Monthly Archives: January 2011

Why do I use Linux

In my previous column’s comment section, Chad brought up an interesting point, he said he did not understand why I used Linux as my primary Operating System (OS). This is a valid question, after all Linux is at best a niche OS, claiming somewhere between 3% and 5% of the total market. Windows 7 by all accounts is the best OS Microsoft has ever put out and has solved most of the security problems that have plagued previous versions. I am a very capable and advanced Windows user, after all I use it at work perfectly fine and up until this week, my job was helping other people solve their Windows problems.  So why the hell don’t I just give in and switch to Windows. The short answer is, I like it better, the long answer is a bit more complicated.

Back in 1993 I was in Germany and I discovered this cool little store that sold software in a fairly novel manner. They had these computers sitting around where you could search their catalogue for what you wanted. They also had regular printed catalogues, but anyway, once you chose what you wanted you went to the desk and they would copy it onto a floppy for you, you’d pay a couple of DM for it and walk out. They also sold CD’s full of shareware, freeware and crapware.  I purchased one of these CD and one of the things I found on it was an image of a bootable Linux floppy. I wrote the image to a floppy and booted my system it. It was mildly interesting but not really useful. However, it did teach me there was more to computers than DOS and Windows 3.1.

Later in the year I discovered another CD at this store, it was a Slackware Linux CD. I had to make a bootable floppy off the CD, then boot to it with the CD in the drive and then through a very convoluted series of steps, install Linux along side DOS/Windows, my first dual boot. I ended up wiping my system a couple of times before I got it all right. Since then I have pretty much always had a Linux box in one form or another. Although I did have a side trip into OS/2. I dual booted Linux and Windows until 1999 or so. Over the course of those years, Linux improved by leaps and bounds. It became easier to install, the UI improved, programs improved. I learned how to compile a kernel, make a CDRW work, write X configuration files from scratch, I tried at least a dozen distributions, I tried all kinds of windows managers and a whole host of other things I am sure most of you would find boring. Then one day I realised I had not booted to Windows in probably six months and when I thought about it, I could not see a reason I would need to in the near future. So I deleted the Windows partition, recouped the space and Linux became my full time OS.

I guess it really comes down to is Linux became easier for me to use over time. In an environment where I could choose between Linux and Windows (and even OS/2), I simply became more comfortable using Linux. Now I can’t imagine using anything else. Even when I do have to use Windows, I tend to spend a considerable amount of time fixing it so it works more like Linux. Besides, so far , no one as of yet has given me a good reason to switch to Windows.

Crash Course in Linux

Yesterday I was offered a new job, doing Linux support where I work, I accepted the offer. I have been using Linux as my full time OS for since 1998 or so and I dual booted starting in 92 or so. On top of that, I have a Linux certification though the Linux Professional Institute. Since I became a professional Computer Tech, being a Linux Tech has been one of my career goals. I am very pleased with myself.

This change in jobs prompted several people to ask me how they could learn Linux. I have been asked this question many times and my response is always the same. Go home, download the Ubuntu ISO, wipe out your hard drive, install Linux and use it exclusively for at least a month. The response I get is usually something like, I play games or there is this one app I really really have to use or I need iTunes. I usually respond with, then you don’t really want to learn Linux. This conversation has gotten me pegged as a Linux snob on more than on occasion and I suppose that might be the case, however, I stand by my statement, if you really want to learn Linux, then use it, reading Linux for Dummies is not going to cut it.

Now if you need to learn Linux quickly, you don’t a month or two to figure everything out and everyone is expecting you to be up to speed by Monday morning, I do have a suggestion, but most people don’t really like it very much. There is an unofficial crash course in Linux, it is called Linux From Scratch (LFS). LFS is an online book which walks you through the process of building your own Linux system from source code. The process is long and hard, the first time I built a LFS system, it took me four days to get a functioning system. What this does is, it teaches you about Linux, you use a lot of common commands, you have write and edit configuration files and you are shown how and why things are done in Linux. This is not for the feint of heart, this for someone who is serious about learning. As a Matter of fact, I am going to walk through it this weekend myself, just to sharpen my skills.

The type of poverty only the wealthy can afford

I was reading this article over at Gizmodo about this guy who didn’t wash his jeans for 15 months as an experiment. I am not really sure what the point of the experiment was, except to show the guy he probably does not work for a living. However the comments did bring up an interesting point, who the hell pays $165 for a pair of jeans. The fact is, many people do and those of us on the lower end of the income scale often scoff at this sort of thing. The problem is, jeans never go out of style and if you pay $165 for pair, chances are pretty good they will be made of very high quality material and will last through considerably more washes and wearing than their Walmart counter parts. We laugh at rich people spending $5,000 on a suit, what we don’t realise, is that suit will last that rich guy his entire life. Suits that expensive can easily be tailored in or out a couple of sizes for small amounts of money. Shoes are the same way, spend $500 on a pair if shoes and they will last decades.

Compare that to what we do, I buy a pair of tennis shoes for $30 and they wear out with in a year, spend $30-40 on jeans and I have to replace them within a year, same with shirts. I suspect I am not terribly hard on cloths, I can’t imagine how hard a carpenter or a mechanic are on cloths. We buy inexpensive cloths and we probably do not get our moneys worth of wear and tear out them. Wealthy people buy expensive cloths and get every penny of use out of them.

Now expand this idea to furniture, cars and houses. When Paris Hilton receives her inheritance one of the many things she will get is houses full of furniture. These houses will not be the McMansions built in the 1990′s made out of crap materials. No her mansions will be the real kind, the ones built to survive the ages, they are built to be handed down not to just children or grandchildren, but to be eventually inherited by great great great great grandchildren who will hand them down to their children. These mansions will be filled antique furniture hand built by the best and most expensive craftsman available. Again, this furniture is designed to last not year and not even decades, but to last centuries. Think about that for a little while.

One of the best ways to retain wealth across generations is to make sure successive generations do not have to invest in things like houses, furniture and cars all of which is inherited, not purchased. This allows wealthy people to live much higher standards of living while spending very little over the long run to maintain this standard of living. Simply put, I buy a pair of shoes for $30 and I buy a new pair in a year, a wealthy person spend $300 on a pair of shoes that lasts them their entire lives. I buy a car for $20K and I it is dead on the road by 300,000 miles, a wealthy person buys a car for $100K and they are still chaffered around in it 40 years later. The wealthy spend very little money maintaining their lifestyles, comparatively speaking, than we do. This is the type of poverty only the wealthy can afford.

Enough with the Retro Clones

Brave Halfling Games has just announced it is going to do yet another retro clone of the Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), most likely with the odious “Race as Class” rule intact, called Delving Deeper. Personally, I would rather see him pick up one the already available retro clones. I am aware he was caught in the middle of some sort of disagreement with the two guys who authored the Swords & Wizardry white box set. I can sympathise with him and I can see why he does not want to bet his business on other people, honestly I do see it. The problem is there are still a bunch of other rule sets out there he could use; Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lords or Lamentations of the Flame Princess to name just three and yes, there are more. Okay, so by writing a “New” OD&D clone he has complete creative control, but so what. My question is what exactly is he adding the Old School Renaissance (OSR) ? The answer of course is nothing.

My real problem here is I would rather he spend his time writing modules or supplements or setting books. These are the things missing from the OSR. Please, do something new and original, something we have not seen yet. If you want to keep the OSR going you are going to have to innovate. If you keep going over the same territory again and again, after a while people are going to loose interest. Find a niche and fill it, I point to Carcosa as one possible way to bring something new to the table. Another way to go is perhaps a supplement for Labyrinth Lords similar to OSRIC Unearthed. How about a setting based on Norse Mythology, who doesn’t want to be a berserker Viking. My point is, there is a lot of ground not being covered by the OSR that is ripe for the taking. It just seems to me doing yet another OD&D clone is a waste of time.

RE: Google Chrome Test Run

So, this last weekend I used Chrome exclusively as my web browser for the purpose of testing new technology. The results were somewhat mixed, while Chrome is very usable, it is still not quite there.

Pros:

  • Chrome is preceptably faster rendering web pages.
  • I liked the sync feature that allows me to synchronize not just bookmarks, but extensions as well, between system.

Cons:

  • I don’t care for the UI, for instance, tabs at the top don’t really work for me and I’d really would like a menu bar.
  • Extensions are not up to par yet, no decent cookiesafe equivalent, both Ad Blocker Plus and No Script for Chrome are beta and don’t work as well as their FireFox brothers.
  • I had to log into my gmail account in order to take advantage of the sync feature.
  • Chrome still has some stability issues, at least the Linux version does.
  • Still has a beta feel to it, again at least the Linux version does. Some things that should work, don’t, point in case, in Linux I should be able to highlight text, move to another area and click my mouse wheel to paste the highlighted text. For some reason this does not work in Chrome.

Will I be switching to Chrome any time soon ? Probably not. As I said in an earlier post, I didn’t switch from Mozilla (now SeaMonkey) to FireFox until it was well into the 2.x versions. The extensions for Chrome still have a long way to go and add to that the fact that Chrome does not really bring anything significant to the table besides a bit of rendering speed, it becomes very difficult to justify the switch. Besides, Firefox 4 is coming to the pipeline soon and if the beta versions are any indicator, FireFox will be closing the rendering gap, as slight as it is.

The end is nigh

Okay so the end is not nigh (what does nigh mean anyway ?). There has been a lot of teeth gnashing around the RPG blogosphere about Pathfinder now out selling Dungeons and Dragons. Ryan Dancey, the originator of the OGL, wrote a rather lengthy bit on EnWorld discussing this.

http://www.enworld.org/forum/columns/299860-4-hours-w-rsd-who-am-i-2.html

Here is some comentary as well.

http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2011/01/ryand-on-4e.html

and of course some discussion on Dragonsfoot, if you care to read through 14+ pages.

http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=47325

So what does all this mean exactly ? On its face nothing really. D&D has been outsold before, White Wolf’s Vampire: the Masquarde outsold D&D briefly in the late 1990′s, so its not like this has not happened before. I have been over much of this territory before. When D&D3E came about, gamers were ready for a serious revision of the system, when D&D4E came out, not so much. Many gamers decided to stick with D&D3E and Pathfinder gave them a place to go.

Some have taken this to mean D&D’s death is coming. I do not necessarily agree, D&D is not in any danger of dying. D&D is a serious brand name, RPG aside, there are many other ways to make money on it, books, movies, board games, computer games, etc. I can see D&D becoming one of Hasbro’s evergreen games like Monopoly, the new Red Box they put out not too long ago, shows this might be the direction they are headed. Hasbro could easily keep the game going with just the Red Box, sold through Walmart and Toy-R-Us and 4 or 5 paper back books sold at Barns and Noble and game stores, with support products produced by 3rd parties under license. Again the D&D Essentials line, points in this direction. They could not sell 300,000 books a year this way, but they could sell enough to be a profitable line. This is to me, is the worst case scenario and is not necessarily even a problem.

D&D is for all intense and purposes the gateway game, it is the one everyone hears about and generally starts playing first. Well, if I can get the starter box for my kid at $20 that is cheap, especially compared to video games. Later if he keeps playing, the kid heads to the local game shop to get the Essentials books to expand his game and there he is exposed to the big wide world of RPG’s in its raw form. D&D still serves its basic purpose as a gateway product. This is not necessarily the way I see the future of D&D, it is simply the worst case scenario.

Even if D&D were dying as a brand, it would very likely take D&D a decade to finally die. Look at Compaq Computers, at one time they were the #1 selling computer in America. In early 1990′s, they started loosing market to Dell Computers and they started their decline, however, they continued to be a profitable company and a major market player right up until they were purchased by HP. D&D is no different, even if it is not the best selling RPG on the market, it will continue to be profitable for at least a decade. This would be especially true if they went into the evergreen mode I describes earlier, because there would be no development cost, no need to maintain a stable of in house game designers. All new product would be developed by 3rd parties under license, where every copy sold would still feed the giant. Under those circumstance, D&D could continue to sell indefinitely as a profitable product line, in exactly the same way Monopoly has been profitable for the last 100 years. For this reason, Hasbro is not going to sell the brand and even if they do, the cost would be so massive, only another large corporation would be able to afford to buy it and at that point, it would not matter who owned it, the end game would probably be the same.

I have found my dream job

Apparently in China there are people who will sit in a traffic jam for you. You end up in one of those 10 hour Bejing jams, you pull out your cell, call the agency, they send a person out on a scooter, the guys sits in your car, while you speed off on the scooter.  am not kidding.

http://gizmodo.com/5738525/chinese-motorists-are-paying-people-to-sit-in-traffic-jams-for-them

I want this job, this is the perfect slacker job. I get paid while spending my day reading, watching video and surfing the net, in turn some supposedly productive person gets to his meeting and gets actual work done. This sounds like a win-win situation.

Google Chrome Test Run

I am a Firefox user and before that I used Mozilla, heck I still use Mozilla for some stuff. The latest cool browser however is Chrome and since I am a firm believer that the better technology should prevail, I am giving Chrome its first real test run. I am doing this, because it looks like Chrome has finally matured on the Linux platform to the point of being usable. On top of that it seems to have some decent extensions now. The Firefox extensions I consider necessary are Syncplaces, Adblocker Plus, No scripts and Cookiesafe, up until just recently Chrome had no equivalents of Adblocker Plus, No scripts and still does not have a Cookiesafe extension. So for the next few days Chrome will be my primary browser and we will see how it honestly stacks up against Firefox, because frankly, webpage rendering speed is almost irrelevant when the difference is perhaps 1 or 2 seconds.

Review: The Green Hornet

I was not going to write a review of this movie, not because I didn’t like it, but rather simply because it was not what it could have been. First, don’t waste your money on seeing the 3D version, the 3D simply does not add anything to the movie. Before this movie was released, my expectations were extremely low. Seth Rogan is a mildly amusing comedic actor and I have enjoyed some of his previous work, but I felt he was miscast in this roll and the fact that he was one of the writers didn’t help much either.

After I saw it I changed my mind, as io9 said, the Green Hornet is basically a watchable stoner movie. Okay, its not an academy award winner with a deep and memorable script and dedicated inspiring actors, but what it is, is a fun romp, a nice blend between a comedy, an action adventure and a Bro movie. Rogan and Chou play off each other very well, Chou is an excellent straight man to Rogans goofball. Unfortunately for her, Cameron Diaz comes off as the third wheel in this movie. Diaz has mediocre screen presence and when she is paired with other actors with the same problem, she does well, but when put on stage with someone like Rogan, she fades into the background. Fortunately for her, the movie was not about her character. In this team, her character is the sidekick to the Green Hornet/Kato partnership.

This is one of those movies that has a good amount of cheesy fun, so ignore the bad reviews this movie is getting and go see it anyway. Unless you are very serious person who only goes to see very serious movies, you will enjoy it.

The Ages of RPG’s: The Bronze Age, Maybe

I have written about the Golden Age (1974-1989) and the Silver Age (1991-2000), this begs the question of where are we now. The problem with setting “Ages” is you really rarely know where you are until long after its over and it is not unusual for the genre you are speaking about to go in to a long decline before the new emergence occurs. It is definitely possible we moved from the Silver Age directly into the Bronze Age. Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition (D&D3E ) certainly caused a large influx of new players and brought a large number of players back to the table who had not gamed in a decade or more. It is also very true the history of the RPG hobby is the history of D&D. Even the Silver Age was characterized by D&D’s decline as much as by the rise of the World of Darkness.

There are other things which point to the serious probability we have already seen the Bronze Age. For instance the Old School Renaissance, which is a niche within the RPG hobby of players and publishers returning to the old games. This renaissance started with the publication of HackMaster in 2001 and was followed by Castles & Crusades, New Editions of Traveller, RuneQuest and Tunnels & Trolls. It also gave birth to the Simulacrum Games which are games that attempt to emulate the old games without treading on copyrights and allow for the publication of new material for the old games. Simulacrum Games include, but not limited to, Labyrinth Lords, Spells and Wizardry, OSRIC, Lamentation of the Flame Princess to name just a few. This movement is characterized mostly by people who have fond memories playing the game back in the early 80′s, have now reached middle age and want to recapture that feeling of wonder and exploration we all felt when our first characters took their first tentative steps into the Caves of Chaos.

The Open Game License opened up the possibility of 3rd party game companies to write material for D&D3E and they did. In the years following the release of D&D3E there was a huge expansion in the number of companies writing game material. The Internet also gave rise to electronic distribution, companies no longer had to print actual books, but instead release their work as a PDF. The majority of this content was crap, but there was some really good stuff put out as well, material that would have never seen the light of day in previous decades.

If in fact the Bronze Age started in 2000/2001, it is also a good possibility it ended in 2008. In that year two things occurred, first the U.S. had entered into recession in late 2007 (known among my conservative friends as the Carter/Clinton recession) and recessions are never good for business, but also tends to hit niche hobbies harder than other business types. The second thing which occurred was the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D4E). First, when D&D3E was released, I think the hobby was ready for a serious change to the game, second players had no where else to go, Wizards of the Coast simply stopped selling Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition (AD&D2E) and if you wanted support, you transitioned to D&D3E. When D&D4E came out, people were not ready for a complete over haul of the game and Paizo Publishing took advantage of the Open Game License and published the PathFinder RPG, which is 99% compatible with D&D3E, so players had a place to go for new material, they did not even have to buy new books if they didn’t want to. Although D&D4E was not a failure, it also did not live up to expectations, initial sales were far below what D&D3E produced and players who did adopt the new game, did so very slowly. In effect, the hobby has been in contraction for at least 2 years and it looks like this trend will continue.

At this point, I am not sure I want to say with any authority that the Bronze Age has come and went, but it does appear as though it has. However, it is just as likely it was the Silver Age getting its second wind. Most Comic Book historians place the end of the Silver Age at 1970, however between 1970 and 1975 there was a mini resurgence marked by the Death of Gwen Stacy, the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories and Mike Grell’s work on the Warlord and the Legion of Superheroes. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Bronze Age is yet to come. Either way, I can’t wait to see what happens next.