Thanks to all of the wonderful people who supported us all during my marathon 25-hour livestream yesterday, we beat our original goal of raising $300 and reached a stretch goal of $500 to benefit Children's Hospital Colorado during Extra Life 2013! Our total for the event was $505!
I couldn't have made it through these 25 hours without the kindness, support and encouragement of everyone who joined me on my channel for audio or text chat, who played multiplayer games with me (to help add variety to the "show"), donated server resources to support our play and made this event a day (and night) to remember!
I am truly humbled by everything all of you did to support this effort, and I am grateful to all those who made donations.
Thank you for making this happen. I couldn't have done any of this without you!
This Saturday, November 2, 2013, starting at 8:00am EST, I'll be livestreaming for 25 hours straight an assortment of single-player and multiplayer games on my Twitch channel to raise money for the Extra Life event, benefitting the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and, specifically, Children's Hospital Colorado.
Donations are tax-deductible and 85% of all donated funds are sent directly to the hospital being sponsored (hurrah for low overhead). Please support our efforts by donating what you can -- every donation helps!
Joining me periodically throughout the day will be family, friends & fans of my livestreams, and we've got quite a bit planned for this thing to keep folks entertained.
Here are some of the planned highlights:
TheNicoFabi, leader of the "Daily Dream" team I've joined on Extra Life to help raise money for Children's Hospital Colorado, the always lovely Nicole and the reliably insane randomgameuser42 will all join me on the livestream for voice chat and commentary at various points in the livestream, depending on their availability.
Nicole and I have rolled a brand new Large world in Terraria 188.8.131.52, and at the same time as the stream starts, I'll be launching a public TShock server to run the new world and make it available to myself and my livestream fans. The server will remain online throughout the 25-hour livestream (even when I'm not actually playing Terraria on the stream), and periodically I'll hop into Terraria on-stream to see how folks are getting up to and to play the game myself.
The server will be configured to ensure that all connecting players start "fresh" -- roll new characters for this one because even if you connect to the server with a well-equipped character, they'll still only have starting equipment when they arrive in our game world. This is being done to ensure a level playing field for everyone and to encourage exploration of the game world. Character equipment is preserved on the server when disconnecting, so players are free to leave and return without losing the equipment they've earned in the server's world.
Note:Server URL and connection credentials will be posted once the server goes online on Saturday morning.
X3: Albion Prelude w/X Rebalance Mod
The mainstay of my normal weekly livestreams will naturally get its share of attention during this marathon livestream. I intend to focus on proper empire building (with mass production and distribution of profitable wares, as well as supplies for my hopefully burgeoning fleet).
We'll also periodically save the game and go into "goof off" territory where the rules don't apply and nothing that happens becomes "canon" -- what happens when we spawn a dozen Large Orbital Weapons Platforms in Kha'ak space and surround each with a ring of fire? How many ships can Willfe destroy in 60 seconds via "ramming speed!" in the Val Killer with "god mode" enabled? Can Willfe successfully wage war against one of the factions (besides the Xenon or Kha'ak)?
No experiment is too silly and ideas are welcome! Join the livestream chat to offer up your own suggestions for fun things to try in the X3 sandbox!
Left 4 Dead 2, Borderlands 1/2 and Magicka Multiplayer
TheNicoFabi will be joining me for multiplayer mayhem in these (and possibly other) games, and for those games that offer support for more than two players, the invitation will go out on the livestream chat for folks who'd like to join us in-game for a round or two. We'll try to get as many people in as possible, so depending on demand we may have to limit individual gameplay sessions to 20 minutes or so to make sure other folks get a turn.
Defense Grid and Rise of the Triad
It's been quite awhile since I've played some Defense Grid and I've never played the new Rise of the Triad, so this marathon livestream seems like the perfect opportunity to do both! Note that for me, the appeal of Rise of the Triad was always the over-the-top violence and silliness that isn't truly revealed until the cheat codes came into play, so I'm mostly going to be interested in goofing off there instead of trying to play through the game seriously (I'm also pretty lousy at FPS games, so it's unlikely I'd get very far anyway).
Join Us For the Fun!
Join us on my Twitch channel, starting at 8:00am EST on Saturday, November 2, 2013 for all the fun & games! Spread the word and encourage people to donate to support our cause -- remember, every donation helps!
We hope to see everyone there this Saturday! It'll be lots of fun!
The Great X3: Albion Prelude Add-On List Oct 02 2013
Ever since I began my X3: Albion Prelude w/X Rebalance Mod series on my Youtube channel, the most common question I've gotten has been "hey, can you list all the mods you're running?" I've meant to write this up for a long time, but for various reasons, including surgery, work, depression and laziness, I never got around to it ... until now. [Insert dramatic music cue here]
So, better late than never, I present the mighty...
List of Add-Ons Used for Willfe's X3:AP w/XRM Youtube Series
Unfortunately I don't remember which order I installed everything in, so if you're trying to duplicate my setup, make a backup of your working (vanilla) installation first before you begin. Here's what I do remember from setting everything up:
- Complex Cleaner needs to be installed (and enabled in-game) before installing X Rebalance Mod. They work fine together when installed in this order. Note that Complex Cleaner requires the unusual step of "double initialization" -- after installing it, you need to load a saved game (or start a new one), save it, then load it and save it again to fully initialize the mod.
- It is vital to read the first post of the X Rebalance Mod's official forum thread, both to learn how to install the mod itself and to find out what caveats, if any, apply to other mods you intend to install. A list of mods known not to work with XRM is also provided there.
- With everything listed below installed, my game's music seems to get stuck. The same might happen to you, or it could just be a one-off glitch that only I experience. I thought I'd mention it just in case, though.
If I later discover I've omitted an installed add-on, I'll add it to this list. I appreciate everyone's patience as I assembled this list.
The Base Game
For this installation, the base game is Egosoft's X3: Albion Prelude version 2.5.1. Note that the newest versions of X Rebalance Mod are compatible with the newest version of X3: Albion Prelude (v3.1 as of this writing). I haven't upgraded my installation to these newer versions because the older saves aren't compatible with the newer XRM versions (they might technically "work" but none of the new plots or features will be available, apparently).
All of the following mods and add-ons have been installed and enabled in my game installation for the video series. Links are provided for each add-on and versions are listed whenever they're known. If no version appears next to a given module, assume the latest available version has been installed.
X Rebalance Mod, v1.26d
The grand game changer itself. This add-on is essentially a total conversion mod for X3: Terran Conflict and X3: Albion Prelude, introducing boatloads of new star systems, ships, weapons and features and balancing and tuning existing ones, adding new game features and drastically changing how the game looks and performs.
- I needed to disable the engine trails added by this add-on to get reasonable in-game performance on my machine. I used the instructions from this Egosoft Forums thread to do so.
This simple add-on ensures the Docking Computer can be installed on all ships, overriding X Rebalance Mod's default configuration that only permits its use on larger ships.
Cheat Collection Package, v1.62
This package is useful for staging specific things prior to recording or broadcasting and dealing with (and recovering from) glitches (e.g. undocking an M7 or larger ship from my complex hub in Antigone Memorial, which immediately destroys the ship if done in-system because of the weird placement of the docking ports caused by Advanced Complex Hub).
X3AP Bonus Pack, v184.108.40.206
This useful collection of community add-ons includes things like Turbo Boosters, Commercial Agents and the immensely helpful Hephaistos Corp. Station Building Service, which removes most of the drudgery of building immense complexes (by automating the purchase and deployment of up to 125 stations at a time). If only it could deploy mines on asteroids ... sigh :)
Advanced Complex Hub, v1.0
This add-on replaces the regular Complex Hub (created by Complex Construction Kits) with one that can dock unlimited fighters (M3, M4 and M5 classes), 20 freighters (TS, TM and TP classes) and 2 capital ships (all remaining classes).
- The new Complex Hub alters the flight paths for docking (for all ships) and requires significant space around it (especially in the "front") when docking and undocking capital ships.
- In my installation, the clickable "target" for the new Complex Hubs doesn't actually correspond to the physical model, and docked capital ships look like they aren't actually docked or connected. This could just be a glitch in my installation, though.
This add-on provides a new piece of equipment, the Energy Cell Generator, that can be fitted to capital ships to permit them to generate their own supply of energy cells when conditions permit (e.g. laser and shield energy is at 100%). This is very useful, as it ensures any equipped ship has a ready supply of energy for jumps.
Move to Coordinates, v1.00
This simple add-on adds a single command to the Navigation menu, permitting the (drunken) autopilot to move a ship to a specific position in a system, specified by coordinates.
NPC Bailing Addon, v1.7.8
This add-on has brought great joy and happiness to my installation, as it adds the potential for all NPC-piloted ships in the game to abandon ship when they've taken enough damage. It happens more frequently for fighters and more rarely for bigger ships. Abandoned ships are claimable by the player.
- This is one of those add-ons that can be considered "unbalanced" because it makes obtaining rare and/or difficult-to-capture ships a possibility without actually attempting a boarding operation. Because of the frequency of fighters abandoning ship, the add-on can also be a big money maker. The add-on is very adjustable and configurable though (via in-game menus) to reduce the "cheating" feeling.
- It is supremely awesome to stumble upon an abandoned Xenon or Kha'ak M6 or M7 by chance when exploring a busy sector.
Salvage Claim Software, v4.11
This immensely useful add-on brings lots of salvage-related commands, miscellaneous ship management (and repair) commands, makes the mighty Aran actually useful and includes plenty of "kitchen sink" style functionality (like stealth satellites).
- This is another "feels like cheating" add-on, especially given the functionality to automatically search all known sectors (with satellite or owned ship/station presence) for unclaimed/abandoned ships, claim all abandoned ships in a sector and strip and sell them on the spot (while docked at your carrier) without having to bother with flights to a shipyard.
This add-on bolts even more salvaging functionality onto the game, enabling ships to be set to autonomously claim, gather and repair abandoned ships either in a given sector or throughout the universe. It can also add NPCs that also go salvaging to "compete" with the player in an effort to balance things out.
A simple but useful add-on, this enables all jumpdrive-equipped ships to automatically use their jumpdrives (fuel permitting) to execute all regular commands.
This add-on fixes potential game-crashing situations involving docking and undocking, and adds the ability for all ships equipped with a Docking Computer to actually use it when docking (they automatically dock once they're close enough to a station instead of going through the motions of flying to the docking clamps).
This add-on prevents accidental (or intentional) collisions and attacks on jumpgates from causing any notoriety loss with any of the races or factions. This is especially useful with the big, lumbering ships that are prone to bonking into the gate's frame as they exit from a jump and heavily-armed ships that love to shoot at enemies ... and accidentally also hit nearby jumpgates with weapons fire.
This add-on adds a Ring of Fire command to ships capable of carrying lasertowers. The command deploys the specified number of lasertowers in a ring around a specified point and along the specified axis, or directly surrounding a jumpgate if specified as the target point. If the deploying ship has enough microchips available in its cargo bay, the resulting lasertowers will be "stealthy," not appearing on the system map (or owned property panel) unless they're actively engaged in an attack.
- I've only deployed this once in-game, but it was a beautiful sight to behold. I need to use this more to keep the Xenon caged in.
Complex Cleaner, v4.09
This impressive add-on facilitates the construction of truly gigantic complexes by "crunching" existing player-owned stations in a system into a smaller set of comparable stations (i.e. ten Solar Power Plant XL stations get turned into one "FACT Energy Cells (50)" station).
It also improves framerates in systems containing these massive complexes by eliminating the connecting pipes between stations and, more impressively, by moving all "crunched" stations inside a great big (easy-to-render) metal box that just floats in space a reasonable distance from the complex hub that glues them all together.
MARS Fire Control, v5.24
This add-on drastically improves the intelligence of all equipped ships' turrets, which now automatically choose the best targets to shoot at with the ship's available weapons and automatically equip the best weapon most likely to actually hit the target and cause significant damage, taking weapon range and speed and target speed and distance into account.
It also adds "Goblins: your obedient minions," which do everything from flying decoy missions against enemies (to increase the number of targets they have to contend with while the player attacks) to gathering loot left behind in crates after battles have ended. They can also handle missile defense (which is also improved for turrets by this add-on).
This add-on adds a numeric value to all rank displays in-game, making it much easier to understand and gauge player rankings with all the game's races and factions (as well as trade and combat rankings).
Pure X HUD, v2
This add-on beautifies various HUD elements in-game, making target icons more visible and distinguishable and subtly improving other display elements as well.
Marine Repairs and Training, v2.03
I've honestly never (knowingly) used this, if only because I'd forgotten (until now, as I inventoried everything installed in my game) I had it installed. From the package description:
Marines repair your ships, stations, AND COMPLEXES automatically. Now with marine training based on repair experience and configurable fees. Marines receive on-the-job training while doing repairs. Training costs about the same as vanilla but is faster (when the marines are doing repairs).
This seems pretty useful, so I'll have to give it a try.
These additional library add-ons are also installed because they're required by one or more of the above add-ons.
Back Home, Resting Jul 15 2013
I was discharged from the hospital yesterday afternoon and have spent the intervening time getting settled in and comfortable. I'm still getting used to things with this "new back" and the attending issues with it, but I'm doing well so far and it feels good to be back home again.
Out of Surgery Jul 11 2013
Short post here, as I'm drugged up and very tired/sleepy. I'm out of surgery and resting in my room now. The pain so far seems pretty manageable. Thanks for the support and well-wishes, everyone; I appreciate it. I'll post more in the coming days, but for now, it's nap time.
Prepping for Surgery Jul 09 2013
This Thursday (two days from now), I'll be admitted at Florida Hospital East Orlando for surgery to perform an L5/S1 decompression, discectomy and spinal fusion. The surgery is scheduled for 12:15pm and is expected to take several hours. I will remain hospitalized for at least three days, returning home for recovery no early than Sunday evening.
Needless to say, I'll be offline and out of touch for a generous portion of my hospital stay. Nicole will be contacting family to keep them informed regarding the surgery and will post public updates at her discretion on her Google+ profile as time permits. The hospital has WiFi and my laptop will be coming along for the ride, so once I've emerged from the delirium of anesthesia and morphine and, as time and nurses permit, I'll do what I can to post an update here to let folks know how things are going.
If you happen to be in the Orlando area over the weekend and want to drop in to say "hi," you're certainly welcome to do so. I can't guarantee I'll be the most entertaining host, but I'm sure I'll be grateful for the extra company.
Tomorrow I'm due at the hospital (a day before the surgery) to have more blood drawn, for typing and crossmatching, and I'll be taking whatever remaining tests they have planned for me for pre-surgery diagnostics and screening. Then it's back to work for one more day before things turn crazy.
I'm sure I'll be scrambling at the last minute, panicked that I've forgotten some detail or other (and robbing myself of sleep by being so anxious) and will be too "busy" to make a post like this one, so I figured today was a better time to post.
And yes, I'm very frightened and worried. Hopefully it will go smoothly, and I'll post again when things calm down after surgery. Thanks for the kind words of encouragement, everyone who's sent them. I really appreciate it!
It Hits the Fan Jun 22 2013
Over the last year, I've been experiencing back pain (mostly in the tailbone) in ever-increasing amounts, to the point that it hurts to stand, sit or walk (especially standing up after being seated for awhile -- the pain is excruciating). This past January it finally provoked me to see my doctor. Two months of diagnostics followed, including X-rays, a nuclear bone scan, a CT scan, an MRI and a god damned unpleasant (and painful) procedure called a cystoscopy (don't click that link if you're squeamish) to sort out what was really going on. Each of the imaging studies led to the next, and the CT scan also prompted the call for the cystoscopy because of two cysts it identified on my right kidney (one of them large, dark and "irregular" -- meaning "potentially malignant"). For the record, cystoscopies suck, and if your doctor ever recommends one, have him have one of his own first to make sure he understands what he's asking of you.
The "good" news is that the cystoscopy (and the ultrasound ordered as a followup, performed just yesterday) revealed it's just a lumpy buildup of calcium, not something more sinister (like a cancerous growth). The bad news is that if it ever decides to "unwedge" itself within my kidney, it instantly gets promoted to "monstrously huge kidney stone that will probably need emergency surgery to remove."
That's just the side story, though, because the "good news" ends there -- the rest of the news I've gotten over the past few months has been decidedly bad.
The CT scan led to a referral by my physician to an orthopedic surgeon for further in-depth diagnostics. He, in turn, ordered the MRI which confirmed what the CT scan had initially indicated -- a herniated disc in my lower spine (specifically, at L5/S1 -- the disc between the lowest lumbar and highest sacral vertibrae) as well as unusually-angled facet joints throughout my spine and indications of minor deterioration of the discs throughout the lumbar vertebrae above the herniation.
What followed was a two month period of non-surgical pain management, consisting of two epidural steroid injections and two attempts to chemically deaden the nerves surrounding the herniated disc. All four procedures were outpatient procedures involving mild general anesthesia, plenty of local anesthesia, and lots of needles (especially for the nerve numbing, which required six needles in the back per procedure). They also hurt like hell.
Unfortunately, these non-surgical efforts have failed, and the pain continues to worsen. The pain management specialist referred me back to the orthopedic surgeon, but because of an unrelated and unexpected event that briefly jeopardized my health insurance coverage (and has absolutely enraged me, though that's a story for another day), I was forced to wait for over a month before I could finally return to his office for a follow-up. He reviewed the results so far and discussed my remaining options with me. Since the first option -- indefinite treatment with non-narcotic pain medication -- hasn't even touched this pain since it began, we begrudgingly decided it was time to pursue the last remaining option: it's time for surgery.
In less than three weeks (in early July), I'll report to Florida Hospital's East facility (the one on Lake Underhill, in case anyone's curious) to be admitted for inpatient surgery: a discectomy to remove as much of the failed disc as possible and a lumbar fusion to try to strengthen my spine and finally relieve the pain.
Needless to say, I'm rather scared of this. I haven't actually ever had any surgery in my conscious lifetime.
I'll be in the hospital for two to five days after surgery, and it'll be up to six weeks of recovery before I can attempt to resume normal physical activities. Until then, I'll mostly be bed-ridden, with brief periodic excursions to try to sit up, walk, and do what exercises I can to keep my muscles from rotting during my recovery. My spine won't actually start healing until this point, and it could take up to six months to actually heal properly. The chance of success of this surgery (in terms of actually relieving the pain) is between 60 and 70 percent.
There will be a scar, at least six inches in length, going up and down my back along the spine. I suppose that's not a bad thing, though -- I hear the ladies really dig scars :)
So Much for the Fresh Paint Jun 17 2013
I decided not to replace the CMS I'm using on the blog for the time being; for one thing, I don't actually have any real complaints about it in its current state, and for another, I haven't found anything that's measurably better for my purposes than what I'm currently running.
So, Mingus stays :)
I Object Jun 08 2013
The United States government is openly spying on its own citizens by recording millions of phone call records daily and directly accessing the private data of all customers of major corporations like Apple, Google, Microsoft (and Skype, now owned by Microsoft), Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL and others via "PRISM," a program developed and operated by the National Security Agency (or NSA).
Making matters worse, the government is invoking its state secrets privilege to prevent any judicial oversight or litigation whatsoever over this egregious breach of the public trust, all in the name of "national security." Astonishingly, this comes only one day after the Obama administration claimed the PRISM program had "congressional oversight and judicial oversight".
I'm at a loss here. I genuinely don't know how to respond to this as an American citizen. My own government has betrayed me and all my fellow citizens, is openly discussing what it's doing, is proud of its efforts, is insistent on furthering those efforts and is doing all it can to eliminate any kind of oversight, disclosure or liability for its actions. It is denying its own citizens the right to challenge these actions or even to fully understand them.
Right now the only appropriate reaction I can think of is to denounce and condemn these actions, to speak out and heap shame upon my government for behaving this way. More action than this is needed, but for now, I offer this statement. I'm sure it'll make somebody laugh. I just hope posting this doesn't provoke a "visit from the spooks." But what the hell ... we're all "on the list" now anyway.
Voice of Dissent
The United States government claims that in order to protect me, one of its citizens, from the dangers of "terrorism" it has become necessary to spy on me, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors and my fellow citizens both domestically and around the world. It claims that it has the legal right to do this, and it has actually been doing this for years. It openly boasts of the continued expansion of its spying efforts. It claims that it cannot be challenged on this in its own courts, because doing so would require divulging "state secrets" that could somehow endanger my safety and security if they were made known to the public.
I reject these claims and condemn these actions by the United States government. I believe:
- it is wrong for a government to spy on its own citizens.
- it is wrong for a government to grant itself the power to spy on its own citizens.
- it is wrong for a government to spy on its neighbors, allies, partners and even enemies.
- it is wrong for a government to refuse to permit judicial oversight of these actions.
- it is wrong for a government to protect itself from accountability by hiding its unlawful actions behind a "state secrets" claim.
- the United States government has violated the United States Constitution by subverting the checks and balances and the freedom of the press established therein, by ignoring the will of the people, by acting in secret, by prosecuting whistleblowers, by refusing to be held accountable in court and by shielding itself from criticism by invoking a manufactured "state secrets privilege" that was never granted to it by Congress or by the American people.
As such, I make these declarations:
- I do not need to be spied upon in order to be protected from harm; the social contract already provides for that
- My safety and security is not improved by my government spying on me, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors or my fellow citizens throughout the nation
- My government is breaking its own laws by conducting these actions
- My government is violating my rights to liberty, privacy and due process by conducting these actions in secret
- My government is violating my right to seek a redress of grievances by refusing to submit to its own courts for judicial oversight
- My government is endangering my life and threatening the national security by including foreign nations and their citizens in its spying actions, potentially angering and provoking responses from the entire world outside the United States
- I fear my government because of these actions
- I am embarrassed to be an American citizen because of these actions.
Therefore, I, a citizen of the United States of America, do hereby demand that the United States government immediately:
- discontinue its domestic spying programs
- publicly disclose all such programs, including the names of the individuals and corporations responsible for advocating, proposing, designing, approving, authorizing, funding, implenting, operating, defending or supporting them, and/or protecting them from public scrutiny
- destroy all evidence, information and data gathered, collected, generated or amassed by these programs
- dismantle the infrastructure built to support these programs unless they can be converted to use for a public good with appropriate public scrunity and judicial oversight
- return all revenue generated from liquidating or converting such infrastructure back to the American taxpayers
- discontinue the prosecution of any accused or suspected "whistleblowers" and pardon all persons currently imprisoned for whistleblowing regarding these programs or any related subject
- inform each citizen (individually) who has been the subject of spying by any of these programs as to the nature and extent of such spying, how to recover and retrieve all information gathered about them by these programs and ensure that the government's copies of that information have been satisfactorily destroyed
- voluntarily disqualify, exclude, withdraw or retract any tainted evidence being used in a criminal proceeding against any person (whether a citizen or not) that was "tainted" by being discovered, generated, gathered or collected by these programs
- voluntarily dismiss any and all charges laid against any person (whether a citizen or not) that cannot be satisfactorily proven in the absence of any such tainted evidence
- subject itself to judicial review and criminal investigation by a neutral third party (i.e. an international investigative body or commission)
- subject itself (as an entity) and those persons publicly disclosed as being willing participants, supporters, advocates., etc. of these programs to the public scrutiny and attentions of the International Criminal Court (at The Hague)
- subject itself to domestic judicial review
- implement and support special elections to replace all impeached and/or removed government officials (including appointees that are not normally chosen via election), subject to independent third party oversight by an international team
- permit and support the criminal prosecution of all individuals and corporations responsible for these programs (as described above)
- permit any person (whether a citizen or not) that was spied upon by these programs to bring suit against it and its accomplices in Federal Court
- strike all laws enacted in support of these programs, including the retroactive revocation of all immunities granted to individual and corporate accomplices in exchange for cooperation with these programs
- restore America's honor and reputation on the world stage by publicly acknowledging the folly of these spying programs, apologizing to its citizens and its neighbors for its actions and making appropriate reparations to all those it has harmed with its actions
Finally, on behalf of the citizens of the United States of America, I sincerely apologize for the misdeeds of our government and humbly beg the world's forgiveness and support as we struggle to right these wrongs done in our name, but without our support or consent. We did not sanction these actions by our government, but we will hold it accountable for them.
While all content on willfe.com is released under a Creative Commons license, I hereby explicitly grant permission for anyone to duplicate, republish or mirror this statement provided 1) I am credited as its author, 2) it is not being used for commercial gain.
Shameless Plug While I Fool With the Plumbing May 21 2013
It's time for an upgrade of all the moving parts that make willfe.com work, so while I'm mucking around behind the scenes over the next little while, have a look at my Youtube channel where I've been quite prolific in recent weeks with more X3: Albion Prelude videos. You can subscribe to me there on YouTube, and you can also subscribe to my Twitch.TV livestream channel if you'd like to see my livestreaming efforts (with dual commentary featuring AimDK and myself).
A Post a Day Keeps Good Content Away Sep 28 2012
Naturally my efforts to post "something" once a day yielded little fruit -- made it three days before the run stopped. Heh. A new record! :)
There's still plenty going on, just nothing new/amazing/shiny to announce just yet. My latest attempt to record an X3 episode turned out pretty damned dull after 6 minutes of doing practically nothing. The challenge was finding a ship that could carry (and fire) the esoteric weapon I was going to start fetching in a silly way, and during the video I just couldn't find any. As it turns out, there's only three ships in the entire game that can carry them, and in my estimation they were all very boring. But I've thought of a different way to spin it, so that it might still actually be funny (at least a little), so I'll try that out this weekend. It's still going to be a silly endeavor though.
Actual APIs for Stuff?
In other news, I've been pleasantly surprised lately to see Google spitting out some actual APIs for their newer and shinier offerings, like the Google Play Android API, the Google Drive SDK (which should finally result in a real, mountable filesystem driver for Google Drive, at least in Linux) and even the Google Tasks API.
I've been wanting to play around with various services the company offers in the "cloud computing" space lately anyway. Much as the phrase "cloud computing" has become a practically meaningless buzzword, the fact remains Google is one of the few players in the space that actually have some meat on the bone in terms of offerings: like Amazon, they eat their own dog food and made sure their infrastructure was usable and reliable internally for their own purposes before scaling it up and loosing it on the world at large :)
As always, I'm unsure what I'd actually do with any of it though, so this becomes one of those backburner projects that is unlikely to get much attention. There's plenty of "practical" stuff left to accomplish before I jump into new toys again.
You've probably noticed I've posted more frequently lately than usual (once a day instead of once every month or two), and undoubtedly if you noticed that you've noticed the title of each post leads with "Brain Dump." Maybe you're wondering "what the hell?" I'll admit I probably am, too.
I figured I might as well try to squeeze something out of my brain into written form onto this blog once a day, just to try to stimulate the "muse" a bit. Maybe get something interesting out here and there while I'm at it. We'll see.
In other (completely unrelated) news, I'm going to have a stab tonight at recording another video for my X3: Albion Prelude Humble Merchant Guide series. Let's see if I can actually construct something interesting or if it ends up being another "cutting room floor" victim. Only time will tell.
Brain Dump: Monty at the Office, Graphviz Magic Sep 19 2012
My always-supportive coworkers suggested I bring Monty to work with me instead of having to deal with wasting nearly an hour each day driving to/from work to give him his regular feedings (now happening once every 3.5 hours). I figured I'd give it a shot. To my pleasant surprise, he took to it quite well and made himself comfortable quickly this morning in my office.
I'm sure the folks next door (a different group/company we don't really interact with much) didn't expect to see a cat stroll into their office (Monty briefly went exploring before I realized I needed to keep my door shut to contain him a bit), but that's just one of the many exciting benefits of working at a college-attached small business incubator.
Apart from feeding (and monitoring) the cat today, I spent some quality time with the Markdown and Smartypants processors as well as Graphviz, trying (with some success) to document (both visually and in prose) a very complex problem we're working on solving for a client. I continue to be astonished at how flexible Graphviz actually is and at the incredible visual quality of its output. It's making me look good, and I always feel like it's cheating a little bit to use tools like this to produce good looking documentation.
Now, the hope of course is that the content of that documentation matches the quality of its typesetting and visualizations. Heh.
Brain Dump: Monty Checkup, Hybrid Disks Sep 18 2012
Today was Monty's first checkup appointment after having his feeding tube inserted for manual feeding to treat his fatty liver disease; the doctor wants his feeding schedule changed -- more frequent feedings, with less food per feeding, and unfortunately this means adjusting to an every-four-hours schedule (including my waking up at midnight and four A.M. to feed him each night as well). He's still got some jaundice, but his weight's holding and his wound (from the feeding tube) is clean and redressed. He'll be coming to work with me from now on (until his convalescence is finished) so I can feed him during the day without blowing an hour each day driving to/from work. We'll see how he adjusts to that.
In other news, the SSD/platter hybrid 750GB disk I ordered for my laptop finally arrived today. I'm officially impressed with Clonezilla, which successfully cloned the original 750GB disk in its entirety to the new one, adjusted partitions to match the new geometry and even made sure the boot loader still worked. On the first attempt, it all worked. Naturally Windows had to do its stupid
chkdsk nonsense as always, but it still came up fine after that, and Linux had no problems at all -- it just cranked right up.
Performance wise, the system definitely boots faster now, and the disk itself certainly performs at least as fast as the one it replaces. It definitely feels faster both during startup and when cranking applications up (on both Linux and Windows), so either this is some rose-tinted glass syndrome at play or the device really is working its magic. I'll post more about performance gains (real or imagined :)) as I make further observations.
Back in Action Sep 16 2012
Apologies for the brief outage, folks; I've switched hosts for the site and because of short notice by my former hosting provider, the outage itself was unavoidable (well, that combined with my general laziness and Real LifeTM concerns cropping up at the same time). Things should be back up and running now, though. Hopefully I'll also be posting more frequently/regularly now, but we'll have to see how that actually pans out, eh?
Book Promotion for the Little Guy Sep 04 2012
A friend of mine just founded Black, White and Read Tours with two of her friends to offer up various book promotion services (along with editing, etc.) for independent authors, and I figured I'd give it a quick mention here. She's definitely a book hound, does her own fair share of writing and is enthusiastic and competent. I figure if history's taught us anything, it's that talented enthusiasts do a better job at this sort of thing than expensive agents working for big publishing houses.
Good luck getting things rolling!
Fixing the American Healthcare System Jun 09 2012
There's no easy answer to this one. There are three essential problems that make this a major challenge for the nation to tackle. I'll order them from "well, duh" to "borderline conspiracy theory" in political terms to serve as a gentle introduction to these ideas.
First -- and this one should be painfully obvious -- there's a great deal of greed in the system, ranging from individual practitioners and departments to healthcare organizations and insurance companies. Combining for-profit motives with healthcare has now been proven (convincingly) not to work; when a hospital's primary motivation is profit, your health can only come second. This leads to inappropriately early discharges (to free up a bed for a potentially more-profitable patient), excessive testing, hyper-inflated prices for common supplies (eight dollars for an off-brand adhesive bandage, anyone?), and too many different people getting involved than is strictly necessary, introducing more "billers" to the situation.
Insurance companies, motivated solely by profit and with no interest whatsoever in the health of their customers, are in the business of paying less in benefits than the fees they collect for those benefits. This is an automatic, built-in conflict of interest -- your health insurance company is not interested in treating your illnesses and curing your diseases (unless not doing so will make subsequent treatment more expensive and they're unable to cancel your policy -- though they're getting quite good at canceling people's policies now); they're interested in paying for your annual physical (to make sure nothing expensive is getting ready to flare up) and paying for just enough treatments to keep you quiet and paying.
The profit motive, so firmly engrained in the culture of healthcare in the States, is the first major problem that must be tackled. There are alternatives that, like in so many other industries, would better reward the actual practitioners and other healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, office and hospital staff, etc.) and yield better results (healthier people, fewer misdiagnoses, and cheaper overall services). One drastic alternative is to prevent hospitals from being owned or operated by for-profit businesses (and require existing ones to be spun off as non-profits). Naturally hospitals need money to operate, but profits from operations should be directly reinvested into the hospital -- repairs, expansions, improved equipment, raises for personnel (not just at the top), research and outreach efforts.
Another alternative is implementing single-payer healthcare, similar to what was originally incorporated into the so-called "ObamaCare" healthcare reform bill that was subsequently gutted by Congress so it could be passed in any form at all. While the UK's National Health Service is commonly trotted out by opponents as an example of just how bad single-payer systems can get, but counterexamples like Canada's and Australia's Medicare and Taiwan's National Health Insurance clearly demonstrate that it can work very effectively. With a single pool of funds available, regardless of the method of delivery of healthcare, billing fraud, greed, and similar money-wasting problems can largely be headed off. I'm not naive enough to suggest that a government-run fund would be any less susceptible to corruption and laundering than a privately-held one; another non-profit organization (such as a trust, with careful regulation and close, public scrutiny) would be the best option for something like this.
The second problem is related to the first -- hyper-inflated costs for healthcare, along with distorted billing practices and other issues involved in actually collecting payments for services rendered. It's widely understood that in America, a visit to an emergency room (with a real, life-threatening emergency) without health insurance can essentially bankrupt the patient if they're not sitting on a big nest egg (to the tune of $50k or more). Even including the fact that hospitals will commonly reduce a patient's bill by up to 80% when they're paying cash (another symptom of our broken existing health insurance system), health services are bloody expensive today.
Some of this is unavoidable -- doctors study for a long time to earn their credentials, as do nurses and other technicians. Equipment isn't cheap, and building hospitals isn't either. However, healthcare isn't something that's necessarily "optional" -- some people do inflict their own ailments upon themselves (smokers tend to get lung cancer, alcoholics tend to have liver problems, etc.), but many people do not. Problems emerge because our bodies are imperfect, creaky and spongy things that are brittle and bruise easily.
Part of the solution to the hyper-inflation problem is eliminating the first problem I discussed -- the profit motive in healthcare causes hospitals to bill as much as they possibly can, while it also compels insurance providers to pay as little as they can, sometimes to the point of refusing to pay at all (leaving the patient holding the bag with less negotiating power than if he'd just paid cash). The other part of the solution is harder -- convincing society as a whole that healthcare is something we should all contribute to, knowing full well that each of us contributing may not ever get the same dollar amount of benefit back from that system. The reward for willingly contributing to it is that if we do encounter some nasty health problem, we'll know it'll be paid for. In other words, we act cooperatively and pool our resources to create a healthcare system that will treat everyone. Again, this yields a healthier society overall, decreasing costs (because problems can be detected more quickly, treated effectively with no fear of exploding costs causing a bankruptcy, and funding goes where it's needed instead of being funneled through siphoning middlemen).
The third, most "conspiracy theory style" problem I want to bring up is the fact that in many cases, treating a patient's symptoms (with drugs or other therapies) is more lucrative for the supplier or practitioner than actually curing the underlying disease. This is illustrated perfectly by the current patent situation in the US -- drugs are patented as they emerge from the research and trial phases, and even if they effectively treat symptoms impressively, they tend not to actually cure diseases. Patented drugs cannot be made available in generic form, and so the manufacturer is free to set the price for each treatment as high as they wish, going far beyond recouping research & development costs and diving straight into profit territory. This very frequently results in some patients paying $1,000 or more per month for their medication regimen, which is outlandish and simply unacceptable.
Greed is, of course, at the root of this problem too, and the good news is the solution is relatively straightforward. We need more public funding of medical research efforts, instead of leaving it to private corporations to do all the work. This isn't meant to suggest that private corporations don't produce innovative, effective and impressive therapies, but their motive for doing so isn't to see people healed and cured; it's to keep profits rolling in. I disagree with the traditional notion held by the private pharmaceutical and medical industries that profits aren't to be found in actually curing people. There's new people all the time, with new ailments, and there will always be demand for healthcare services even if they always aim for cures versus profits.
Encouraging public funding of medical research yields immediate results: government isn't meant to be a for-profit institution either, so the expected "net gain" from a research effort isn't profit, but practical and effective therapies for varying ailments. If a university research lab produces a cure for HIV/AIDS after five years of hard work and $100 million spent, the benefit should be obvious: a lethal disease that eventually kills all who are infected with no known cure is suddenly curable. Millions of lives could then be saved by a treatment that's made publicly available, inexpensively, as a direct result of public funding. It's true that not all of those saved lives will end up being productive themselves, but the majority will, and the net gain for society in saving millions of its own ranks should be painfully obvious.
To wrap this up, I suppose the best summary is simply this: healthcare is too privatized right now, the companies involved in it are sickeningly greedy, and we waste more money than we spend effectively treating symptoms, curing diseases and researching new therapies. My suggestions can be summarized quickly as well -- yank the profit motive out of the system as much as possible by converting hospitals to non-profits, convert the existing payments system to a single-payer one with a publicly-held trust managing the resource pool, and fund more public medical research at universities and hospitals to get medical progress out of the hands of private businesses that exploit the patent system for more profits instead of acting in the public's best interests.
Sigh ... I know. "Good luck achieving any of this." Nobody ever said the fixes would be easy :)
Unborn zygotes everywhere today celebrated (however the clumps of cells can actually celebrate) the news that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law today a ban on "requiring" any pharmacist or doctor to administer or prescribe any medication that they believe might result in the termination of a pregnancy. Women's rights activists in the state are probably wondering when the next round of witch trials are going to get ramped up this season.
All the hyperbole and nonsense of the anti-choice debate manages to come crushing down on this latest trend of silliness -- otherwise qualified, supposedly competent pharmacists choosing not to dispense medicines that are prescribed to their customers because it violates their morals. That choice in itself isn't the problem -- it's the expectation that seems to flow from it that those who make it will be "protected" from repercussions. In the state of Kansas, of course, that expectation has now been made real.
I'm still a fan of letting the market settle problems like this, though. Let uncooperative busybody pharmacists refuse business and turn away customers. There are plenty of much friendlier and less judgmental, nosy and presumptuous pharmacies (and pharmacists) all over the place who will cheerfully accept the new business. It seems like this is one of those problems that will take care of itself naturally sooner rather than later.
Just imagine the "list of non-compliant pharmacies" web sites or discussion threads that'll get started once people start comparing notes...
I Can't Be the Only One May 16 2012
Tomorrow I face the not-so-pleasant task of translating all the nice, shiny front-end configuration work I've done in the past year on our Cherokee server at work into the more standard, "banal" Apache style, as performance with Cherokee in HTTPS (SSL) requests has been depressingly poor.
I'm frustrated with this, though, simply because I can't find any references at all to Cherokee's support (or lack thereof) of "SSL session caching," a feature which, when enabled in Apache, suddenly made a test copy of an app we use daily fly like a bat out of hell (and that's on an Amazon EC2 "micro" instance!). Apache was just as slow as Cherokee in handling SSL-based requests right up until I flipped that session caching switch. Suddenly the "performance hit" was gone -- the first request still took a second or two, but after that things were nice and snappy.
Does anyone out there have any ideas on whether Cherokee even supports this kind of session caching? If it can, how does one actually convince it to do so? I'd rather not spend the bulk of my morning writing
Update: I never did find a fix for this, so I switched everything to Apache. It's all bloody fast now. At least now I can rest easy knowing the internal apps I worked on for the company over the past two years actually are as fast as I thought they should be :)
Money Where Your Mouth Is Apr 02 2012
I plan to write more on this subject later this week, but for now I wanted to briefly share an idea I've been kicking around in my head for awhile.
With goons like the MPAA and RIAA now colluding with American internet service providers to threaten "escalating action" against individuals merely accused of infringing on copyright, it's time for all of us (this includes you) to do more than simply boycott these companies and their products.
What we need to start doing, in addition to refusing to pay these companies a dime, is to support artists, authors, designers, publishers and other companies who do the right thing. I bought Trine 2 and The Witcher 2 today to support two game publishers because they use no Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on these games (plus, Trine 2 now has a Linux client).
To best cut out the MPAA/RIAA middlemen, we need a two-fanged attack: eliminating their cash flow is the first step, but providing a financially stable and suitable environment for the actual creative people who make all the things we enjoy to thrive is the more vital second step. Killing the middlemen who serve as a barely-functional life support mechanism for our modern day artisans will only kill them off too unless we provide something better.
So vote with your wallets, folks -- don't just do it by putting the wallets away, do it by doing business with good people visibly so the bad ones can see you doing it.