Friday, November 30, 2012

Do not buy HP laptops

My first laptop was an HP Compaq 6730s. I distinctly remember the day I got it - I had to travel to the nearby city to pick it up and after bringing it home I immediately set it up and started obtaining necessary software. Y'know, browser, file manager, that sort of stuff. I was so happy.

What a stupid kid I was.

The main problem with HP machines is that they're overpriced compared to pretty much all the other manufacturers'. Some people say that they're of much higher quality than the rest, which justifies the price. I have to admit, I don't see how that would be true. A few months after I got that laptop, I had to have it serviced because the touchpad started acting up. I know, I know, that was just a part defect and those are bound to happen; after all, the replacement touchpad works well to this very day. That doesn't excuse the obscene lack of the very useful "Turn Off Touchpad" button, though.

Where HP really fucked the dog with this laptop, however, is an issue that has surfaced recently. Just so you understand, I have since moved to a new laptop, Lenovo G560, a frankly superior piece of work, and given my old one to my father. Problem is, with a laptop this old, the cooling fan has become really dirty and ineffective. "So what? Just clean it," I hear some of you say. But the more knowledgeable among you know what the real problem is.

Just clean it, you say?


What I just linked to are instructions on how to access the fan in that computer. Did you read through all of that? If not, congratulations, you have a brain. But let me sum it up for you. In order to access the fan in HP Compaq 6730s, you have to remove the DVD drive, monitor and motherboard. That sentence alone should elicit a reaction of "WHAT THE FUCK HP" among the tech-savvy crowd.

Why would you bury the fan under all that shit? There is literally no good reason to make cleaning the inside of your computer into an excercise in advanced computer assembly. Why couldn't you just include a separate fan cover on the laptop? Is removing dust build-up really something you want people to bother your licensed technicians with? Or, in a word, THINK!

As I have stated before, I am now on a Lenovo machine and I absolutely love it. It has no noticeable drawbacks like the Compaq, and all you have to do to clean the fan is remove the motherboard cover on the bottom. Unscrew the cover, pop it off, unscrew the fan and go to town with it. There's no monitor removal involved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

So who exactly is the player supposed to be, anyway?

This one will be short, mostly because it's not some profound truth, but I still think it's a concept worthy of discussion.

I'm not sure who actually came up with the idea, but I have to give at least partial credit to Jacob. When he was screensharing his Dwarf Fortress session with me over Skype, the question surfaced what exactly was the player's role in that game. It couldn't be the colony leader, because that's just another unit inside the game. That's when we came up with the term Abstraction of Collective Executive Power. Simply put, every one of the player's decisions is a decision of a dwarf, not necessarily the leader, but any dwarf that can make that decision. This can be applied to other games as well, for example FTL: Faster Than Light or the Jagged Aliance series (in which you play as a guy hired for mercenary job, but there is still no realistic way you could coordinate the fights the way you do).

This revelation resulted in unintended hilarity when we realized what promoting Jacob's mayor dwarf to the title of Baron must have looked like. For those of you who don't know, every in-game year your outpost is visited by a caravan of traders from your home civilization and with them comes an outpost liaison who meets up with your leader dwarf (outpost leader or mayor) to discuss various stuff, and after you fulfill certain requirements, one of those things is that your outpost has become a barony and you are given the option to choose one of your dwarves to become a Baron. So choosing your current mayor is akin to him answering the question "So, do you have somebody who could be the Baron here?" with shifty eyes and "Uh... yeah. Me."

Although, who wouldn't say that?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Bass-Base Fiasco

English is not my native language. I have had to learn it over the course of many years and I still haven't exactly mastered it. However, I absoluetly adore it. I can't help it, you could say that I'm somethig of a language geek, to the point of slight Grammar Nazism. I love the way it sounds and looks, and I appreciate that it has terms and phrases that my native language lacks, which makes it easier for me to discuss certain topics (mainly tropes). There is only one thing that I hate about English.

This is what I call The Bass-Base Fiasco, after a particularly bad case, but you probably know it better associated with the word "ghoti". For those of you who still don't know what I'm talking about, this post is about my frustration with the absolutely butt-fucked relationship between spelling and pronunciation of words in the English language.

What's my problem with it? It makes no goddamn sense is what! I could give you examples, but chances are that you can think of at least three cases all by yourself. Generally speaking, this problem mostly manifests in instances where either two words or parts of words are spelled the same but pronounced differently, or they're spelled differently and pronounced the same. The example that I like to give regarding this phenomenon are the words "bass" and "base", obviously. "Bass" (kind of ghoti- I mean fish) and "bass" (musical instrument) are spelled exactly the same but pronounced differently. On the other hand, "bass" (aforementioned instrument) and "base" (foundation) are spelled differently, but pronounced the same. That's what my name for the phenomenon stands for - you can never be sure how it's pronounced if you see it written down, and you won't know how it's spelled if you hear it spoken out loud.

I like to compare the English spelling-pronunciation system to the German one. I studied German for a few years back in primary school; I can't speak it all that well, but I do know the basics. This particular comparison concerns the letter groups "ie" and "ei", which exist in both languages, but their rules are radically different. In German, their pronunciation is fixed, so (barring compound words) all "ei" are pronounced [eye] and all "ie" are pronounced [ee]. In English? Anything goes. Because I've never seen An American Tail, this has caused extreme grief when I encountered the protagonist's name for the first time. And the second. And the fourth. In fact, I still have problems with it.

I'd liken the two languages to chairs. German is a normal kitchen chair. It has rough edges and doesn't look all that well, but it does the job and that's what's important. English, on the other hand, is an art deco monstrosity that may look good, but you need someone to explain how exactly to sit on it, and even after that it's not at all comfortable, because you still constantly fidget around, trying to find a position in which you are jabbed by various bumps and edges the least. Meanwhile, Russian is a weird thing that you can never quite figure out, but its constructor will swear it's even better than German once you learn how to use it.

I have mentioned the word "ghoti" in this post. I will not waste time explain it here, just say that it's an alternate spelling of the word "fish". For a better explanation, please use Google. I would, however, like to point out this page. I just love how the guy explains how the ghoti phenomenon makes no sense while absolutely missing the point. Let me ask you a question, asswipe: What do you think is better - a language in which the pronunciation of written letters or letter groups is dependent on their position in the word, both absolute and relative to other letters or letter groups, the time of day and the position of the Moon in relation to the Orion constellation, or a language in which the pronunciation of written letters or letter groups is dependent on what those letters or letter groups actually are? Think about it.

In conclusion, I would like to propose that any time someone answers the question "How is that spelled?" with "Exactly what it sounds like", they shall be replied with a hearty "Fuck you" and a kick to the face.

Edit: In a fit of synchronicity that is not really too unusual for me,'s Chris Bucholz has released a frankly superior article on the same topic. I swear I only read it after hitting the "Publish" button here, but I would not forgive myself for not pointing this out.

Link: 4 Reasons to Forgive Yourself for Being a Bad Speller

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shitty old board games you've probably never heard of

At one point in my life, I was particularly invested in creating board games. They weren't anything special, after all, I was still in Secondary School at that time, but they were fun. So today, I'd like to share with you two of my most successful entries in the genre. Note: If there's anybody out there who makes board games for a living, feel free to steal these, make 'em better and sell them.

The first one was called Horror. It was inspired by slasher movies and focuses on a group of people of indeterminate age, who are locked in a house and stalked by an unknown killer. What you need for this game is a floor plan of a house with highlighted rooms, a set of room cards (three cards per room) and a bunch of differently colored figures (two figures per player). At the start of the game, put all figures in the entrance hall (or its equivalent on your map), shuffle the cards and divide them into three decks, laid face down next to the board. Each turn, everybody moves their figures around the map and then one player draws a card. The room indicated by the card is visited by the killer - all figures in that room are considered dead and either laid down in that room or simply removed from the board. The game ends once all three cards of any one room have been drawn. Players gets a point for each figure of theirs that has made it to the end alive and the game is started over. The first one to reach five/ten/hundred points wins.

I realize now that this game was largely based on luck - you can't influence what room is going to be drawn in any way, except when it's your turn to draw, you can choose one of the three decks. Nevertheless, this was probably the most popular game among my friends. I think what made it so fun was, at least in part, the "art design" by a friend tasked with creating the board and cards. The house was shadowy and had a lot of neat little touches, like a bloodpool on the bathroom floor, and the cards had little illustrations on them, like a corpse in an armchair on the Living Room card or a jar of pickled eyeballs on the Pantry card. And yes, you could hide in the pantry in this game.

The second game was called Fortress. It takes place on a stone fortress in the middle of an ocean (yeah, I don't know either). You're going to need a number of building blocks - we used a set of 55 wooden cubes, but you can use anything you can get your hands on; a 0-9 set of domino blocks can work really well - and one figure for each player. At the beginning, pile the blocks into columns - our fortress had a rectandular 4x4 grid, but again, you are free to make your own; hexagonal grid may work just as well. Players then place their figures onto the fortress. One block is considered one space - multiple figures can stand on the same space, but one figure can't stand between spaces.

After all that is done, the game begins. The players take turns in a fixed order and a turn consists of two steps. The first step is moving - you can move your character to any adjacent space of the same height. Ascending or descending during moving is strictly prohibited. The second step is removing any top block from any column - you can remove the block under your figure under any circumstances, but you can remove any other block only if there's nobody there. Both steps are compulsory - if you can't perform any one of them, if you fall into the water by removing the very last block from under your feet or if you yield, you lose and your figure is removed from the game. The last person still in the game wins.

This was a more tactic-oriented game, and perhaps that's why it was so enjoyable. We loved to pit our minds against each other. Oh, and here's a freebie tactic: It was discovered by a friend, actually the same friend who made the board and cards for Horror, and we called it "kamikaze". It basically consisted of moving onto the space with every other player on it and trapping them all there. Since nobody could move after doing so, and since the player who performed the move was the last one to have to move again, he would stay in the game after everybody else had been eliminated and thus win. After the discovery of this tactic, our games devolved into everybody attempting to be the first one to pull it off.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Two Episode Rule

Here's a little piece of wisdom that I figured out on my own some time ago. I call it the Two Episode Rule and goes something like this: To decide whether you want to watch a series, watch the first two episodes. If you liked them, chances are, you'll like the rest, too. A corollary to this rule states that multi-parters only count as one episode.

I actually discovered this rule on accident, thanks to a sitcom that most of you have probably never heard of, Comeback. A few years ago, when this series first aired, my family and I watched about the first ten seconds of the first episode and then switched to another channel in disgust. But then we decided to give it another chance, and actually watched the full second episode. I have remained a fan of this series ever since. Now, our skipping the first part was actually a very fortunate thing, as later, when I watched it, I found out that it was pretty lackluster, compared to the rest of the series. I think that had we not skipped it that first time, we would've not tuned in the next week and thus missed out a lot of the later Comeback goodness.

Over the following years, I have put a lot of thought into this phenomenon and eventually arrived at the Rule in its current form. Here's the reasoning behind it: The pilot episode will invariably be different in tone from the rest of the series. Not only is its goal to introduce the viewer to the universe, but also to provide an exciting start to the overall story to rope the viewer in. The pilot is also often a two-parter, which is the reason behind including the corollary. Keeping that in mind, it is easy to see that the second episode is actually the first "normal" episode the viewer will see, which makes it a better indicator of the things yet to come.

One weird thing that I've noticed since I formulated the Rule is that the second episodes are often among the best ones - take for example Red Dwarf's "Future Echoes". It's as if TV makers are aware of this phenomenon and live by the rule "put all the exciting stuff in the pilot and all the good stuff in the second episode". I'm not sure whether that would prove the Rule or invalidate it, but it'd certainly lend credence to the logic behind it.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: "But T-Jack, wouldn't it be easier to just ask a fan of the show to recommend an episode and base your decision on that?" And I know that because that's what a friend of mine said when I explained the Rule to him. Well, you could technically do that, but that method has a few drawbacks. First, a fan of the show is almost certain to point you towards his favorite episode, i.e. the best one, which is not exactly representative of the whole series. Second, you'd have to be wary of spoilers. And third, this method is not easily applicable if you can't contact a fan, maybe because the show is really obscure or just starting out. For that matter, this is what the Rule tries to emulate - a viewer's reaction to a new show. You are being introduced to the series exactly the way the creator intended.

I should note one more thing, though: Don't forget that this is only a rule of thumb. In every show, episode quality can fluctuate wildly even within one season. It is usually safe to assume that after five good episodes the quality won't go down the toilet, but it can happen. The Rule can also give false negatives - some shows are known for getting better along the way, Growing the Beard as it is called in tropese. So I guess don't rely only on the Rule to tell you if a show is good. Remember, it is only supposed to be the first indicator of many.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On the meaning of dreams

My dreams are a mess, and I believe that most other people's are, too. I hear that there are some who have tiny little organized dreams that follow the three act structure, but when I drift off into the slumberland, I am greeted by a chaotic clutter of ever-changing locations, people that I don't know and yet I remember them from my past and items that randomly appear and diappear off-camera. Only problem is, the human mind is incapable of accepting such chaos, and so we've had centuries of people trying to uncover the meaning of dreams. Do they tell us our future? Or do those things actually happen in some distant land? We don't know. Not even modern science can tell us what exactly causes these visions. So, as some poor schmuck with a blog, I am contractually obligated to explain what exactly they are.

Okay, don't expect anything groundbreaking from me. I'm going by the most commonly accepted hypothesis that dreams are the product of our brain sorting out all the thoughts and knowledge gained during the day. As such, I don't believe that your dreams can't tell you anything about the future or any voodoo bullshit like that. They can, however, tell you about yourself.

This is something that I figured out a few months ago after dreaming about my brothers threatening to put gum in my dolls' hair. Did I mention how fucked up my dreams are? I don't have any dolls and only one of my brothers is still living with me. However, I soon noticed that this dream could very well represent a specific thing I had been obsessing over around that time, and that's probably why I could remember that particular part of that particular dream. In other words, my hypothesis is that if you can recall a dream well, it is a metaphorical representation of something that is very important to you.

Now, the bad part is that it is a metaphor, meaning you have to decode it first. The good part is that the metaphor was made up by your very own brain, therefore it should be easy for you to do that. Therefore, I fully encourage you, dear readers, to try this at home. Take a dream you can recall and decypher its meaning. Or at least think about it real hard. If the dream really has a hidden meaning, it should come to you naturally.

What got me to writing this post was the dream  had today, or at least the part I can remember. I, and a whole bunch of other people, went to my friends' wedding, but when we got there, it turned out to be a bit of a prank on the wedding goers. It was actually my wedding. Now ignoring the setting of the scene (seriously, why can't I ever have a night of mindless action and violence?), the thing that stands out the most is the trick played on the audience, and what I think it means is holding secrets as a storyteller.

I consider myself a sort of a showrunner for The Bell Tree's ongoing adventures, weaving complex stories into the narrative through varios means. And since we often work on the albums as a group, that means that I have to dispense information to the other members carefully, to make sure that I don't reveal how the story's going to end prematurely, while still providing enough foreshadowing so that they can figure it out themselves, and for a long time now I have been fearing that maybe I'm not giving them enough material to do so. But that's a topic for another day.

So I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you obsess over something too much, your brain will take it, scramble it up into an incoherent mess and throw it back at you at night. That sneaky motherfucker.