Saturday, September 30, 2006

City of Heroes Latest Edition Is Out

The fact that it's currently exclusive to Wal-Mart has irked many of the louder voices of the CoH community, as they've swallowed the "Wal-Mart is the epitome of evil in the world today" line. Myself, I can't see getting it since it's on DVD and my computer has no DVD drive. Not only that, I can just order the extras online and be done with it.

I had a rant about why so many people have accepted the "Wal-Mart is the devil" reasoning, but it's not really germane to the discussion about the game.

There's going to be some new goodies for players with this edition. First off, you get what are being called Veteran Rewards. Basically, you get all kinds of freebies for your characters. This includes new costume pieces, a few different animations for running, and even access to a new map for hero/villain interaction that isn't a new player vs. player zone. I might be able to use some of this stuff, so I'll wind up getting access for it through the City of Heroes website instead of picking up a box an DVD.

This edition is leading up to Issue 8, the latest set of patches and game upgrades for the game. Heroes are now going to get a lot of the things that made City of Villains so different from its heroic counterpart. Heroes now get the "police band radio" option which will allow you to get various missions at random. One of the least used zones, Faultline, is getting refurbished. I understand why they're doing that. Faultline frankly is a pain to navigate, and if you have Super Speed instead of Flight, Super Jump or Teleportation as a power, you shouldn't even bother going there. So, they say it's going to be rebuilt with some new additions. I like the sound of that.

So yes, I'm pretty sure I'll keep subscribing to this game. So far they haven't disappointed me with anything.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Say it ain't so, Maverick!

The F-14 is retiring from US Service.

First my beloved F-111, and now the F-14. The only swing-wing we have left in US service is the B-1. This just seems so wrong. The F-111 troops had a saying "If your wings don't sweep then you ain't shit" and we always made sure to extend it to our brothers and sisters in the F-14, B-1 and Tornado communities.

The F-14 also has a claim to fame within the fandom of Japanese animation. The tv series Macross (known to US audiences as Robotech - The Macross Saga) used fighter aircraft very very very similar to the F-14. Oh, they weren't the exact same, by any stretch. For one, the Tomcat still can't turn into a giant robot. If you looked at the lines, though, it said "Hi! I'm the science fiction version of an F-14!"

Oddly enough, though, I will not be watching "Top Gun" in honor of the retirement. Tom Cruise doesn't deserve the screen time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

His Holiness Tells It Like It Is

At the University of Regensburg in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI used a historical vignette to expound on the need for Theology departments in universities. The short form of the lecture is that faith and reason must be intertwined to prevent the self-destruction of both concepts. The historical vignette he chose was that of Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologus and his argument with a Persian scholar, a Muslim. Emperor Manuel had seen his empire crumble, and was even forced to attack his subjects while he was a hostage of the Ottoman Turks. He argues with the scholar, calling the position that Mohammed took in regards to religious warfare evil. Later, he goes on to give the example of the scholar Ibn Hazn who states a belief in a capricious God who only keeps His word to His faithful because it is suitable for now. The implied comparison is to the belief among Christian and Jewish faithful that God keeps the promises made in His covenants.

As we can see, the Pope struck a nerve. The usual threats of violence followed, which only made those who spoke for Islam to look foolish. It's as if the religious leaders in places such as Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, and even Yet someone found the time to murder an Italian nun simply because she was the closest and most obvious Christian in the area. She was helping to train nurses to ensure the health of Somalis, and she's killed because a couple of Muslims don't want to see the Pope's point. Here, a group of Muslims decide that harassing British Catholics in return for the so-called slight to their honor is peaceful. At least there were a few Muslims brave enough to show their faces when they demonstrated. A final series of incidents in Palestine show that Muslims would rather attack Christians with weapons than respond to verbal criticism with verbal defenses.

The Pope's argument isn't that Islam is pure evil, nor is it that Islam is an unfit religion. Benedict's argument is that faith and reason have diverged within Islam and reason has been replaced with violence. We Christians know of what we speak when we talk about that divergence. We've had enough wars between the various denominations to know that faith must be tempered by reason to remain true, and that reason must be tempered by faith in order to ensure that we continue to choose what is good.

His Holiness scored a bullseye with this speech. Sadly, Muslims proved his point for him.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I'm not forgetting what happened five years ago today. I'm not forgetting dismissing the first plane as a bad accident, then going back to my work in my basement cubicle. I'm not forgetting hearing about the second plane and then the attack in Washington and later the crash in Pennsylvania. I'll also remember watching everything on television, phoning my parents to make sure they were okay, not being able to eat, and generally being so angry I literally couldn't see straight for a few minutes.

I miss the 9/10/01 America. I miss the old policy discussions on whether or not Anti-Ballistic Missile defense was going to be a good idea, whether Enron's or Arthur Andersen's executives should be strung up collectively or separately, even the goofy idea that shark attacks were on the rise simply because humans existed. Humans do exist, so do sharks. I miss my college friends, seeing them only a few times after I graduated in 2000, only twice after five years ago today.

The problem is that the world progresses and throws new crises in your way every day. So, I've lost touch with those friends. I don't work in that basement cubicle anymore. In fact, I've lived in four different towns in the past five years, moving from one private-sector job to another. Thankfully I now have a public-sector job that's more stable and secure.

I'm almost back in the 9/10/01 feel. I doubt I'll have that same sense of easygoing satisfaction again because of what happened five years ago today. There are others out there like me, or so I hope. These people will take the lessons we learned and be more vigilant for signs of trouble. We will also go back to our faith to find comfort and counsel. We will remember the meanings of charity, kindness, and compassion. More importantly, we will put our hands to work, making concrete those three concepts.

There is always a second side to that desire to do peaceful things, to live a good life without coercion. There is that vigilance I spoke about. With that desire to do good, there comes the necessity of defending yourself. First, defend yourself through words. Explain yourself. Judge the others' reactions. If they respond with violence, do what you must do to quell them, then return to doing good. Balancing the need to protect yourself and the desire to do that which is good is a very human problem. It is also a very American problem. Upon further thought, it's a problem found in every nation built on a model similar to ours. We want to do good, to welcome the stranger in our midst, but what of the stranger who wishes to do us harm? Once we've turned the other cheek again, then what? If freedom is the ability to choose that which is good without coercion, what do we do when coercion through violence and fear appears, what do we do when our lives are threatened in a most immediate sense? We defend ourselves. We set aside the desire to do good things, and ask for forgiveness once we're done.

It's that balance that we must find in our lives. We find that the more we want to transcend our human nature, the more often we have to revert to it. The turmoil caused by this can lead people to an all-or-nothing life. All talk, or all violence. Acting constantly, always interfering, or always remaining passive, never taking part when needed. The all-or-nothing approach leads to arrogance. It blinds you to better options, and blinds you from addressing the problem directly in front of you. Does that approach come from wanting easy answers? Will it arise from mental and spiritual laziness?

We can't afford laziness or trying to fall back on easy answers. We can't afford an all-or-nothing existence on a permanent basis. As much as we want it, we cannot yet afford to return to the 9/10/01 life that we miss. Five years after the attacks by al-Qaeda, we still need to defend ourselves, to remember our human natures. Once we're done, we can try to find that peaceful satisfaction. Then we can get on with our business of doing good again.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

IT LIVES!

Well, for as much as a computer can, I suppose.

And yes, City of Heroes looks much nicer now. Much, much nicer.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Well, the computer has gone kablooey, and now I'm waiting for some upgrade parts. I suppose it had to happen some time. The board I have is about five years old and can't really handle most of the extra stuff I've slapped on it in recent years.

So, here's the saga of how this happened.

As some readers may know, I play an online game called City of Heroes. You create a superhero, then go off and beat the snot out of evil. About two weeks ago, it got to the point where I couldn't even play the game without the computer locking up in under a minute. So I think to myself "Okay, I'll reinstall the game." The reinstall doesn't help. "Hmm," I say, "maybe I have a bad memory stick somewhere." I run some tests, and it all shows up as good. I shut down my comp and stop worrying about it.


Next, I swap out video cards. No luck. Considering that I went from a AGP 4x 64MB graphics card to a AGP 8x 256 MB graphics card, I hoped the beefier card could help process a bit more. No, it made things worse, actually. I couldn't even get the pictures to show up properly. The moral of this story is that even though AGP cards might be able to step down from 8x to 4x, the boards may not be able to handle it.

Next, I think "Well, the graphics card needs more energy to run properly, and since I'm also running two hard drives, maybe I should upgrade my old 350 Watt power supply to a 450. Instead, I wind up grabbing a 600 Watt supply in case I add anything else to the board. There's a minor problem here. The power supply is freakin' huge compared to the old 350 that I'm replacing. It doesn't quite fit in the case. So I do a little jury-rigging and I now have the supply wedged into the case and reinforced with zipties to ensure that it doesn't fall. Seriously, it's a very ugly way to fix the computer. Okay, I power everything up and... no success. Now I'm a bit peeved. It looks like the next hardware fix is either going to be a new motherboard or a new processor.

Before I go that route, however, I want to try one more last, desperate series of software fixes. I reload the graphics drivers again. No help. I reinstall City of Heroes again. No help. I try doing a quick reinstall of Windows. No help. Upgrade the BIOS. No help.

Okay. Now the desperation sets in. I decide to do a full format on both hard drives and reinstall Windows and everything else I have from the ground up. Archiving my precious iTunes music, old college papers, and a few PDFs I picked up along the way, I try putting it all to some CD-Rs. Now Windows won't accept my CD-RW drive as valid. Grabbing a copy of the burning software that came with my CD-RW, I reinstall that and everything gets archived. I take a few breaths and format my data hard drive. I've had it only for about a year and never came close to filling it. Then I try to reformat my main drive, an 8GB drive that came with the original computer insides from about seven years ago. No luck. Windows is too sophisticated to format itself so easily. I slap my upgrade CD into the drive, restart the computer and have it boot from the CD. NOW it formats, and I say goodbye to years of assorted heavily fragmented code. Yes, none of the defragmentation programs I have could totally defrag my old drive. So, I now have a clean installation of Windows on my machine. I download all the security updates and other assorted crap. I download my graphics drivers and freeware utilities, reinstall my anti-virus software, redownload my favored defragmenter and get everything ready for a reinstallation of City of Heroes.

I install City of Heroes and... nothing new happens. My dad looks at it and says "Well, if it's having problems with this game and it's a 3D graphics game, do you have any older 3D graphics games you can load to see if they work?" I try that by installing Warcraft 3 since I couldn't find Age of Mythology. Dad's pretty sharp sometimes when it comes to computers. Same problems as before, but now my monitor occasionally goes out if I put a heavy load on the processor. Okay, I now know that it is NOT software-related for the final time. I do a little more testing, checking my processor and memory for one last time. The monitor blinks on and off every so often. Processor's good, and so is the memory. It's got to be a motherboard problem.

Now I once again remove the case and see that a bunch of the capacitors have popped open on my board. They're leaking a bit.

I think we've found the problem.

So, now I wait for a new board, new processor, new memory, and a new cooling fan. I really hope this works.