June, 2002

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Neverwinter Not

Saturday, June 29th, 2002

Tried out the new 3D computer roleplaying game Neverwinter Nights the other day. Actually I’d installed it at work to test it against our video cards and drivers, but I was hooked instantly and didn’t manage to tear myself away from it until some six or seven hours later. NWN is pretty much the computer-based RPG I’ve been waiting for over ten years, ever since I played SSI’s rather poor adaptation of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Pool of Radiance.

At around the same time as those computer-based RPGs (CRPGs) came around, I was an avid role-playing gamer, playing the paper-and-die-based AD&D and Star Wars RPGs with friends and with members of a local RPG club. CRPGs were a big disappointment to me, as they always locked you into fairly restrictive plot lines, and the rigid and crude framework of the computer games themselves took away a lot of the flexibility and possibility that I found inherently appealing in RPGs. Ever since then, CRPGs seemed to be more strategy and statistics-based games than true role-playing.

CRPGs did have the definite advantage of automating some of the more menial tasks of paper-based RPGs: tracking character statistics, automating game data and calculations (e.g. what roll of a die would be required for one’s character to succeed in a certain type of task, etc.), and so on. But to me what was really missing was the ability to have a human arbiter (a “Dungeon Master” or “DM” in AD&D-speak) to run the game and add life and imagination to the interactions one would have with elements in the games (i.e. with other characters or monsters, with various settings and objects).

To some degree, NWN still has those restrictions when played in single-player mode, though I’ve found the game engine offers enough possibilities to keep things interesting and allow for very flexible character development. The big appeal of the game, however, is that it allows players on the Internet to play with and against each other in games controlled by a DM, using game materials (maps, scenery, monsters, etc.) made by third parties. So the “ideal” CRPG I envisioned a decade ago may have finally come to be.

Now, if I could only get it to run on my system at home. For whatever reason the game tries to start up, then exits silently without a hint as to what went wrong. Aaargh!

Switch this!

Friday, June 28th, 2002

As if it weren’t bad enough for their Hotmail service to be an open spam “collection” tool, and their Passport feature to be an easy way to give out your credit card information to criminals, now MSN has taken it upon themselves to spam my personal, private E-mail address with an ad to switch over to MSN. Yeah, and I could drill holes in my head, too. God I hate those bastards.

Seems like only yesterday

Tuesday, June 25th, 2002

Wednesday will mark the tenth anniversary of my graduation from high school (eleventh grade; the Québec school system works a bit differently than most of the rest of Canada).

In a prolonged fit of nostalgia I digitized my high school yearbook (warning: 17MB file download). Ah, those were the days… Going back through that yearbook sure does bring back memories. The teenage angst, the awkwardness, the raging hormones…

On second thought, thank God that’s long behind me.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, my graduating class had all of twelve people in it. Saguenay Valley was a tiny little high school (75 students in grades 7-11) for English-speaking students in the middle of the most French-speaking part of the province of Québec. For a bit more details, see my Q&A page.)

Feeling illiterate

Tuesday, June 18th, 2002

One of the very rare pieces of non-spam that arrived in my Hotmail E-mail account today was a rather long (about 400-word) E-mail, apparently addressed directly and only to me, written entirely in unaccented Vietnamese. Now, my Vietnamese reading skills are pretty shaky to begin with (I’d say no better than grade 3-4 level—enough to read signs, restaurant menus, etc.), so my skill at reading ASCII-fied Vietnamese (without the accents and special characters normally in written Vietnamese) is considerably worse.

I guess I’ll keep struggling with reading the E-mail, because I feel kinda bad about not reading such a long message that someone would take the time to write me. And because I’m curious why someone would E-mail me out of the blue, in a language that they just assume that I can handle… (If it turns out to be spam (though it doesn’t look like it), I’m gonna be pissed.)

Actually I receive some random communications in Vietnamese now and again… A few months ago I got mail from a pagoda in—of all places—Australia. Why? I don’t know! And back at Waterloo, some random Vietnamese student just started harrassing me via E-mail in Vietnamese without any provocation and for no reason that I can think of. (What the heck was that about? I can’t say I understood every word of what he said, only that he said some not-nice things about my mother. The E-mails stopped after I complained to the guy’s system administrator.)

Magenta thumb

Tuesday, June 18th, 2002

I’m happy to report that the two plants I received as housewarming presents are still alive and well after one week.

I have what I call a “magenta” thumb—in computer graphics speak, magenta is the polar opposite of green—in that every plant that I’ve ever had has met an untimely death: houseplants, cactii, bonsai, you name it…

Anyway to make life even more interesting for myself, I got two aquatic plants for my aquarium last weekend: an amazon sword plant and a java fern plant. Given what I’ve read I think the java fern has better odds, given that my tank has only sparse gravel, no special lighting, and no fertilizer (other than what the fish produce). It’s just as well, since given the size that amazon swords can grow, I think a stunted plant would be more suited to my 25-gallon tank. Anyway, at least I don’t have to water them.

MTV needs to set their clocks

Tuesday, June 18th, 2002

It seems shows on MTV always start 1-5 minutes behind the “standard” start time of shows on other channels (which start on the exact half or full hour). I’m guessing this is a deliberate move on MTV’s part (to hook people channel-surfing while commercials are playing on the other channels), but it confuses my TiVo and it drives me nuts. Even more so that the “delay” seems inconsistent; sometimes it’s as short as a minute, sometimes it’s as many as four or five.

Stumbling off the beaten path

Monday, June 10th, 2002

More fun with Linux…

Spent a number of hours this weekend configuring and re-compiling the operating system kernel for my Linux server box. For the most trivial and inane of reasons, on top of that. My main workstation and Linux server are both connected to my flat-panel (LCD) monitor. The monitor will only go into powersaving mode when both connected computers have gone into powersave mode; otherwise, if one of the system’s display is active, the monitor will automatically switch to that display. The trouble was that now that I have Linux booting to text mode (rather than to the X/Window desktop), it would no longer power down the monitor. Consequently whenever my workstation would try to power down the monitor, the display would just switch to the Linux box—not at all what I wanted.

I found a way to enable monitor power-saving in Linux’s text mode, but it turned out that to enable that functionality, I had compile the Linux kernel with that option selected. That turned out to be something of an adventure as I tried to “opt out” of options that I didn’t think were needed for my system (e.g. drivers for devices that I don’t have installed). That didn’t turn out so well, leaving me with a Linux kernel with broken networking. In the end I got a working kernel by using the same configuration as had been used for the pre-built (Mandrake 8.2) kernel, plus the power-saving option.

I never cease to be amazed how easy it is to fall off the “beaten path” with Linux—i.e. how wanting to do the simplest things ends up requiring doing something hugely involved and/or complicated.

Over-engineering

Monday, June 10th, 2002

Had a fairly successful housewarming party/barbecue last night, with a couple dozen guests filling my new apartment to capacity. I’d say the only problem was the quantity of food… In true engineering style, I bought food in anticipation of the “worst-case scenario”: more people than expected would show up and there wouldn’t be enough food to go around. As that would be a fairly unacceptable (or at least embarrassing) situation, I bought and prepared enough food to ensure that wouldn’t happen. As a result, for the first time in as long as I can remember (at least three years), I have a fridge filled to capacity with leftovers—no cafeteria food for me this week.

Samba—no pounding required

Tuesday, June 4th, 2002

Got my Linux server running as the primary domain controller (PDC) thanks to IBM’s tutorial. As much as I sometimes disparage IBM (they’re big, slow, and bureaucratic—everything I dislike) I have to say that this tutorial was the perfect thing for me, since it didn’t assume that I knew anything about Linux (and basically I don’t) or Samba.

Making technology work

Tuesday, June 4th, 2002

Got a cheap cordless phone from Fry’s the other day. I discovered it didn’t have a switch to turn off the ringer so I opened it up and de-soldered and removed the ringer. I put the phone back together, let it charge overnight, but found much to my annoyance that it wouldn’t work—the status LED kept blinking indicating a low-battery condition.

So last night I was bemusedly considering it… And I figured that since it was going to go in the trash if it was broken (at $20 it wasn’t even worth my time to re-solder the the ringer and return it), nothing I could do to it would make it worse. So I picked it up and quickly slammed it a few times against my desk.

Much to my amazement, it started working perfectly. So apparently, sometimes the answer really is just to pound on it a bit.