Accepting Trump is President does not mean you have to ignore that he is a terrible person.

Here’s the thing… yes I have a lot of negativity about Trump being president, but I do accept that Trump is the president. I do… but just because I accept he is the president, it does not mean he represents me. He may represent America on the international stage, and our government at the highest level, but he does not represent my moral values or the ethics my family instilled upon me growing up. He does not represent my ideological values that I have gained from a lifetime of growth and development.

I condemn his open bigotry. I condemn his hateful comments about Muslims. I condemn his hateful comments about Hispanics. I condemn his hateful comments about Women. I condemn him for mocking a disabled man. I condemn him for pandering to white supremacists purely for the sake of votes, for welcoming them directly into his administration, and even having one write his inauguration speech. I condemn him for running a campaign based on openly and unabashedly lying to Americans. I condemn him because he instructs his staff to brazenly lie to people over and over again until the entire point is lost and people move on. I condemn him for basing his campaign around dividing the American people against one another to his own advantage. I condemn his inability to admit personal fault in even the slightest way as a form of personal growth. At the core, I condemn him as a human being who does not represent even a sliver of a percent of the best of what an American can, and should, be.

Accepting that he is my President doesn’t mean I have to root for his success. If he somehow made America a better place, I would be thrilled… however Trump’s concept of “better” is directly the opposite of mine and anyone I hold dear to me. I don’t want him to succeed in banning Muslims or Hispanics from the country. I don’t want him to succeed in building a titanic wall along the border. I don’t want him to succeed in unwinding key parts of healthcare reform that protects people against bullshit “pre-existing conditions” clauses or 5000% drug price increases based purely for profit. I don’t want him to succeed in filling his administration with opportunists who are looking for personal gain over the best interests of Americans. I want him to fail at these things, because I think America will be a far, far worse for the wear if he succeeds at all of this.

So I finally got around to The Witcher 3

I was a bit late to the Witcher 3 party. I’ve owned the game in my expansive (5 figure count) steam library for some time, but just never played it. I saw the praises, I saw the awards, I saw the review scores… but for some reason nothing ever made me feel compelled to play. Then, this summer, I took the plunge.

Wow.

I know you’ve probably read a million reviews, or played the game yourself. Still, I want to write my thoughts down, if anything, for myself. I understand the praise now, I truly do. I play a lot of games… a lotYet nothing compares to this experience. I truly feel, without any hyperbole, that this game was the best game I have ever played.

RPGs are tricky beasts. You want a lot of engaging content, but that means you need to fill that content out thoroughly. Usually, even the best games of the genre have this quasi three-tier system to their content: The main story, the secondary stuff, and the tertiary random filler. The first of the three usually has well thought out, well scripted, well voiced content that’s fully engaging and advances the story. The second, usually is a little less on those marks, but still of an okay quality and sometimes affects the story as an option. Lastly, the third is basically quickie throw away “go fetch me X number of Y” content, sometimes without even VO and interactions. With this game however, it’s more like a two-tier system, with the second tier only barely sitting below the first. Even the most fluff of fluffy filler content felt compelling, engaging, fun, and I had to stop to think to even realize it wasn’t actually part of the main quest. The “secondary” quests felt every bit as well thought out and written as the primary arcs, and there was never a time, ever, where I was off killing something or collecting some item going “why the heck am I doing this? It means nothing to the end-game! I should be getting back to getting into Yennifer’s pants!”

Few of the games mechanics or systems felt like they were without thought or careful design as well. The one complaint I had was, quite frankly, that I’m a busy person and I don’t have time to devote to “busy work” within a game like I used to. Because of that I loaded up a few basic mods to make my life easier… I removed the rather restrictive weight limits and enabled the ability to fast travel from anywhere, not just a sign post. That was pretty much about it, other than graphics tweaks however.

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The scenery and views were amazing, I caught myself framing perfect shots for my collection just because. (having a beefy enough system to run the game at max helps with this!) The world is so open and fluid that it was a genuine treat sitting on top of a fortress on a mountainside, looking miles off in the distance, across the water at times, and seeing buildings and towns far away that I knew I could just walk right on over to any time I want.

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The characters were endearing, well fleshed out, and quite personable. I found myself looking forward to engaging with them and continuing the story, and did not find myself perusing romantic engagements not on a whim but because I had a natural desire to see my Geralt grow as a person and find some sense of harmony in his turbulent life.

Then there is the writing, the VO, the Lore, the environment design, just… man it’s overwhelming, the content and world.

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For the first time in my life, I have put down a game and felt a sense of loss. There is a part of me that now feels empty and hollow because I am no longer Geralt of Rivia. I wore him like a second skin in my free time for weeks, and now it just feels weird to close that chapter for good. (DLC not withstanding!)

Before I go though, I have to admit one thing, the game is not without it’s bugs. Aside from one that broke a side quest that basically prevented me from accomplishing something major that I really wanted to do for the game-world to make it a better place, they were mostly comically and quickly went away. I think I’ll share my favorite with you because it left me in stitches for the entire day…

The (not so insane) case for omitting Punkbuster in Battlefield 1

The early 2000s were a dark time in the FPS world. In the days of old, cheating was rampant, as anyone from the original Counter-Strike days can tell you. There is a saying in the anti-cheat world: “Build a better mousetrap, and they will build a better mouse.” The problem, however, was that for a many number of years, no one was even building mouse traps.

Enter Punkbuster, a creation of a coalition of angry gaming community people who were tired of the rampant cheating. At the time time, it was a godsend. You, the run-of-the-mill server administrator, could drop this module into your game server, tweak a few settings, and now the mice had a mousetrap to contend it. Was it perfect? No. Was it infallible? Nope. Did it at least help? You betcha!

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The mice evolved, and so did the mouse trap. Over time the storied tug of war of hacks vs. anti-cheat escalated as they always do, but this option held back the great unwashed masses of many an offender. There were false positives, there were people who would steal others GUIDs (Global Unique ID) and get them banned for fun, and there were other headaches… but it was an opt-in system. A game server admin could elect to turn on or off any part of the system at will, (or the whole system entirely). The cost benefit analysis was up to the server admin and their community to agree upon, so there were few surprises and consequences were manageable.

This brings us today… 2016. A far, far cry from the early 2000s. These days, first party anti-cheat systems are on the rise… and they are quite impressive pieces of technology. Blizzard’s “Warden”, Valve’s “VAC”, and so on, have set the standard for first party solutions. These systems outclass Punkbuster in many ways, especially in the false positive category, but most importantly, they are in house. The studio using them, also controls them. This is key! Accountability of the actions (and results) of these systems lie within the same walls as the platform on which they operate. It’s quite easy for Blizzard to go “oh crap, something went sideways for this guy, let’s reverse this ban.” or, as has happened before here at Riot, for a player to be banned for botting, only for our support staff to see clear evidence of an account compromise during that time frame and go “yeah it’s plain as day this wasn’t you” and reverse the ban during account recovery.

So, let me explain why this whole thing is in my head, and why I think Punkbuster has no place in Battlefield 1…

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In 2011, when Battlefield 3 came out (and repeated again with BF4 in 2013), DICE made the curious move to incorporate Punkbuster into the game as a required component. If a Battlefield 3(or 4) server is publicly accessible (meaning, not flagged to private and locked out to most folks), PB *must* be enabled on the server. No exceptions. This wasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, common before now. Some other studios had indeed bundled PB with their game’s dedicated servers, sure, but a forced-on implementation was a new one, at least from my understanding. Now, to be sure, it helped. It kept the game a lot saner than it could have been, that’s for sure!

Now, BF3 was one of the first major EA releases to come out in 2011 after the launch of Origin, and as such, was only available on that platform. One of the side effects of this was that your GUID tracked within Battlefield (and consequently PB) is keyed off of your Origin ID. No longer a hash of your computer hardware and game-specific username, this new format essentially “follows” your Origin account wherever it may be logged in, regardless of the computer in question.

For a while, when Origin was new, it was a bit behind in some technical areas. Having been around the team during that time, some really tough decisions had to be made about what was required for launch and what could be added down the road. This is a common decision making process at any studio and tech company, to ensure something was there for players in time for some key milestones and dependencies. This meant account security was a bit hit or miss for the first two years due to a lack of 2 Factor Authentication, for example. As a result, in late 2013 or early 2014 (my memory is hazy) there was a rash of account compromises in bulk that were seemingly part of some form of data breach. I, like many people, had my account compromised by (what at least appeared to be) a conglomerate of Russian hackers.  This went unnoticed by me for a few months, as no new releases came out to garner my attention and warrant logging into Origin. Then, along comes Dragon Age: Inquisition, (SUCH a good game by the way!) and I tried to log in. Uh oh! I went through the account recovery process, turned on the newly established 2FA, and life was good.

Then recently, in a wave of nostalgia with friends, I fired up Battlefield 3. Imagine my shock when I find out that every server I connect to instantly kicks me. Reading through the logs on a server I had control over, I come to find out my GUID is on the Punkbuster master ban list, and was added to it in early 2014! This ban extends to not only BF3, but *ANY* game that leverage Punkbuster who’s authentication methods stem from Origin. (IE all Dice games).

I have a string a documentation proving my account was compromised, Origin willingly acknowledges this issue. Punkbuster? Not a care is given to this. If one tries to appeal to Origin, they response is always the same “We have no control or authority over Punkbuster and all concerns on that need to be addressed to Even Balance.” On the Punkbuster side, any appeals to Even Balance fall on deaf ears. “We have no ownership over account security for Origin. Our only concern is that your GUID was linked to cheating, and placed on the master ban list. All decisions are final and irreversible.”

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So, this brings me to the point of this post: EA/Origin, by way of DICE, has turned over the keys to the kingdom for account bans for a subset of games to Punkbuster, a community controlled system. This third party, with no accountability or liability to EA, has the ability to say “you are hereby banned from all Origin games using PB” (which is this case is all DICE titles), because We Say So.

How is it, that a multi-million dollar publisher thinks it is a player-friendly, pro-consumer policy to say “you know what, let’s allow this other company whom we have no influence over to unilaterally ban our players, with no avenue for recourse by them or even ourselves.” Seriously. How does this make sense to anyone? If Battlefield 1 decides to ship with Punkbuster support, my account will be locked out of playing in any public online servers because of an account compromise that was beyond my control. Why on earth would I pay money for that experience?

Cheating is bad. It needs to be guarded against… but why can’t Dice/EA/Origin, make an in-house solution instead? One that they can have oversight on? Blizzard does it. Valve does it. Riot does it. Tons of studios do it. You are telling me EA thinks this is a better plan? Please.

Edit – 5/17/16 @ 10:23am: Curiously enough, when I woke up this morning I discovered my GUID was no longer on the master ban list. How it was removed I do not know, and I while I am grateful I can play again, it doesn’t really change how I feel about this situation, or the intent behind my post. Still, I am grateful to whomever looked me up and removed it.

MakerBox.me – Not for me.

So a few months back I saw that someone finally put together what might hopefully be the first awesome 3D Printing monthly box service. A fan of Loot Crate, I thought it should check it out and see for myself. There was still time to sign up for the inaugural kit before the deadline, so after mulling over the rather pricey (but understandable) $69.99, I committed.  After taxes though this brought it up to $76 and some change. :/

(It’s worth noting, we’re talking about a 1kg spool of filament, which typically retails for $30-50 plus shipping on said 1kg and other stuff, so the price didn’t seem TOO unreasonable at the time.)

This is what Maker Box touts:

  • A new specialty filament from only the top renowned and tested manufacturers including: Made Solid, NinjaFlex, Taulman3D, 3D Fuel, Form Futura, 3Dom and more!
  • Upcoming materials may include Glow In The Dark, Metal, Wood, Bronze, Carbon Fiber and Flexible Filaments.
  • Maker tools one would need for tinkering such as screwdrivers, scrapers, pliers, wrenches, duct tape, etc.
  • Fun 3D downloads, reference sheets and guides.
  • Exclusive deals on free apps, printers, website coupons, courses and more.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few delays leading up to the shipping, (though they were proactive in explaining the delays to weather, and promised a free gift to be sent out after delivery of the box.) It finally arrived however, and I have to say I’m pretty disappointed. Make no mistake, I’m not unrealistic… I expected like most monthly subscription crates for there to be a bit of wiggle room and certainly NOT to hit some kind of “wow this is worth way more than I paid” jackpot. That said, the results have been lackluster at best.

The box itself was packaged in what was clearly meant to be an attempt to be clever, and I applaud that. The painted on Maker Box name was witty and neat, though the actual execution left it looking messy and cheap. I am not a designer, and I am not well versed in how to critique the application of a design idea to function in a well verbose way, but I do know when something has “missed the mark” which this sadly did. I can tell what they aimed for, but sadly it fell short. (There’s also excess blue paint accidentally smeared over other portions of the box as well.) The mailing label was duct taped to the box, on only two sides, leaving the rest of the label loose and exposed. Anyone who has ever shipped something USPS knows this is a recipe for disaster, with the way they handle packages.

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Moving into the box, there were two flyers, one advertising something and the other being a code for 3 months service for Trinpy.com. Not terrible, but considering these are 2 of the 5 things in the box we’re running out of value real quick here. There was also a scraper, a common and much needed tool to remove stubborn prints from the bed, everyone needs one.. but really once you have one or two, you’re pretty much set. No harm in sending one, but it’s definitely of the exceptionally cheap variety and likely less than $1 or $2 in value at most, especially considering a very stubborn print will easily bend this type of metal instantly.

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Next up we have an interesting tool. It’s a hand held, I guess, hole boring tool? Hard to say really, especially since there is no literature at all tagged with it? After a little digging around, it turns out it’s a pin drill set. Quite neat, but not really useful for me and my applications. At first I thought it was a set of nozzle cleaning heads, but when I opened the case and looked closer I saw all the bits were drill bits… it’s neat, looks nice, likely of some decent value, but.. well, a miss in my book.

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Lastly we have the intended crown jewel of the box, a spool of filament. This one appears to be from 3D Fuel, and is a biodegradable Algae filament. Interesting for sure, but nothing to write home about, and I don’t really consider biodegradable PLA to be on par with say, Glow In The Dark, Wood, Metal, or other “alternative” filaments. That said, I *do* recognize it’s technically a “unique” filament, and currently I understand it is rather pricey compared to PLA as a result. Unfortunately however, even though I am signed up for the 3mm diameter plan (3mm and 1.75mm being the two standard formats) this filament is 1.75mm… making it completely useless to me unless I swap out a significant portion of the hardware on my Ultimaker 2 in order to support it. :/

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I tried to look up the filament to get a sense about what it is more, and a better understanding. There is a URL on the box, but unfortunately the site shows this when you visit it:

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Definitely not at all confidence inspiring… Even less inspiring is all my research I can conduct indicates this filament ONLY comes in 1.75mm, which means they more or less just said “fuck it” to everyone who signed up with a 3mm plan. Thanks guys.

In the end, I pretty much canceled my subscription about 5 minutes after going through the box. It was a neat idea and if they can refine the process down the road I may get back on board, but right now I really feel like I got far less value out of this than what I paid (especially when their site claims “The MSRP value of every box will match or exceed the price.”, and when combined with a clear disconnect between them and the customer experience, I just felt like this isn’t for me.

Google’s Project Fi

So a while back I was invited to Googles “Project Fi”. For those who don’t know what it is, the short answer is “Google Fiber for cell phones”. Which, as an elevator pitch, is pretty compelling! 😉

It works like this, you obtain, either on your own or from Google one of their “Fi capable” phones. These are newer model Nexus phones (the 5X and 6P specifically) that have newer radios in it that support the magical Fi network. What makes this network special is two parts: One, they are adaptive. It leverages both the Sprint and T-mobile’s 4G networks, and combined with them and any available WiFi network will always work to put you on the most optimal signal. Two, it’s cheap. There is a $20 basic service fee for your phone that includes unlimited text and calling. Then you pay an additional $10 per month for each Gigabyte of mobile data you want. Go over? You pay $10 rounded up to the nearest Gig for the extra used. Go under? They credit back the unused amount to your account for the data you didn’t use… PER MEGABYTE!

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Whaaaaaat?

Yeah, you read that right. Currently I’m paying $79 a month for my iPhone with Verizon for 2Gb of data. Naturally, this was a compelling experiment to try since the comparable service would be about $30-$40 a month based on usage. I decided to accept the invite and purchased the 5X, mostly because I had no desire in having a second cellphone on me that was more than 2 times the size of my iPhone, but also because all in all it’s a pretty damn good phone (and being a Nexus means I get bloatware free, bleeding-edge OS support straight from Google.)

There’s a few other perks too, such as being able to use it as a hotspot, getting the same cost rate around pretty much the entire world (roughly 120 countries at current count), no contract, and some pretty stellar customer support. (They dropped the price on the Nexus 5X about 4 days after I ordered mine. I hit up their support via chat (took about 30 seconds) and they immediately credited my account the $50 difference without hesitation.)

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I’ve now had it for about a week, and I am *already* having to constantly restrain myself from immediately porting my iPhone number (that I have had since ’99) over to the phone.  I likely am going to, regardless, but I want to put more thought into it and not making it a knee jerk reaction. That said, the service is amazing, the phone is killer, and the pricing is stupidly good. If you get an invite, and especially if you are already an Android user.. I highly recommended you consider the swap!

Oh yeah, here’s how you request an invite!
https://fi.google.com/signup?u=0

Star Wars VII Theory

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Episode VII with my co-workers. If you think seeing the first new Star Wars movies in a loooooong time is awesome, imagine doing it in a theater packed with nothing but friends and co workers. The energy was awesome!

Now, I won’t make this a full movie review… I might come back and edit some in later, but for right now I want to talk specifically about Supreme Leader Sillyname. (And no, I don’t want to talk about the borderline silliness of his actual name. Let’s just get that out of the way now.)

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, well, don’t click below to show more then if you don’t want some stuff potentially spoiled!

Continue reading Star Wars VII Theory

Corsets and Katanas and Guns, Oh My!

So I just saw Sucker Punch a few minutes ago….

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No, seriously… wow. Let me put it out right up front, if you are looking for a deep and insightful story that will crawl into the dark corners of your mind and toy around in there for days after, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you want a Damn Good Time™ that is just pure Audio/Visual/Cinema-graphic Porn that gives you a sensory orgasm and makes you feel like a 12 year old fantasizing about an action movie, you will be in for a treat.

1 Part Moulin Rouge, 1 part Anime flavored action, 2 parts Michael Bay, with a dash of Inception; this movie was the best 2 hour investment I have made in my life in several months. Don’t get me wrong, there IS a story there, and it’s not that weak. Its not story of the year stuff, but it is a solid bit of glue to help bind together all of the off the wall action sequences that are pure joy to watch unfold. I mean really, who here doesn’t want to watch a Samurai Schoolgirl take on a trio of 30 foot tall Ronin, one of which is wielding a Gatling gun?

That reminds me, something I want to thank the creators on; while the movie is over the top action packed, they do an artful job of avoiding any blood or gore without making it seem like they are obviously censoring the movie. Not that I have some strong aversion to that, it’s just that it has been such a strong point on so many over the top action movies of late, it was a refreshing change.

So moral of the story, spend the cash and go see it. I genuinely think everyone will enjoy it, so long as you approach it as a good, enjoyable action flick with a decent story and dont try to place any undue expectations on it. Take it for what it was meant to be: geek cinema porn.