning cutscene). Although quite dated (it's ten years old at this point), someone took the time to re-do the character artwork (via the Reunion Patch) for the PC version, that I obtained completely legally. The characters are all quite entertaining, 'bench' characters level up (for the most part), and the story moves along nicely with some unexpected twists. Overdrives, summons, and swappable magic add a great deal of strategic depth to battles.

Bad points: What do you think of an extra large scoop of Japanese 'Pagan Christianity'? Most aggravating as well is Square's habit of putting mini-games into a game engine that's in no way built for action since their character controls are optimized for moving in one of four directions*. The final boss all but required a secret 'weapon' that required about four hours worth of one such minigame and everyone in the Sandmich house was ready to murder the man who conceived of the chocobo.

*Apparently those crappy minigames have a draw somewhere since they've started making mobile versions of them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fear of the Horizon

I was half listening to a local radio show when they put on one of their canned bits from a noted comedian. Now I don't know the name of the comedian (I wasn't paying attention at that point) but as part of his bit he made a note that by the year 20xx whites would be a minority in the U.S., at which point the audience riotously cheered. (For what it's worth the comedian was white).

"eww" I thought. Now I won't get into the "can you imagine..." game as that's easy enough for us all to visualize. "Well", I thought "if they're so fired up and whitey is so evil why don't they just start getting rid of whitey on a more....accelerated basis". Oh yeah....

Well if it's any solace, whites, despite their sins, are the closest thing the planet is probably going get for an honest broker. Minorities who yearn to own the whole pie need not look any further than panaceas like Detroit (or Zimbabwe) to know that they're going to get exactly what they deserve.

Monday, December 10, 2007

OLPC Puzzle

Much has been written and said about this One Laptop Per Child bit (the famous $100 laptop that now costs like $300). I've written elsewhere that I think that computers tend to be a waste in American schools, so you can imagine my thoughts of pushing computer use among the worlds destitute in the middle of nowhere. Dvorak fortunately has written a couple pieces on this:
Even on the One Laptop Per Child site there is a creepy anecdote -- related as if it exemplified a positive benefit -- about how some poor family in Cambodia used the hand-cranked laptop's screen as a source of light for their abode.
Perhaps the organization should be thinking of the hand-cranked generator as serving that purpose alone and not computing. Lights, along with cellular phones and radios, seem more important than laptops.
Apparently, saying anything negative about the OLPC XO-1 computer amounts to heresy in this community. You may as well promote NAMBLA or the KKK. People don't want to consider the possibility that their well-meaning thoughts are a joke and that a $200 truckload of rice would be of more use than Wi-Fi in the middle of nowhere.
Liberal-esque feel goodery abounds on this thing, but I know a couple articles have noted that the effort has also helped the capitalist quest to the bottom of the barrel in search of the cheapest ass computer that can be made. Still, there's pitfalls:
Negroponte retorted that Linux is an accepted and widely used OS that's actually running on 50 percent of the world's servers. Servers? Did he even hear himself? I just told him that these users are more like consumers than IT staff, and he's recommending a server OS. Is he serious?
And this:
Of course, it might be a problem if there is no classroom and he can't read. The literacy rate in Niger is 13 percent, for example. Hey, give them a computer! And even if someone can read, how many Web sites and wikis are written in SiSwati or isiZulu? Feh. These are just details to ignore.
Good luck talking those natives through a Linux kernel patch!
Someone had this comment on one of those articles:
These kids would be much better off with books and pencils.
The same thing could be said of most, if not all kids.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cute Shopping Note

From Penny Arcade's shopping site after checkout:
You've successfully completed your quest for Penny Arcade merch. From the looks of your credit card, you had a lot more room to spend money. Next time how about you try a little harder to max it out?
And no they can't tell what your limit is as I have like $10 worth of room left on that card.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

One More House Note

Bush has the fix in for the housing bailout. Will the Sandmich be a beneficiary of this subsidation of stupidity? Not hardly, I got a fixed rate on, get this, a house I could actually afford! Revolutionary! Now if you were a dolt who got an ARM on a house you couldn't afford when the ADJUSTABLE rate mortgage adjusts, there is now an agreement to allow you to keep your nice digs and sweet loan rate, from WSJ Political Diary:
[Government subsidy] #1,777 was born this week with a program to bail out subprime mortgage borrowers. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson says the program is "voluntary" without a hint of taxpayer subsidy. Wrong: The taxpayer subsidy is simply laundered through a provision that would allow states to finance mortgage bailouts by selling tax-free bonds.

What's striking about Bush-style Big Government is its selectivity. Similar spasms dumped billions on families who lost loved ones on 9/11 or whose homes were damaged in Katrina. But try getting a handout if your family tragedy wasn't 9/11-related, your home was destroyed by a different storm or your underwater mortgage wasn't taken out between the magical dates of Jan. 1, 2005, and July 31, 2007.

The only rhyme or reason to Bush generosity seems to be the amount of cable news coverage a given "need" gets. If the precedent holds, look for an endless conveyor of ad hoc bailouts in the future as interested groups realize it only requires making the threshold level of noise.
The only thing that reassures me is that the Dems wanted to give away the farm and force banks to do 30 year fixed rate loans with a 3% interest rate and a voluntary payback policy. It's a race to the bottom of the barrel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Green PC

Stuff like this is incessant in the tech field at the moment. Newer technologies have made enterprise power management and device consolidation cheaper and easier than ever. There are many benefits to stuff like server virtualization (and some drawbacks) and reduced power consumption probably ranks as a nice side effect rather than a driving factor; but that doesn't keep the marketing types who are fresh from their collegiate indoctrination from pushing this Captain Planet crap, which is ripe from a company whose products are burned into the atmosphere over in China.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Stick to Pen and Paper

I admire people who want to use a computer, but many (most?) have such issues that they're probably better off going without. My latest tech call went something like this:
  1. User leaves a voicemail and reports they couldn't logon remotely from their laptop. My first thought was "please don't tell me they had the numlock on all weekend"/
  2. User leaves a second voicemail and reports that they had left the numlock key on. *groan*

If the numlock key on the keyboard is giving you issues, then I wouldn't sweat going without some PC access.