Friday, November 28, 2008

It's that time of year.

You know what's coming:

I for one plan on surviving by keeping the fridge fully stocked with egg nog, barring the door, and keeping a full pot of oil at a constant low boil for any foolish carolers who make it onto the porch.

Virtual Vacation: City of Heroes/Villains

Everybody needs a break sometime. And since a trip to Hawaii is out of the question (hey kids! Write your Congressional delegation in support of more funding for libraries!), one modifies the concept of "vacation" and makes do.

So with that in mind, I started gadding about the many MMORPG websites, looking for free demos. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I finally settled on NCSoft's City of Heroes. Being a comic book turbo-geek often makes one predictable.

Having gotten that far, I was faced with another urgent question: Would it actually work? Unlike Second Life, there is no available Linux client for CoH. This left me at the mercy of Wine, the Linux Windows emulator. My experiences with Wine have been spotty. I couldn't get .NET-dependent applications like AvPainter to work at all, and despite my best attempts, games like The Movies wouldn't install no matter how many prescribed workarounds I tried.

According to Wine's Application Database, CoH rated "Silver", which meant that it would work, but not without some notable problems. With some trepidation, I downloaded the two-point-some-odd gigabyte file and installed it.

Lo and behold, it worked. Mind you, there were hiccups. Going into the "Costume" screen caused the game to crash instantly. And if I happened to be in a large group with a lot of activity, say, at the main landing point of the Rikti alien invaders once their ships have been spotted (thus drawing every cape in the city), the lag became ridiculous. Of course, much the same thing happens to me in SL under similar circumstances, so it could be my system, too.

After a couple of tries at creating a character (on both sides of the law; the CoH demo is also the demo for its sister title City of Villains), I settled on an armored, sword-wielding clown I called "Joyboy". I'd originally wanted "Joybuzzer", but that was already taken. Thus established, I set forth to battle evil.

Evil is not something in short supply in CoH. The crime rate in Paragon City is such that there's some kind of criminal activity going on on almost every corner. Even guys who can toss off fireballs and bolts of electricity aren't above trying to snatch purses. So, needless to say, there's a lot for a neophyte superhero to do.

And I gotta say, just as a personal aside, beating up purse snatchers never gets old. Spider-Man and Batman eat muggers up like potato chips, and suddenly, through Joyboy, I saw the appeal: He's victimizing a little old lady! How does that not merit some loose teeth?

But having that much to do seems to come at a price. Maybe it's because demo users aren't given access to most of the chat channels, but one gets the impression that the people on CoH are seriously antisocial. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the chatty environs of SL. But when an innocuous "Hello" gets a stony silence for a response, one gets the impression that the natives aren't friendly. Call me crazy.

Joining a team is about as close to socialization as I could manage in my short time there. Teams are a necessity because at certain levels there are areas where it's not safe for a hero to venture alone. In the beginner area of Atlas Park, that was the sewers. And even then, sometimes there isn't safety in numbers. For my first team venture, the system decided to stock the sewers with critters way above our difficulty level. While the rest of us balked at taking on a large group of monsters way out of our league, the team leader decided to go all Leeroy Jenkins. End result: We died. In seconds.

So much for teamwork.

After that, I felt pretty much liberated from any obligation to be sociable. Instead, I wanted to explore as much of the game as I could without getting my virtual ass handed to me. This took me to some interesting parts of town. My favorite at the end was The Hollows, a part of town so completely wrecked and gang-infested that it was actually cordoned off from the rest of the city. Mutant jellyfish monsters lurk in the river. And every single 'banger in town seems to have girlfriend trouble (which provides a nice touch of comic relief to contrast with the bleak setting).

So overall I had fun with CoH. I don't think I'd actually pay for it month-to-month, though. The whole point of multiplayer seems to be the ability to interact with others, and I just wasn't seeing that down Paragon City way.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The random weirdness of Google Ads

This was at the top of my Gmail page when I clicked on the notice of Manny's comment:

- Abel Jobs - Great Abel Jobs Available Paying From $14 to $86 Per Hour

And all this time I've been Abel for free when I could have been Abel for 86 bucks an hour?! I'm such a sucker!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turn around and she's gone, part two.

Despite the few moments of yuks that Johnny Rotten's new career as a dairy product pitchman has provided me, I'm not in a terribly good mood today. I'm a couple steps up from "poleaxed", which was how I felt when I got the news, but, overall, still not good.

I mean, it's not like I haven't been here before. People leave Second Life. It happens. Sometimes they come back, and other times they don't.

I never expected her to leave, though. The die had already been cast before I found out. I was left to examine the pieces of her that remained online, trying to divine answers and solutions from the remnants.

And I knew the futility of even looking. But even the illusion of action is better than dwelling on one's inability to actually help, I guess. At least, that's what I'm telling myself now. But I can't get around the idea that my friend is out there somewhere, one of the multitudes upon multitudes of strangers whom I will never look in the eye, and whatever the situation is, I can't help her.

It's the kind of thing that's like an ongoing kick in the gut.

I joined SL on a lark. In pretty much the same spirit, I started making t-shirts and stuff for Averlast. I never expected to form a friendship such as would leave a hole in me with her absence.

There's more... I could ramble all day here... but I think I've embarrassed everyone enough.

Johnny Rotten hawking butter. This, I did not expect.

A lot of old Sex Pistols fans are probably screaming "sellout!*" But I just thought this was hilarious.

*- Perhaps they would be willing to pay his bills in order for him to maintain whatever rate of punk rock purity is the standard these days?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dead malls.

Have you ever been to a dead mall? Wandering around these foundering hulks of commerce is a sort of reverse-Romero experience. The shoppers (what there are of them) are living and breathing, but the building in which they're milling about is a member of the undead.

Like the movie zombie, the dead mall shows signs usually attributed to life. There are still stores open, and they'll happily take your money for what they're selling, but it's all imitation. Empty stores - mainly marked as being part of national chains that have pulled out, leaving the local merchants to compete for the reduced pool of dollars coming in - stare out at you from behind permanently closed shutters. The buzz of retail has a leaden feel to it, like the synapses of a decaying brain snapping almost at random to produce another stiff-legged, lurching step aimed at getting through to the end of the day.

I've been to a few of the places on the above website's list. Some when they were still alive and thriving, and others when they were just on the verge of succumbing to market forces. A mall dies by a thousand cuts, but the unkindest cut of all is the loss of an anchor store, those big name retailers like J.C. Penney's or Kohl's that bring in shoppers on the power of their own name brands. A mall that loses one of those has lost a major organ, leaving the smaller cells to gradually die off as people stop coming.

I suppose there's a lesson contained within these places ("if you build it, they won't necessarily come"?), but I'm more inclined to simply accept the fact of these places and remember that sometimes the American Dream is accompanied by a rather nasty wake-up call.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fear the tin dog.

They just can't handle it when K9 drops knowledge:

K9 gets all of his questions right, but gets voted off in the first round. Y'know, that's the first time I ever heard Anne Robinson apologize to someone who got the boot.


Cleaning the latrine with a toothbrush.

Despite what goes on in just about every army movie ever made (did Jack Webb have someone do it in The D.I.? No, wait, that's the Marines. My bad.), I've never been ordered to engage in the title activity. When drill sergeants want the latrine cleaned, they want it done now, with broom, mop, and bucket. The preferred method of ballbusting-through-cleanliness was when it came time to clean weapons. I had one guy who could find a speck of carbon in a weapon that had been gone over with wire brushes, CLP, and, yes, toothbrushes to get into the nooks and crannies. Don't know how he did it, but I lost a lot of sleep time to his eye for dirt.

Still, knowing the M16A1, half a microgram of carbon might have been enough to keep the damn thing from firing. No wonder the AK47 is the world's preferred military sidearm. You could drop those things into a mud puddle and they'd still fire.

By now you're probably thinking something to the effect of: "Abel, what in God's green satin bloomers are you on about?"

The above militaristic ramble came from me struggling to find an apt metaphor for the daunting task of cleaning out my SL inventory, which now stands at a rather intimidating 13,130 items. Where did all of this stuff come from?

Some of it hails from my early days on SL, pouncing on any freebie package I could get and worshipping Yadni as a god. Three hundred free clothing items in one box? That's for me! Gimme!

And then there are the gadgets and avatars. I own two different versions of Dr. Who's K9, both programmed to follow me around faithfully (and zap anyone on command, but I haven't had call to do that... yet). I have avatars that I've bought, cherished, and worn only once for longer than twenty minutes. So my tendency to impulse buy plays into things as well.

And let's not forget the stuff I make, too. Every item I've made for Averlast is in my inventory, not to mention every texture used to make those items, plus every failed prototype that I uploaded but just looked wrong on the final product. The stuff to make the speed bags alone...

So yeah, I say "I need to clean out my inventory" a lot. But then I get daunted by the size of the task, and put it off until some undefined time in the future. This, of course, only serves to make the task bigger, as more uploads, more notecards received and, yes, more impulse buying adds to the morass as time goes by.

Tell you what: If you clean up my inventory, I'll clean your latrine with a toothbrush. ;-p

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taking down the yard sign.

Well, my virtual yard, anyway. A week after the election is long enough, I think. And if any of my fellow Dems are waiting for the guy next door to take down his McCain/Palin sign before you even think of taking down yours, please: Be a bigger person and take yours down first. There are bigger fish to fry, and if there are still unsettled issues between you, most of you still have time to dump your raked leaves in their yards.

Kidding! I'm kidding! I'm a kidder! I kid! Dispose of your leaves properly at all times! And don't forget to jump into the pile once or twice before bagging them up.

So it seemed like a good time to take a second look at the sidebar in general. A little autumn cleaning, if you will. I changed my link list to include only non-blog links, and took advantage of Blogger's new blog roll feature to showcase the ones that I still follow. Also, I added a new link list of the webcomics that are part of my daily ritual: The sites that I stop at every day, first thing when I turn on the browser.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Looking over my shoulder.

"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries." - Unknown

For some reason I used to think that to be a quote of Mark Twain's. Blew a job interview once by citing it to a reference librarian who knew better.

I don't talk much about the day-to-day of my job here. My blog is a known quantity at work, and it's very much in my interest to follow Thumper's mother's advice and say nothing here if I can't say something nice. While that leaves me having to strike off juicy office gossip of my list of potential blog fodder, it also means that putting my foot in my mouth won't have consequences that could potentially affect my paycheck.

Which actually brings me to what I'm writing about today:

PHILADELPHIA - The city will close libraries and swimming pools, suspend planned tax reductions, cut more than 800 jobs and trim salaries for some administrators in order to weather "an economic storm" that could leave the city with a $1 billion shortfall, Mayor Michael Nutter said Thursday.

All together it's eleven of Philadelphia's fifty-four libraries set to close their doors, maybe for good. "My" library isn't part of the Philadelphia system, instead being in one of the surrounding counties. But it's the kind of sneeze that makes everyone wonder if we're about to catch a cold, if you get my meaning.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A moment of culture.

With Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. If Animal goes, I'm going with him.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Life in the fast lane (HA!)

Reaching into my life's junk drawer and pulling out a few pieces:

Ubuntu 8.10 - Spent all of Thursday night downloading the update for my operating system, and so far it's meeting expectations. It came with the latest version of the GIMP, which features some new bells and whistles that I'm eager to exploit in pursuit of graphical excellence for Averlast. Maybe I'll try a hand at cooking up something for myself, if I ever find a store space again. My only real beef is with the KDE interface, which has the annoying habit of automatically setting my monitor to maximum resolution when I've set it to a more comfortable, lower level. That, and they still haven't fixed the bug that makes the mouse pointer jump spastically across the screen every once in a while. Usually while I'm working.

Comics' Greatest World - Dark Horse Comics has put out a bunch of "omnibus" trade paperbacks of late: Big, thick paper bricks collecting franchise titles like Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well, another one has washed up 'pon the library's shores in the form of the Dark Horse Heroes Omnibus, Volume One. The book collects the best of what was marketed as "Comics' Greatest World": Dark Horse's stab at competing directly with Marvel and DC by creating its own universe of superheroes and villains. The result is something of a mixed bag. While the project created cult figures like Ghost, X, and Barb Wire (the last, alas, mainly remembered for a very forgettable movie), the majority of this very crowded cast of characters is uninspiring. Many of them are fashion victims of Rob Liefeld's undue influence of the time. Which is to say that a lot of them look like strippers. That's including the men. And nothing quite says "hilarity" quite like the attempts at creating a tough-looking street gang using nothing but revealingly-cut spandex. You know how lame somebody comes off when they're trying too hard to be cool? That's the vibe I'm getting from this book.

Death Was the Other Woman - Ah, now this is more like it! After many an evening spent devouring the adventures of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins, one sure way to get my attention is to put out another hardboiled detective yarn set in mid-20th Century Los Angeles. But instead of this story being told by the hard-drinking, streetwise shamus, we get his sharp-as-a-tack "girl Friday's" voice instead. Author Linda L. Richards could have easily veered this story into parody, making the detective an incompetent boob while his secretary solves the case behind the scenes (an approach actually taken with the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in 1988's Without a Clue with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley). Instead she paints a picture of a partnership, and the pair play off of each other well. Characters that could have been drawn broadly instead come across as real people, and the specter of the Depression seems to lurk in the background of even the lightest of scenes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

CNN just called it.

Barack Obama is the next President of the United States of America.

Letting out the breath I've been holding for about a year now and going to bed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Congratulations, Paula, and Dalph

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So my friend Paula got married (or virtually so, depending on how you look at it, I guess) yesterday. I had been invited to a couple of Second Life marriages before, but this was the first one to which I actually made it. Bought a tux and everything for the event (I didn't trust myself to find anything suitable for the wedding's theme, which was Arthurian, so I went with looking like a copper-plated James Bond, haha).

Like I said, my first SL wedding, so I didn't know a few details, like it's not necessary to stand when the bride enters. That one came as a bit of a surprise to me, but given SL's tendency to sometimes have people flailing uncontrollably in freefall position when all they wanted to do was get out of their seats, not entirely shocking.

The ceremony was held in an open-air pavillion in a rented private sim, with dancing, a live DJ, and an open bar in a nearby reception hall. It was all quite lovely, and I hope that it bodes well for the future of the happy couple to have such a picture-perfect beginning.

Special tip for Dalph: Given that Paula is an Averlast boxer, SLCW pro wrestler, a big wheel at RAGE Fighting, and probably involved in a lot of fisticuff-related stuff that I don't even know about yet, if I were you, I'd remember those two little words that guarantee a happy marriage: "Yes, dear."