Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Every Day, More Good News

While President Bush was in office, I clicked on the news media with the expectation of a new war or even an exchange of nuclear missiles. I knew Bush was incompetent, but the utmost depth of his incompetence was uncertain. Now that Bush is out of office, we can entertain the thought of progress and improvement, virtues that were lacking the past eight years.

These days, I find inspiration in the headline news, of all places. President Obama is doing good things for the country, and I find ample reasons for hope:

Obama signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009

Crackdown on ship’s exhaust could help Seattle’s air

EPA to monitor 62 school’s air

Obama to Automakers: It’s My Way or the Highway

Obama cares. That’s the biggest difference between him and the Republicans. The Republicans would let us suffocate in the poisons spewed out by big business, while their clients vacation in locales such as the Bahamas and Switzerland.

I’m reminded of a high-ranking vice president of a multi-billion dollar company who told his assembled employees, including me, that liberals were to blame for all of the ills in the world. The reason, he said, was because liberals care too much. How can liberals be so stupid? They must be traitors who hate America. In China, there is less environmental protection and less protection for workers and consumers. We need to be more like China and less like America. This was his morale-boosting speech to his assembled employees.

A few months later, this vice president retired. In a candid confession, he admitted to making errors in judgment. One of those errors in judgment was that arrogant and ill-timed statement at a company picnic that was supposed to promote morale and cohesion. I returned from that picnic with the distinct impression that upper management was composed of idiots and that I had no place whatsoever in such a company. There may be many jobs I am willing to do, but I am not willing to spend my life in the service of evil.

China represents the Republican ideal, because it has less freedom and greater growth of the economy. Why don't Republicans just unfurl the red banner and be done with subtlety? Kill the poor and poison the planet. Crime pays, compassion doesn’t. That's the Republican philosophy, and that's why they lost the last election.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Recommended Strategies for the Minotaur Berserker

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup does not have a level playing field. Some race and class combos are better than others. Pick the right one, and you may not need to cheat, or your need may be minimized.

Take, for example, the minotaur berserker, one of my favorite combos. Although the minotaur begins with a proficiency in axes, it has an excellent aptitude for all weapon classes, an attribute only shared by the kenku, a weaker species. In the beginning, you should take advantage of this flexibility and be open to changing to a different weapon class. Trog rains down excellent weapons upon his favored berserker, and you can sort through them at your leisure until you find The One.

For me, The One was a +7, +9 short sword of Trog's Righteous Anger (slice, rF+, rC++). The resistances alone are reason enough to use the weapon, but the high level of enchantment seals the deal. Short swords tend to be overlooked by beginners, who favor weapons that inflict higher damage. My short sword has the potential to attack two times per turn for each swing of a cumbersome polearm or other large weapon. Each attack carries the high damage bonus and high accuracy bonus.

Until you find an excellent weapon, your minotaur should remain weaponless, using its horns. Minotaurs have a superb aptitude for unarmed combat and should attain level 12 in UC, at a minimum, before switching to a weapon. Although you cannot wear a helmet due to the horns on your head, UC in the form of head-butts increases the ferocity of your attacks. There is a chance of getting in an unarmed combat attack every time you use your primary weapon.

Here is a look at the inventory of my 24th level minotaur berserker (click to enlarge):



Note the excellent swamp dragon armour, which has stats of +7 AC, -2 EV, but gives back 2 EV, lets me teleport, gives resistance to electricity and also to poison (unstated in the inventory menu). I can't think of a better armour, especially with no tax on my evasion score. Some will swear by gold dragon armour, but it is far heavier, which would mean I'd have to jettison magic items, and it has a large EV penalty (-9) as well. True, a high armour ability can mitigate the EV penalty. Although minotaurs are superb at both dodging and armour, in practice I find that these skills are never quite mastered, because so much XP gets diverted into the primary weapon skill, fighting, and unarmed combat.

The Ring of the Nightingale was irresistible, although some powers were redundant, such as teleport. However, the Ring of the Nightingale supplies sustenance, answering the minotaur's higher rate of hunger compared to other races. An added bonus is +4 to AC and to a lesser extent, resistance to cold.

Cold is encountered in Cocytus and from frost giants and white dragons. Occasionally a monster may employ a wand of cold or bow of frost. The best resistances are, in order of value, fire, poison, electricity, cold, and negative energy, though in the Realm of Zot, electricity moves to second place due to the appearance of the dangerous electric golem. In fact, without strong resistance to both fire and electricity, you might want to delay your descent into Zot. Pillage the Hells instead and gather up any rings and armours that convey resistances.

Note the amulet I am wearing. Resist slowing. There is nothing better if you are a berserker.

My wands of healing, teleportation, and hasting are all fully charged by design, because these are the most useful wands in a sticky situation.

I employed the excellent longbow with great profit until late in the game, when I acquired a large shield so fine that I ceded the use of the bow in order to use it. A large shield slows down a longbow to such an extent that I decided to use it only to mow down fleeing monsters. The chief benefit of my large shield is blinking, which will save my bacon in a hot spot, such as I found myself here after stumbling into a teleport trap (click to enlarge):



This points to one of the few weaknesses of minotaurs--they aren't very gifted at traps and doors (T&D), although you can train them with persistence. If I had not spent so much experience on mastering the bow, I might have used it deactivating traps, an effective method of training at T&D. This helps most of all in the Realm of Zot, which is littered with potent Zot traps that can result in great harm to your character.

In the above situation, my hit points were halved, and I was surrounded by the most powerful monsters found in the game save for named devils like Asmodeus and the female devil whose name begins with an E, but quite escapes me (often in the literal sense as well).

I chose retreat, a humiliating prospect for such a powerful character, but better to live and fight another day, as the proverb goes. Running away was a viable option, particularly with my boots of running and hastened state, but judging by the map, the two adjoining rooms did not offer much in the way of cover and no stairways at all. In all likelihood, more baddies would greet me, resulting in death.

I judged that a blink would not quite cut it, because the monsters were spread all over the screen in every direction. Also, I was in the final level of the Realm of Zot, where blinks cannot be controlled. A random blink might have resulted in a worse position, not a better one. Therefore, I teleported.

I'm not sure, but I suspect that teleports are also limited in range on this level, besides being uncontrollable even by those skilled in translocations. My teleport put me in the adjoining chamber, where I found myself surrounded by another bevy of powerful opponents. I tried to teleport again, but before the teleport took effect, I was killed by a team of Orb Guardians.

Was this the end? Did my long career come to a screeching halt because I stumbled into a Zot trap? Not quite. Let us not forget my handy-dandy batch file that I use every time to cheat in Crawl. Under the circumstances, I felt justified, although I would have cheated whether justified or not. If you want to get your paws on my batch file, which works wonders, read on, It is not far away in the Dungeon Crawl branch of my blog.

With perseverance and a bit of assistance from regen.bat, a Minotaur Berserker prevails in the end, as shown below:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nerds are Needed

Nerds, please apply. We need you.

That's what voters should be saying in every election. We need detail-oriented, meticulous, cautious technical wonks in government jobs.

The people understand this, which is why they elected Al Gore in 2000. The Electoral College and sneaky Florida ballots thwarted the will of people, with disastrous consequences for the U.S. economy as later events proved.

The latest article to catch my eye didn't surprise me. CFL bulbs are a huge scam.

Oh, the technology is good, it's just that private industry has dropped the ball, again, because government was MIA when it came time to write standards and regulations. You see, conservative Republicans don't believe in standards or regulations. They believe in laissez-faire capitalism. This is why so many CFL bulbs fail, because manufacturers would rather save a nickel than make a decent CFL bulb. They calculate that if a CFL bulb fails, you will buy another, which helps their bottom line. Government, until recently under the control of the conservative Republicans, looked the other way.

I can't say I'm surprised. I've lost about 50% of the CFL bulbs I've purchased. The NYT article states that the common reasons for CFL bulbs failing are:
  • being in an enclosed space
  • being turned on and off frequently
  • being used with a dimmer
However, in my case, I've seen them arrive from the manufacturer in glass shards due to poor packaging. I've placed them in open outlets without a dimmer and seen them fail even when turned on and off only five times a day. I reached the conclusion, as did many other consumers, that CFL bulbs are a scam.

But they're not. The underlying technology is a good idea. No, make that a great idea, because 13 watts beats 60 any day of the week. CFL bulbs are supposed to be more reliable, not less, than regular bulbs. Along with their energy efficiency, this is the rationale behind replacing regular bulbs. But you can't get good CFL's by trusting the marketplace. Certain manufacturers have cut corners and gotten away with it, because laissez-faire capitalism doesn't work for anybody except a small group of shareholders.

What's needed are nerds that understand thoroughly the technology behind both CFL bulbs and their manufacture. Government needs to be informed, aware, but most of all have the will to act and enforce regulation that protects the environment and, most of all, the consumer. The only way to have such a government is to elect liberal Democrats to public office.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

For the Love of Editing

Most of my blogging gets done in the early morning. For me, clicking "Post" is not the end, but the beginning. Hours after I've posted my latest blog, I may be in the kitchen drinking tea before I realize that my writing contains a grammatical error. Horror of horrors! I fly to the computer to make a correction before anyone detects my mistake. If I find one problem, I'm likely to find others strewn throughout. Sometimes the tea turns cold awaiting my return, but no matter. I like cold tea, and I love good writing.

Grammar is the least of my worries. In the case of grammar, one betrays only carelessness, unless the mistakes are numerous and form a pattern, in which case ignorance would be the culprit. An even worse scenario involves a logical error, which endangers one's entire argument. A reader that refutes one logical fallacy will conclude, fairly or not, that the entire piece is false.

Bad grammar is so common on the Internet that spambots use bad grammar to mimic human beings. Sometimes, the grammar is so bad as to arouse suspicion. Most humans, even if they are bad at grammar, get the rule about using an apostrophe to form a contraction like "don't." I hope I never see a real person write "dont", particularly in two messages in a row, as a spambot named Kaylee did on my blog.

I find errors even in mainstream media articles. A headline may read, "Vitamin E a Cure for Cancer?" when the research proves nothing of the sort. Adding a question mark to the end of the headline to imply uncertainty does not excuse the exaggeration. As I noted in a previous post, the media is awful when it comes to science. Exaggeration for dramatic effect is common. This leads to skepticism among the public to all scientific claims, such as the one for global warming.

To minimize errors, I believe I am going to start using Microsoft Word to write my blog rather than the web interface. Word has the ability to post directly to a blog, a feature I haven't tried yet. There are key advantages to using a word processor, such as the grammar and style checkers. If you use Microsoft Word 2007, click on the Office button, go to Word options and select Proofing. Under Writing Style, have the program check "Grammar & Style" rather than just Grammar, which is the default.

The Style checker is none other than the distilled wisdom of your stuffy old English professor, who was right about a great many things, as it turns out. Such as the need to avoid sentence fragments. Or not to begin sentences with a conjunction. And remember, avoiding clich├ęs will keep you on the sunny side of life. You can take that to the bank.

Stephen King violates many style precepts in his use of the American vernacular. Sometimes breaking the rules seems to work better, but be careful. King is royalty. As such, he gets away with misdemeanors that would send commoners like us to the Dungeon of the Unread Writer. I may be there already.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Housecleaning in Dungeon Crawl

Players in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup eventually face a dilemma. They have played so many different characters, abandoning some along the way, that the game is cluttered with saves. This new batch file will clean out your save directories and your backup save directories with the click of a button. A minor gadget, true, but useful nonetheless. As a precaution, a pause gives you the option of aborting the process, in case you clicked it by mistake. Do avail yourself of that safeguard, because once something gets deleted in an MS-DOS window, that's that.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=


@echo off
cls
echo cleanslate.bat for Dungeon Crawl
echo by igor
echo http://techlorebyigor.blogspot.com
echo.
echo.
c:
cd\games\crawl
echo. Are you sure you want to delete ALL of your saved games?
echo.
echo. If not, abort this window or press Ctrl-C now.
echo. If you really want to delete your saved games, press Enter.
echo.
pause

rd backup_saves /S /Q
rd backup_saves_2 /S /Q
rem this will spare the subdirectories such as db and des.
del saves\*.* /Q
pause
exit


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Update 5/25/2010: I spare subdirectories saves\db and saves\des from deletion, because the 5/24/2010 beta version of Crawl .7 tends to crash upon initialization if these subdirs do not exist. I do not think these subdirs ever change, so this should improve efficiency anyway. If my assumption proves mistaken, replace "del saves\*.* /Q", above, with "rd saves /S /Q".

A Spambot Attacks My Blog

Recently, a comment was left on my blog. Now I won't lie, I don't get many comments at the moment, although in the future I hope things perk up a bit.

This comment, however, struck me as funny:

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I
thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except
that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog
very often.

Kaylee

http:// (spam site they are trying to promote with this comment)

A comment like this is generic, having no relevance whatsoever to my content. Dropping the url is the entire point. Kaylee does not exist and is not a real person. Or maybe she is the daughter, wife or concubine of the programmer that wrote the spambot that dropped this message in my blog.

I rejected this comment, but discovered to my dismay that others in the blogosphere are falling victim to the ploy. Bloggers, awake! Don't be fooled by spambots.

This comment was followed, less than twenty-four minutes later, by another one, this time with a right-wing message, in response to my post concerning the bailouts:
you're right! spending is out of control! join us in protesting
excessive government spending!

http:// (site being promoted)

This comment I rejected as well, because it was obvious to me that the writer did not bother reading the content of my post. At most, he probably read the title of my post and nothing more. I suspect that this, too, was the work of a spambot.

The comment uses exclamation marks in an attempt to stir up anger. Something about that seemed familiar--I was reminded of Rush Limbaugh, actually. When I visited the site, all was clear. It was a right-wing shill site, with a slick appearance and plenty of catchy graphics and slogans. What was being protested? Not the bailouts, but rather the Democrats, and in particular Obama and his supporters. The writers were even discussing things like civil war and revolution. Bunch of right-wing loonies. Funny, I don't remember advocating revolution when George W. Bush served two terms and took this country into a war of aggression. But I digress.

I believe the two comments are connected. In other words, the same spambot that made the first comment also made the second one, twenty-four minutes later.

What is newsworthy is that the right wing site employs a spambot to spam left-wing blogs like mine, hoping to lure away my readers. Bloggers that are more naive than I am about technical matters publish these robotic comments and even visit the site.

Today the spambot left another message, confirming that it is indeed a robot and not a human:
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I
thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except
that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog
very often.

Kaylee

Notice the ominous hook, "I will keep visiting this blog very often." That's a threat directed at me, implying that a program of harassment is intended. In other words this comment will be posted every day and potentially a hundred times a day, eating up my time in comment moderation.

After rejecting this comment for the second time, I turned off anonymous commenting. If that doesn't stop the spambot, I may have to employ something along the lines of image verification.

I checked up on the WHOIS of the url being promoted and discovered the following:

Registrant:
Domains by Proxy, Inc.

DomainsByProxy.com
15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353
Scottsdale, Arizona 85260
United States

The owner of the web site has paid a company, DomainsByProxy, to register the domain for him, so that he need not reveal his own information. Interesting. If the spambot continues to annoy me, I can seek recourse with DomainsByProxy, which serves as the unwitting middleman between the spammer and his victims.

Note that at no time have I divulged the actual domains in this post. Doing so equals promotion. The site owners could care less whether I am damning or praising them. Their search rank increases with every mention, whether in a positive or negative context. I wonder how many bloggers realize this? Every time you criticize a site, you promote it.

So, right-wing sites employ spambots. Should I be surprised? I'm not. I hope that other bloggers are savvy enough to recognize comments like the above for what they are. But from what I've seen, it looks like plenty of bloggers are being duped.

Bloggers are human beings. They want to believe that there are other humans reading their stuff and loving it. The reality is often quite different. Push against the natural inclinations of your heart and don't believe what you want to believe until there is a compelling reason. Once you publish on the web, you become noticed by the machines and the criminals, who are vast in number and constantly seeking ways to use you like a tool. One of their goals is search engine optimization. They have other goals, however, that vary according to which master they serve. The web is crawling with criminals who do not care who you are or what you believe. All they know is that you have a domain and can therefore be useful.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why I am a Democrat

The Democratic National Party platform does not mirror my views exactly. I'm more liberal than the Democrats. Who among us is a perfect Democrat or for that matter Republican? In this country, we have a two-party system for better or worse, which means two big tents where everyone must gather. And I say "must" gather, because I'd like to see anybody win an election running on the Libertarian, Socialist or Green ticket. Lots of luck.

What I would prefer is the abolishment of the Electoral College and the implementation of a multi-party system similar to that in Canada where minority parties get to share power on the national level. That would mean, of course, that McCain would have a presence in the executive branch today. Do I hear any Republican readers cheering? On the other hand, that also means that the losers of the 2000 and 2004 elections would have had a role in the executive branch, as well. Without the Electoral College, the winner and the loser in 2000 would have been reversed.

I am sure that Republicans will agree that the winner-takes-all system of today leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the losers. Just imagine how we Democrats felt in 2000 and 2004.

Under such a system as Canada's, I'd probably join a minority party, one that is even more progressive than the Democrats, who are quite conservative on a number of issues. Pragmatism dictates that we gather together, regardless of our differences. We have to unite under a big tent. Otherwise our views won't be represented at all. This is the same situation that many conservatives find themselves in. They have to hold their nose and join the Republicans, because otherwise they're out of luck. At least one Republican has told me that the only issue he agrees with Republicans about is abortion, which he wants to ban.

I don't place DNP logos on the main page of my blog, because my blog does not accurately represent the DNP. This blog just represents my own views. Another Democrat may or may not agree with any of the positions I have staked out. However, I can say this. The DNP is the tent where I've found the most like-minded souls--intelligent, informed, patriotic citizens interested in the welfare of their country. When someone tells me they are a Democrat, we have more in common than would otherwise be the case.

The trend in pop culture to deride all politicians and turn one's back on the entire system is a mistake. That strategy cedes power to those who will do harm. If you think the system is corrupt, reform it! That's the only answer. Find politicians you can believe in.

I remember when George Carlin, my favorite comedian, advised an entire audience not to vote. I winced when he said that. What a terrible thing to say! Don't vote?! What kind of advice is that? Guess who will vote? The people who disagree with everything you believe in, that's who. You're handing a blank check to the fascists if you don't vote. Sure, the system is flawed. What system isn't? Sure, there are plenty of bad apples in politics. Don't vote? What do you want, a monarchy? A dictatorship? If we don't vote, then what did our ancestors die for in the Revolution?

Whatever party you support and whatever your beliefs may be, vote. In every election, not just every four years. At the very least, you are sending a strong signal to the powers that be that the people are paying attention, and they had better watch their grammar. If more people vote, it becomes more expensive to buy an election. Corruption is reduced. That's all to the good, unless you're a business criminal, in which case you probably won't be reading a blog like this one.

The Debt Collectors Call Again

While I was busy blogging, the debt collectors called again.

No, I do not have debt. These debt collectors are seeking someone who used to own my phone number. They call about once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. This has been going on for years.

Debt collection agencies are more irresponsible than the deadbeats they hunt. They fail to verify their information. They just don't care. They pursue the easiest route to find their paycheck without any concern for the thousands of innocent victims they are harassing with weekly phone calls.

They usually call with their number masked. Caller ID reports "Unknown Name -- Unknown Number." I can't block these calls, because I get some calls from another country whose telephone exchange does not support Caller ID.

Contacting one debt collector and telling them the facts isn't sufficient, because their databases aren't connected. Trust me. I know. I have told at least a dozen of these organized crime families the facts. Either they are lying when they say they are taking me off the list or they're selling my number to other companies.

I have no sympathy for banks that are foolish enough to loan money to ne'er-do-wells. Their standards need to be higher. If the banks lost money, tough. Eat the loss. Not my problem. The debt collection agencies dialing numbers in their database are harassing innocent people.

This is yet another reason to vote for Democrats. The focus of government should be to reign in abusive businesses that harm, abuse and harass consumers. Democrats understand the critical role of government in controlling unethical companies like the debt collection agencies that victimize the innocent.

Visit the Democratic National Party web site

Print This Out, Dungeon Crawler

I've zapped my wand of enslavement, and you are now under my thrall.

Oh, don't worry. I won't relieve your wallet of its small burden. Honest. I am permitted to do evil.

Oops! I meant to say, "no evil." My current character worships the Shining One, you see. I'm a good sludge elf. I even wield a short sword of holy wrath. You can trust me.

My only goal is to make you a better player.

Load into your word processor a copy of the Tables of Attributes, found in crawl/docs/aptitudes.txt. Change the font to Courier New with a size no greater than eight. Print a copy. Keep these two pages beside your PC for future reference. You are now on your way to becoming an expert player of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, one of the best roguelikes around, if I do say so myself.

Without a firm knowledge of the Table of Attributes, you're just never going to make it very far--although with my handy-dandy batch file, located deep within this blog's dusty vaults, you can certainly have your moment in the sun, no matter how well you play.

I used to offer a copy of the Table of Aptitudes here in this blog post, but it became obsolete due to changes made over time. I take the safer road now and simply direct users to the file found in their latest release. I doubt the file location will change any time soon.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Two Good Changes Coming to Crawl

When it comes to Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, I'm not a tough critic. The reason is, all the changes that have been made to DCSS have been positive. I'd have to outright lie to find fault. Since I'm not a FOX news reporter, I can't do that.

The latest big change currently in the unstable beta version of Crawl involves races. Grey elves are sailing off to the Blessed Realm. If you don't catch the Tolkien reference, that means they are getting the executioner's axe. Ka-chunk! *rude orc laughter*

Although I have toyed with grey elves before, I'm neutral, opinion-wise. What are grey elves, and why are they grey instead of white or black? To recognize what grey elves are, one has to dive deep into the Silmarillion, as they do not make many appearances elsewhere in fantasy to my knowledge. My favorite elf race has to be sludge, because of their high Fighting and Dodging ability. And where exactly do sludge elves appear in fiction? Hmm. I suspect sludge elves were an invention of the programmers, but I'm not sure.

The other change concerns what amounts to the reclassification of the gnome race. Yes, gnomes are no more, but never fear, my gnome friends. Unlike grey elves, gnomes have been reincarnated in another race, albeit with significant alterations. A new family of dwarves has been introduced, the deep dwarf, which as you might expect is better at magic, much as deep elves are best among the elves at magic. Like the old gnome race, deep dwarves can sense their surroundings and have an affinity for Earth magic. They are also pretty good at dodging, exceptional at stealth, and enjoy the old dwarven knack for evocations. That's right, mountain dwarves have ceded their superior aptitude for evocations to their kin, the deep dwarves. I always had a hunch that mountain dwarves were overpowered. Now their power has been reduced.

If you play gnomes, you may like this change, because it means you can benefit from racial items you find throughout the dungeon. I always thought gnomes had a rough life because there aren't any gnome blades or gnome armour. There are plenty of dwarven armaments, however.

But hold on, don't celebrate yet! A wrinkle has been added that may furrow the brow of a grumpy gnome. Deep dwarves don't heal. Not even a little bit. They cannot recover from either wounds or the loss of strength, intelligence, or dexterity. Yes, I'm quite serious. If a kobold slaps you on level one, you will carry that wound to level twenty-seven unless you quaff a potion of healing in the interim or zap a wand of healing. Those potions of restore abilities and healing appreciate in value if you play a deep dwarf.

To balance this huge disadvantage, deep dwarves enjoy several new abilities. They can instantly recover from small wounds. They can recharge wands or rods at the cost of 1 permanent MP, which may not be much of a cost when playing a warrior. Also, they enter the dungeon with several potions of healing. They can also sense their surroundings. Is this sufficient to balance the lack of natural healing? I will leave that up to the former gnomes to decide.

Personally, I find deep dwarves to be a challenge race for advanced players. All of my characters have moments when they require rest to recover hit points. With a deep dwarf, recovery is impossible. Before you ask, no, even rings of regeneration won't work. That's quite a handicap, and a deep dwarf had better pray to Xom that he finds a wand of healing and about a dozen scrolls of recharging, pronto. Perhaps the best profession for a deep dwarf might be a Healer worshiping Elyvilon.

If you can escape with the Orb of Zot with a deep dwarf, in my opinion that's one for the history books. But on the other hand, mummies are no walk in the park, either. And don't even get me started on Draconians. Brother! For my part, I think I'll remain with my cheerful demon whip-wielding Demonspawn necromancer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

To Enumerate or Not to Enumerate

Any writer soon faces a decision on how to represent numbers. Will you use Arabic numerals or the English text equivalent?

Many beginner and even intermediate-level writers opt to employ Arabic numerals. A number reduces the amount of typing, conserves space on the page, and therefore seems more efficient, at least on the surface.

What’s wrong with Arabic numerals? Nothing, if you base your writing style upon the news media. Take this recent group of headlines found on Yahoo News:

Gunman kills 3 officers, wounds 4th in Oakland (AP)

Treasury's toxic asset plan could cost $1 trillion (AP)

Pope decries African wars at Mass for 1 million (AP)

Tibetans attack police station, 93 monks arrested (AP)

When reading these headlines, the mind requires a few extra milliseconds to decode the numerals into their English equivalents. This is because we associate numbers with a different set of skills such as counting, adding, and subtracting. Numbers are used in math classes, not reading classes. Words are more strongly tied to images in the mind.

Unconvinced? Pick up a book by any best-selling author. Open it up to random pages and search for Arabic numerals. The page numbers don't count. My wager is that the author spells out the vast majority of numbers, with a few exceptions here and there for large numbers—anything over a hundred, say, or in cases where there are many numbers joined together by conjunctions, commas, or in a list. Or, in the case of Stephen King's short story, "1408", the author wishes to draw the reader's attention to the number because it is an integral part of the plot.

The reason that pro writers do this is because the human eye scans words faster than numbers. Most writers, and all of the popular ones, have a powerful motive to render their work as easy to scan as possible. For the same reason, a popular author uses correct punctuation and grammar, avoids fifty dollar words, and employs the popular American vernacular.

Why does the news media represent a glaring exception to this rule? First of all, because their headlines have limited space and a journalist can fit more Arabic numerals than words into a line. Also, numbers catch the reader’s attention, which is the primary function of headlines. “$1 trillion” seems more dramatic than “one trillion.” As a writer, you don’t want to draw the reader’s attention to mere numbers, and you’re not limited to the confines of a headline.

I’ve argued this point with enough writers (two in recent memory) to blog about it. This advice is not original from me, but derives from criticism that a smart college grad gave me a couple of years ago when reviewing my writing. My stories had numerals strewn throughout. What compounded the problem was that in many cases I was employing either a numeral or the written word. If you insist upon using numerals, at least be consistent. Employ one technique or the other throughout your work.

I didn’t buy his manifesto against numerals at first. But sometimes I let new ideas ferment in the attic upstairs until they taste better. Breaking the lifelong habit of using Arabic numerals requires a good deal of effort. Some writers either won’t see the point or won’t want to bother. Better for you, then, to stand out as a better writer by adopting the technique used by the pros.

The weather is nice. Take advantage if you can.

The time has come to get out and appreciate the planet Earth during the wonderful Springtime. Don't stay in reading blogs like this, no, get out and enjoy nature. Before global warming ruins everything. While there is peace over most of the earth and the likelihood of a continuation of peace under the wise Obama.

I plan to reduce the number of blog posts from my frenzied 2-4 posts per day to about one per day, if that, and possibly skipping some days here and there and everywhere.

About Obama: I read on Gay.com that his poll numbers slipped from 64% favorable to 59% favorable. That number still beats Clinton, Bush and most of the other Presidents at this point in their Presidencies. I am serene. Obama is doing not just fine, but GREAT! Obama inherited this economic mess from George W. Bush. I don't expect Obama to solve our economic problems--getting back to where we were under Clinton could take ten or twenty years, given the level of incompetence of the Bush administration and the Republicans.

Hopefully conservatives have learned that voting for stupid leaders like George W. Bush has a serious negative impact on their wallet. Unfortunately, the Bush administration had an impact on my finances, too. I feel robbed by the right-wingers. They did not even win the 2000 election. They stole it from the people using the Electoral College and sneaky balloting in Florida. Any of these right-wingers who feel guilty about what they did to their country should send reparations in the form of a substantial donation to the Democratic party. Unless they're too busy praying that Obama fails.

But enough of truth-saying for the time being. I'm going to enjoy the weather.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Investment Advice and a Retrospective

If I had remained entirely true to my principles, I would be a wealthier man today. Instead, I listened to all these financial advisers that told every worker in America to put their 401-K savings in aggressive growth funds full of risky stocks.

To be fair to myself, I held out for years, keeping my money in bonds, until just before the stock market crash. Now my 401-K is worth half what it once was, and I suspect that any recovery will be a long time in the making. I almost added a scary aside, if a recovery ever happens, but thought better of it. It seemed like bad luck to me. The financial news does not look good, though. American manufacturing is in the toilet, and China is coming on full steam, while our political leaders are just waking up to the fact that Iraq is not the 51st state of the Union. The Democrats, at least, understand that it makes more sense to invest money in those states that are part of the United States rather than the Middle East.

In the early aughts, there was an excellent investment overlooked by most during the stock market's heyday, the Inflation-protected Treasury bond, or I-bond. I loaded up on these babies because they give you a little interest over and above the inflation rate. Not a super return, but safer than any other investment, and guaranteed to beat inflation. We can quibble over whether the government's declared rate of inflation is the real rate or not. Personally, I find the declared rate rather conservative, not reflecting adequately the cost of groceries, gas, and other items. Things like the cost of computer hardware is what the government takes into account, and if a processor is twice as fast as last year's model, but costs the same price, the bean-counters reckon the actual price has dropped in half. And they're wrong, and that's complete nonsense.

I-bonds that I purchased in 2002 are earning 6.48% interest today. Compared to the stock market's performance, that does not seem too shabby. I just wish I had thought to place more of my short-term investments into I-bonds.

So, my astute reader asks, are I-bonds a good investment today?

Nope, sorry to say, but to make money investing, you have to be a bit of a contrarian and go against what's popular. When everybody gets into an asset, prices grow dear and the potential return collapses. Some recent I-bond issues have had an interest rate that merely matched, but did not exceed, the rate of inflation. That's not very attractive. I bought mine when the I-bonds were beating inflation by two percent or more.

Today, I would go against common sense and keep my long-term investments in stocks. The reason is that stock prices are beaten down, many scams exposed, and investor vigilance has risen. Also, I believe inflation is likely to present a threat to the value of bonds. I have felt for some time that the U.S. is due for a major surge in inflation. Finally, if you sell now, you are locking in a sizable loss. Unless you can use the tax write-off, why take a loss?

What the fat cats were getting away with under the Bush Administration is not quite as likely to occur under Obama. He's not going to stop every abuse, but he represents the potential for additional government oversight and regulation, which has been needed for ages. I'm willing to bet that Obama is right about the economy and that he will succeed. My intuition tells me that financials and technology might represent attractive investments today. This advice is based upon no research at all and no experience. Just plain horse sense or donkey sense if you prefer, as I am a Democrat. Heyaw!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Five Old Movies That Might Have Escaped Your Notice

I imagine you hear quite enough about the latest and greatest movies just released. The following films aren't as old as McCain, but they are off the radar so to speak, although in the case of TLOTR, just by a few years. This is my short list of the best films of all time, ranked in order of preference.

1. Impromptu, an Australian comedy/romance starring Judy Davis in her best performance as George Sand, wooing the classical composer Chopin.

2. The Princess and the Warrior - Besides the very moving scenes that will raise goosebumps on anybody with a pulse, what I love about this film is the originality and meticulous care and planning that went into every aspect. I have never seen a movie remotely like this. The language barrier (German) was rapidly overcome by the expressive acting, so universal that a person of any land can understand. The nurse (the same actress who played in "Run, Lola, Run", a good film also) is easily among the best actresses in the world.

3. The Lord of the Rings, 1-3, Extended Edition. The Extended Edition is better than the original and makes the whole series worth watching again. I still can't get over the fact that the bean counters cut so many worthwhile minutes of film from the theatrical release. The Extended Edition is the definitive version of TLOTR for me.

4. Maurice - this has to be one of the best gay historical dramas ever, portraying a novel by D.H. Lawrence.

5. Harold and Maude - a comedy from the 1970's about an odd friendship between a teenager and an elderly lady who believes in anarchy and free love.

Eight Shows That You Must Watch Before You Die

These shows are ranked in order of quality.

1. Daily Show with Jon Stewart - the first popular talk show ever that addresses real issues with a hard, smart, funny edge coming from the left wing with pride. An ongoing and much-needed critique of the mainstream television media--FOX news in particular, CNN, NBC, et cetera. Jon does something rare. He brings humor to liberal politics. I'm not sure anyone pulls it off as well as he does. He's better than Carson, Leno and all the rest. Those guys are good, but Jon hits on real topics and digs deep.

2. Mad Men - fans of retro will love this show about ad agencies in the 1960s. This is well-written drama at its finest, mildly subversive, and has plenty of sex appeal.

3. Peep Show - this comedy gets low ratings in the UK and is not well known in the USA. However, DVD sales are very high, which has resulted in the show's contract being renewed for a sixth season. Don't pay attention to ratings--this show features the best writing on television, period. I explained why here.

4. That Mitchell and Webb Look - featuring the same actors as in No. 3. A British variety show little known in the USA, this is one of the funniest comedy shows around.

5. Little Britain - a hilarious but decidedly unintellectual comedy that gets laughs on its abundance of humor concerning gays, fat people, old people, the handicapped and transvestites. Despite the potential for causing offense, this show comes across as light-hearted and not mean-spirited in any way and is very funny. However, it has received criticism from some in the media that may not discern the subtle messages in the humor. My advice? Lighten up. These guys are poking fun at themselves for the most part. Think about it. As for the criticism over the vulgarity, well, yes, the show is quite vulgar. Don't let your grandmother watch it unless she is down with that.

6. Torchwood - a science fiction fantasy drama based in Cardiff, Wales, concerning the heroic work of a group of independent agents invested with the task of defending Earth from aliens. I know what you're thinking. This is better than it sounds. For one thing, it's sexy, whether you're straight or gay. There's a little something for everyone, or rather a lot of something. Also, the writing is pretty good, and the lead character is a tough, bisexual, good-looking stud, John Barrowman. This show is closely related to the Doctor Who series and has co-opted much of the Doctor Who plotline. In fact, Doctor Who and related characters make occasional appearances in this show.

7. Beautiful People - here is an example of something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, a comedy about a gay thirteen year-old! I wish television had shows like this when I was growing up. It would have made my life about ten times easier, just knowing I wasn't the only one! The show is not perfect--its script isn't top-notch like Peep Show. But it's a refreshing novelty from the UK, where so many good shows originate.

8. Doctor Who - I rank this at the bottom only because of its inconsistency. Some shows are outstanding, while others, about 25%, are mediocre at best. This show is targeted to children, and the plot tends to be super-cheesy, whereas Torchwood's plot is merely cheesy. However, it's worthy of mention, and its relatedness to Torchwood merits a watch. I was disappointed when David Tennant replaced the former Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston. Tennant's face, while prettier, seems to only be capable of one expression. I preferred Christopher Eccleston, a better actor by any measure. The departure of Billie Piper as the Doctor's companion was a major loss, because she injected much-needed sex appeal into the show.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What I Like About Obama - and What I Don't

My habit of reading the news each morning has changed fundamentally since Jan. 20th, 2009. Time was, I'd cringe at the policies originating from the White House. I'd cringe at the way Bush represented our nation abroad. The environment, civil rights for gays, the economy, the war, stem cell research, and military spending--on all of these issues, President Bush was dead wrong, but what compounded his errors was his personality and style of leadership. Instead of listening to his critics, he stonewalled, obfuscated and tried to punish his critics. President Bush is one of the few American leaders that actually sanctioned torture. All of this came from a man that made much noise about his religious beliefs and how they instilled him with a profound sense of morality. A more immoral Administration, it would be difficult to find in U.S. history. I can only imagine how embarrassing the Bush Administration must have been for devout Christians, to see a man that prayed in public, yet committed so many abuses, outright crimes, lapses of judgment and pure negligent behavior.

Now I look forward to reading the news in the morning. I feel something akin to euphoria when I read about all the good things that Obama is doing. There's something more to Obama, however, than his policies. He's a great representative of this nation.

Just to hear Obama speak is to be impressed by his maturity, eloquence and calm confidence, a confidence that is justified by his intellect and learning. Such was not the case with Bush, whose confidence came off as ignorant arrogance, because he was unskilled in language or speaking, and woefully ignorant of history, science, art, religion, geography, math, technology, economics, military strategy, and public relations.

Bush has a female clone in Sarah Palin, whose ignorance about geography and history is even more palpable than Bush's. Maybe people are conservative due to simple ignorance. Education results in people becoming liberal in their views. Even the right-wingers that produce South Park confess to being ignorant about almost everything except video games.

My point is this. Even if I disagreed with Obama across the board on every issue, I would still appreciate his skill in representing this nation abroad and in communicating with the American people. He is a good guy to have on television speaking about our common values and shared beliefs. When Obama talks, I have the feeling I'm listening to a man who deserves to be on our currency. However, the twenty dollar bill should be reserved for Barney Frank. I suggest putting Obama's visage upon the $1 bill, because it is the most used bill in our currency. I have nothing against George Washington, but maybe the time has come to relegate our first President's likeness to the $50 bill, displacing Ulysses Grant, whose administration was almost as immoral as that of George W. Bush.

As for those who say they want Obama to fail, that smacks of treason. Aren't these right-wingers the same ones who were quick to call us liberals "traitors?" I have had my patriotism called into question almost every time in my discussions with conservatives and resented it. Now it seems like patriotism is just a football to be played by the right wing. They don't care a fig about the country, just about their agenda. Think about it--if Obama fails, where does that leave the United States of America?

Recently, FOX News shot back with an article suggesting that Democrats wanted Bush to fail. That is absolutely false! I wanted Bush to be a rousing success! In fact, I half-expected Bush to be a good caretaker of the economy, at least, despite being conservative on important social issues. He wasn't even that. Most Democrats I know would have been pleased, not to mention better off financially, if Bush had been a success instead of the miserable failure that he was.

Getting back to the wonderful things Obama has done, I think we should begin with the Obama Administration's reversal of many of President Bush's narrow-minded policies, such as the one concerning stem-cell research. Anyone who has relatives that died of cancer or other diseases can appreciate the need to assist, rather than hinder scientists in their efforts to find treatments to combat the diseases that afflict all of our families.

Reducing the emphasis on abstinence in sex education removes religious dogma from the equation. Young people need to know what a condom is and how to use it. There are people even today coming down with AIDS due to having unprotected sex.

Obama lifted the prohibition of health care providers even mentioning information about abortion. This Bush-era policy did a disservice to poor women impregnated by abusive boyfriends.

I have a story to relate here. I was contacted once by a young woman from Africa, visiting this country, who asked me for a ride to the abortion clinic. She did not have a car, and the clinic was over ninety miles away. She was a young college student from a very conservative family. Her boyfriend had turned out to be a scoundrel, and they were no longer together. I gave her the ride, and she solved her problem without anyone being the wiser, not her parents, friends or anyone else that might have cast judgment upon her behavior. I certainly never told anyone, and even in this recounting of the story, I haven't mentioned which country she was from.

Young people make mistakes, especially in the area of sexual behavior, as we all should know. Think back to when you were young. Slick and smooth-talking seducers sometimes worm their way into the pants of young people, knock them up and then move on. Should these smooth-talkers be rewarded by having a poor young woman raise the kids on her own? Do we need a future generation of smooth-talkers? No, we don't. Abortion is often the best alternative in situations where the boyfriend is MIA and didn't possess any of the qualities that a young woman might want to see in her children.

I support the Obama Adminstration's decision to end the illegal DEA raids on medicinal marijuana clinics in California. Conservatives only talk about states' rights when it suits their agenda. When California voters passed a law allowing the prescription of medicinal marijuana, suddenly states' rights did not matter anymore. Under the Bush Administration, DEA thugs smashed the medicinal marijuana clinics, destroying computers, arresting everyone, seizing anything of value--loot and pillage, like barbarians, leaving sick and dying patients without their medicine. Under Obama, the DEA has been instructed to end these illegal raids.

On the subject of the war, I'm less pleased with Obama, who has put off returning our troops from Iraq. However, his hands may be tied. If the United States withdrew its troops now, and the situation in Iraq deteriorated, all of the armchair generals across the country would be in an uproar. Too many conservatives are under the impression that Iraq is the 51st state of the Union. Obama doesn't want to be judged as losing Iraq. My own opinion is there isn't any winning or losing to be had over in Iraq, just a continuous drain on resources that might be better invested here in the real United States.

As for the bailouts, I'll be honest, I have my doubts. I don't like handing over public resources to companies like AIG and the automakers, all of whom deserve to sink into the abyss where they belong for their incompetence, greed, and myopia. Isn't that what capitalism is supposed to be about? Weeding out the weaklings? Once again, in the United States we have welfare for the rich, and tough love for the poor.

However, unlike me, Obama is a consummate politician, and I think he recognizes that he has to do something about the economy. To do nothing would look too much like Bush. The people want action and they want it now. Bush neglected the country for eight long years, focusing upon Iraq instead of domestic concerns. The stimulus package addresses long-standing problems that went neglected under the Bush Administration. Without getting into specifics, I see good and bad in it as well, but here again I think Obama is reaching out to conservatives in both parties and trying to build a consensus rather than pushing a liberal agenda that would please people like me.

To date, I find Obama to be middle-of-the-road in his policies, not liberal at all, but moderate. I don't agree with everything his Administration does, but feel that he has good intentions. Many of the areas where I disagree are more than likely due to Obama trying to represent all of America, rather than just liberals. He's a gradualist in many ways, and perhaps that is what we need right now given the current situation with the economy.

The conservative pundits who claim that Obama is trying to do too much are quite mistaken. Bush did absolutely nothing to help the country, and consequently there is a backup of important projects that should have been tackled eight years ago. Obama is merely cleaning up the terrible mess left in his hands by the Republican Administration. He's also considerably further to the right than the Republican party would like to admit. Reaching out to Republicans and trying to appease them was doomed to failure, but by doing so, Obama scored political points, appearing conciliatory whereas the Republicans were partisan as usual. The very fanaticism that Republicans value so much in their moral and spiritual leader, Rush Limbaugh, is what will serve to alienate the American voter.

Obama is willing to rise above his own political agenda in order to broaden his appeal among Americans, an intelligent strategy that will reap dividends in the upcoming elections of 2010 and 2012, at which time I hope to see Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate that can withstand a filibuster. I also hope to see more Democrats in political offices throughout the country. The time has come to transform the country from a war-mongering bully to an economic powerhouse that produces goods and services that the rest of the world wants to buy. The world does not want our bombs and bullets.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Igor's Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup FAQ

First, a little warning. Like all of the DCSS information here, the following isn't official. It's just the ruminations of a guy named Igor.

If you do not know what Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is, read this and get yourself educated.

This a cool game for old school gamers. If you want to be cool, you have to play Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. There aren't any exceptions to the rule.

Lately, I have been monitoring the search terms that lead folks to the wonderful world of Glorious Igor. Some people pose actual questions concerning Dungeon Crawl. I'm afraid they did not get their question answered by my blog in some cases. The following FAQ represents an attempt to remedy that deficiency. I may modify this entry in the future if I detect any broad axes, I mean broad areas, that have not been addressed. You can see I've been playing Crawl a lot.

Spoiler Alert! Intimate Details of the Game Revealed Here.

Q. What is the best weapon for the strong?
A. When you pick up a weapon, examine it. Press I for Inventory, then the letter next to the weapon. The description tells you if the weapon is better for the strong or the dexterous (or neither). The short answer is that there is no best weapon class, although we all have our preferences. In the beginning, I preferred weapons that inflicted a high amount of damage. Now, I prefer weapons that are fast and accurate. But that doesn't mean I'm right or that my strategy will work for every race/class combination. You will have to experiment to find out what works best for you.

Q. How do I acquire magic resistance?
A. I'm not really sure how this happens, but I notice that as my characters rise in level their magic resistance improves. You can boost MR by acquiring magical items that confer resistance to magic, such as rings and pieces of "armour" as it is spelled in Crawl.

Q. I'm tired of dying all the time! How do I cheat in Crawl?
A. You bastard! That's called save-scumming! How dare you? Here's how to do it. In case anyone didn't get my humor, I cheat all the time. I'm a cheating advocate. If the programmers ever devise safeguards to prevent cheating, then Igor will employ his advanced hacking methods and bust the game a new one. But for now, it is unnecessary, and Igor keeps his spellbook closed.

Q. There is a monster I encounter (hydra?) that always seems to kill me! What do I do?
A. Duh, avoid that monster, for one, until you can devise an effective strategy for assaulting it. Run away! Or if you're too slow to run away, then pop out that teleport scroll. I like to conserve magical items such as potions and scrolls, employing them only when facing a tough monster. If you are popping a potion of speed to slay a kobold, then you are not conserving at all. Save magical items for when you need them.

Q. Which is better, light armour or heavy armour?
A. Depends on whether your character's race/class combo favors Dodging or Armour. You really should examine the Table of Attributes (press ? followed by %). Until you do, you're shooting in the dark. In general, spellcasters do best with light armour. However, this is not always the case.

Q. Why do you spell "armor" using the Commonwealth spelling?
A. Because that's how it is in the game. I assume that Linley, the original creator, originated from a Commonwealth nation. You may find that I alternate the spelling of armor from one paragraph to the next. Sorry. There's a conflict between the way I spell "armor" and the way the game spells it. Can't we all just get along?

Q. I have too much inventory! What do I do?
A. Beginners tend to drag a bunch of junk around that they don't need. Carry no more than two weapons. One should have an edge so that you can skin dead monsters and eat them. This way, you can avoid running out of food. The best edged weapon for this purpose is a lightweight knife. Specialize in one weapon class. Dump stuff like enchanted staves that you don't intend to use. Be honest with yourself. Are you really going to use that brazier to summon a fire elemental? If so, when? And what if your skill isn't good enough to summon a friendly one?

Q. I keep getting killed on the first level.
A. Not all race/class combinations are created equal. Some are awfully tough to play, a challenge for the advanced player. An easy combo would be Demonspawn Beserker or Minotaur Beserker. Try one of those. In general, warriors are much easier than spellcasters. Many crawlers will disagree with me, but in my opinion, magic is not all it's cracked up to be. The most powerful of my wizards all still pale in comparison to my twenty-sixth level Minotaur Beserker, which could blast through just about anything in the dungeon.

Q. What are the benefits of the three attributes, Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence?
A. Good question. Part of the charm of the game is figuring out all of these details on your own. But you have elected to read a spoiler, haven't you? You are determined to avoid that charm! Bad!

Intelligence is only important for spellcasters. If you don't cast spells, forget about it. But for spellcasters, it is the single most important attribute.

If you are a warrior, the attribute to emphasize depends upon your weapon class and armour configuration. Do your weapons and armour emphasize Dexterity and Dodging? If so, increase your Dexterity whenever possible.

Here's another general rule for Dexterity, which enhances the evasion ability. I think it is a very good thing to maximize your EV score, whatever you may be. That will help you to survive. To maximize your evasion gain from dodging, your Dex should be: 19: batform, spiderform. 18: spriggan. 17: halfling, gnome, kobold. 16: all other races. 14: naga, centaur, troll, ogre[mage], ice form. 8: dragon form.

Strength helps you carry more and do more damage in combat. I have heard criticism that these abilities increase at a low rate per point of Strength. But any increase is, well, an increase. Remember those times when you quaffed a potion of Might? Blasted through the monsters, didn't you? That tells me that Strength does make a difference.

Q. Why does Trog hate spellcasting?
A. A wizard turned his sister into a toad. From that day forward, Trog vowed to be an enemy of all spellcasters and of spell magic in general. One day I hope to post an interview with Trog on my blog.

Q. What race should I choose?
A. Well, don't be a racist. Try them all. The one that suits your game-playing style the best will be the one for you. My preferences are defended here and there.

Q. My game crashed! Or I encountered a bug of some kind. What do I do?
A. Be a good Crawl citizen and report the problem at the web site suggested here, where you can also obtain the latest beta version. Before reporting, search the database to see whether the problem has already been reported. They are well-aware of most problems. If the problem already has been tagged, reply to it with any additional information you may have. You may want to install the newest version to see whether it fixes the problem.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Modern-Day American Hero: Rep. Barney Frank

Barney Frank came out as gay in 1987 and has been the only openly gay congressman in Washington for years. He was called "Barney Fag" by the House Majority leader at the time, Dick Armey, a conservative Republican.

Barney Frank is one of our most ethical, forthright and courageous leaders ever to serve in Washington, D.C.

Every time that I hear about Barney's doings in the media, I feel something unusual. Hope. Hope that things will get better. Barney Frank always seems to do the right thing. Early on, he opposed the war in Iraq and he has been vocal in his criticism of costly overseas interventions that do not benefit the United States in any way. This alone is enough to make me a huge fan of Barney. But wait, there's more.

In addition to his opposition to war, he wants to reduce military spending by 25 percent, a modest amount considering that we are not at war with any military power worth their weight in tin foil. However this represents a huge step forward and is very progressive for the U.S. Congress, which increases military spending year after year as though Adolf Hitler were never defeated.

Barney supports the rights of the individual across the board on every issue, not just civil rights for gays, although that is the single most important issue on the table today. He's even been known to partner with conservatives in Congress like Ron Paul on issues like online gambling. Barney believes American citizens should have the right to gamble online if they so desire. In addition, he is an ardent supporter of medical marijuana and abortion rights. Last year, he tried to pass the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008 (HR 5843), which would decriminalize small amounts.

Just the other day, he was in the news doing something else right. Namely, taking AIG to task for using government bailout money to give bonuses to the overpaid fat cats on their management team. The government has been doling out tax money to big businesses for years, but the recent bailout has been the most brazen example of welfare for the rich. The companies that benefit from our tax money should not be rubbing it in our faces by handing out bonus checks to their staff.

I have a suggestion for a new face on the $20 bill--Barney Frank, defender of freedom, decency and moderation. He would certainly represent a better choice than Andrew Jackson, the racist, war-mongering Indian killer.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Mouthful of Mercury by the Age of Ten

Is there any reason to put fillings into the teeth of children who have not grown adult teeth yet?

Absolutely not.

Dentists are the greediest child abusers in history.

I had a mouthful of metal by the time I was ten. Necessary? Nope. I never felt the slightest twinge of pain from any of the imaginary cavities my dentist fretted over.

With all these amalgams, I was exposed to mercury, which dentists say doesn't cause any harm. Of course they would say that. Do they know? Nope. They haven't a clue. Dentists know one thing: they will make money if you say "Yes, go right ahead."

Except in the case of a rare, genuine dental problem, children should not be taken to a dentist until they have their adult teeth. Will the American Dental Association ever say this? Never. It would put a crimp on all those dandy vacations in the Bahamas.

Institutionalized child abuse like dentistry is a plague on modern health care. Or should I say "plaque?"

My childhood dentist had a pattern. He would find cavities only every other visit. That way, we didn't get too suspicious. He had it all worked out. He'd come into the "operating room" with an X-ray and show me something that I didn't really understand. Sometimes, he'd show my mother too. Then he'd pull a long face and say, "Aw, looks like you need a filling."

The novacaine shots, performed with a large, thick steel hypodermic, were excruciating, causing involuntary tears. Often he had to repeat the shot twice, thrice, or even more in order to kill the nerve. The shots left my face paralyzed for many hours afterward. Often my mouth would be sore for days afterward.

After the operation was done, he'd give me a sugar-free lollipop and maybe a little plastic toy. My Mom would write the check and that was that.

My parents never once questioned the need, because everybody else was taking their children to the dentist--or at least, all of the "right" people, that is, the white people. I used to ask my mother why. She said that dentists were Respectable Professionals. They have more cachet than the priests, bishops and cardinals of old.

Educated these professionals may be, but morality is not taught in school. What does the university teach? How to be cunning and clever. The more education, the more cunning.

Question doctors. Question dentists. Don't believe what they tell you. Some of them may even feel they are doing the right thing, because many abuses are sanctioned by their entire professional class and the associations to which they belong.

They mislead, obfuscate and do anything in their power in order to separate their patients from their money and make an easy path for themselves. Why do you think they employ Latin and a messy handwriting, often using code? It's all intentional. They don't want their patients to know anything. Transparency and accountability is anathema to the medical profession. They are the new shaman, chanting spells in an obscure language to frighten and dazzle the ignorant. But like the shaman of old, their magic is weak, and they rely upon psychology.

The reality is that most medicine being doled out is unnecessary or ineffective. Some medicine being prescribed today causes harm and is without benefit. Double-check what the "professionals" tell you. It's easy to do nowadays online. Doctors hate the Internet, because now their patients tend to be better informed and to ask questions. They hate having to defend their lame prescriptions. They hate being exposed in their deception. It's only natural. But you know what? Too bad. The Internet is here to stay. And every day, more people are waking up to the new requirement of the modern age. Studying and learning about science has become an absolute necessity. Otherwise, you will be taken for a ride by the charlatans of science.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Should I Join the Dark Side of the Force?

Today I received an offer to blog for pay, the secret dream of many bloggers with moderate or low income like myself.

Unfortunately for my ego, I wasn't chosen based upon merit. I had answered a call for bloggers posted on Craigslist. "Want to get paid for writing?" the ad copy said.

Quite tempting, you know.

I received an email today with additional information and a non-disclosure agreement, in .PDF format, that states in legalese that I must keep mum about all the shady things I will be paid to do.

I am faced with an ethical dilemma. Do I really want to be paid to lie?

The company boasts of being a "reputation management firm for the Internet" with the goal of "neutralizing bad publicity" by so-called "liars and cranks" in the blogosphere.

I happen to think much of that bad publicity is well-deserved.

Dear Mr. Business Criminal, if you do not want someone to write something bad about you, then don't harm people. Don't mislead. Don't lie, cheat or steal. Simple, huh? Know what this is called? Ethics. Try it some day. You might like it. You might even find that people like you because you're ethical.

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I spent much of my life designing technological solutions for people. It saddens me to see technology misused for lies and distortion, as if we weren't already deluged with deceptive propaganda from radio, TV, books, newspapers and magazines.

The Internet was supposed to be an anarchic realm where average Joes could speak their piece and even--wonder of wonders--be heard from time to time. Instead of accepting this new paradigm, the business community is up in arms against it and taking steps to shut people up and clamp down upon this dangerous free speech. Business owners enlist lawyers and Internet reputation management firms to shut the little guy up.

So much for freedom of speech, eh? It was a good idea while it lasted, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and the rest of you elegant aristocrats.

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For about five minutes, I really considered doing it, which in retrospect is embarrassing. Yeah, I could use the cashola. No lie. To date, my ad revenue has amounted to $1.10, which translates into about two cents per blog entry. Is that union scale? Somehow I doubt it.

In the end, though, I found out something about myself. I'd rather die than lie.

I don't want to be another one of these well-paid liars I read all across the Internet and the mainstream media.

Sorry, Darth. I just can't join the Dark Side of the Force. Sorry. I'd rather die.

If life means anything, anything at all, then ethics has to play a role. There has to be a higher purpose to this existence. If truth doesn't matter, and money is the only goal, then we are all better off dead. Let's clear off and let another species evolve intelligence on this planet.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do Sports Suck?

Where do professional and collegiate sports fall into the liberal view of the world? Nowhere, it seems. Welfare, health care, gender, race, and sexuality are all widely discussed. Sports, however, remains an open question mark. Sports represents one of the many areas where conservatives and liberals can come together and agree.

Not every student is designed to excel in academia. Some are awfully good at throwing a football, running, swimming, or golf. These students should have a right to compete for scholarships on the basis of athletic merit. Sports are a perennial popular attraction at universities, drawing many fans. If this is what the people want, what's wrong with that?

If we abandon the ideal of athleticism altogether, where does that leave us? Are we to become a society of effete intellectuals? Is there no place for physical fitness anymore?

Athleticism was an integral part of the Ancient Greco-Roman ideal from which the modern university derived. Surely push-ups, jogging, running and hopscotch all have a place on the menu at a university.

To me, it's all a question of emphasis, or to put it in blunt terms, how much money we spend on sports. Too often, city governments bend over backwards to encourage the construction of stadiums, because, the argument goes, stadiums draw tourist dollars. City governments even float municipal bonds to pay for the cost of construction. They grant decade-long tax breaks to teams willing to relocate. Does this seem excessive to you? To me, it sounds like a boon for the private owners of teams, but a big black eye for the public, which is deprived of its fair share of tax revenue and burdened with debt, adding insult to injury. Whenever government officials cut a sweet deal for big business, always ask one question. Who was bribed?

Professional teams, like other big businesses, participate in a practice known in the United States as "welfare for the rich." Public resources are stolen and handed over to private owners with the cooperation of public officials. This isn't right whether the beneficiary is a sports team or a paper mill.

I'm not in favor of any concrete policy with regard to sports. I think journalists have a duty to report on the costs involved with the excessive emphasis on sports, professional or amateur, but government does not have a stake in it. This is an area where voters should have the information that they need to make better decisions. Leave any policy questions concerning sports up to the voters. If the voters decide to go in debt to the tune of many millions of dollars to finance a football stadium, so be it. If they decide the football stadium is more important than repairing roads, so be it.

Any of my visitors who are interested in viewing all of the arguments against sports are welcome to visit Sports Suck, which offers a forum where you can argue your opinion on the matter. As for the arguments in favor of sports, never fear. The entire mainstream media has already signed up as perennial cheerleaders.

Release Muntadhar al-Zeidi now!

I had to copy and paste the name of the journalist who threw two shoes at former President Bush. He is a foreigner and a Muslim, which may make it difficult for some Americans to relate with him.

Pardon my ignorance, but I don't know enough about Muslim names to know whether to address him by his first name or his last. Pardon me if I make a social blunder here, but Muntadhar, I would have given you my own shoes to throw. All of them. Maybe Bush wrecked your country, but he wrecked the U.S. economy. We have common cause insofar as Bush is concerned, although I suspect that Muntadhar probably wouldn't care much for my liberal beliefs.

Today, I read that an Iraqi court has sentenced him to serve three years. This is what Iraqi "freedom" really means. Do anything other than what's on the script and you will be tortured and imprisoned. (Muntadhar al-Zeidi was beaten by guards after he was apprehended.) Three years in prison, after he had signed an apology for the incident. Is this "freedom?"

If Bush had any scruples at all, he would have seen to it that his "assailant" was released. After all, no harm was done, save to President Bush's sense of dignity. The shoes missed. But even if the shoes had struck, would they have hurt? Would they have hurt as much as all the bullets and bombs exploding in that cesspool that Bush calls a beacon of democracy in the Middle East?

Three years will change Muntadhar al-Zeidi.

They will improve al-Zeidi's standing from the hero that he is today into a martyr of freedom. Al-Zeidi will go down in history as a victim of the lies, corruption and malice which was the Bush Administration, the most incompetent Administration in the history of the United States. Bush may have gotten away with his crimes, but as he said, let history be the judge. If not a hanging judge, then a damning one.

Asthma Bothering You? Move.

A major cause of asthma problems is close proximity to traffic. If you carry the genes for asthma and live next to a highway or busy street, you're at risk.

View a recent article on this subject in the Chicago Tribune.

I know this from personal experience, although I have been following the research on asthma in Discover and several other publications.

Our old home was less than twenty feet away from a major artery in town, where there was constant traffic. Asthma became such a problem that my boyfriend had difficulty sleeping at night and required prescription inhalers such as albuterol, which is not without side effects.

Our new home was located just a mile away, but on a site that is over a hundred feet removed from traffic. It made a huge difference. When we moved, my boyfriend's asthma problem disappeared. Problem solved.

This points to yet another reason that U.S. auto manufacturers should focus upon producing clean/green cars that are the most fuel-efficient in the world. This will reduce the health problems caused by car exhaust.

Of course, the car manufacturers should have been doing the right thing years ago instead of designing new monster trucks and SUVs with low fuel economy standards. If they had done the right thing, they would not now be in the situation that they are in, begging Congress for money to stay afloat. But you can't ask a CEO to take five minutes out of his busy day to think about such a thing as ethics. He's too busy following the latest gyrations of the stock market and devising new ways to downsize his workers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Demonspawn, Trust in Yredelemnul

When I recommended playing Demonspawn Beserkers in an earlier blog about the rogue-like game Dungeon Crawl, I neglected an important trait unique to Demonspawns. No race is better at Invocations. None! It behooves a Demonspawn, therefore, to enlist as a Priest of Yredelemnul. To see what I mean, press ? to access the Help menu, then % to visit the Table of Attributes, an important table that all players should study if they wish to gain an advantage.

By using the powers of a god, one can cede all spell-magic, which conserves experience points for other skills, like fighting, armor, and dodging. Contrast the Demonspawn Priest's ease with Invocations to the lot of the spellcaster, who must draw upon up to four different skills with every casting of a spell.

Yredelemnul's invocations grant powers over the dead, which comes in useful in all parts of the dungeon. Yredelemnul asks nothing of a player save that he raise the dead and kill monsters. One of the awesome powers Yredelemnul grants is the ability to drain the life force from all visible monsters. This is among the most powerful abilities in the game.

Yredelemnul priests begin with a staff and experience in staves. I have mixed feelings about this, because later in the game a Demonspawn might come across a demon blade, demon whip, or demon trident, all of which confer racial bonuses. Also, a staff is reduced in effectiveness by the use of a shield. However, sometimes an excellent staff compensates for not using a shield. Take for instance a staff of poison that grants resistance to poison, poisons those struck by it, and increases the effectiveness of poison magic. As a priest, you probably won't care about the last benefit, since you won't be casting many spells. But resistance to poison is nothing to sneeze at. The downside is, however, that an enchanted staff cannot be improved by Enchant Weapon scrolls. That's a huge downside, considering many weapons in the hands of experienced players are improved close to +8, +8. Besides this, many monsters, notably the undead, have resistance to poison, negative energy or cold. I recommend that all Demonspawn of whatever class train in Maces and Flails, because they are weapons commonly found throughout the dungeon and the weapon class of the most commonly discovered hell-forged weapon, the Demon Whip, the choice of all Balrogs. Another neat little bonus is that Maces and Flails are more effective than any edged weapon against Hydras.

Demonspawn Priests with mediocre intelligence should eschew magic and concentrate upon fighting skills. Demonspawns just are not that gifted in magical abilities with the exception of Summoning and Necromancy, and you could spend much of your experience trying to build mediocre talent in magic. That experience is better invested in fighting skills and in Invocations. Yredelemnul's gifts offer more than enough in the way of necromancy, to the point where learning Necromantic magic is redundant. The chief advantage to exercising Spellcasting would be to acquire additional Magical Points, which are used with each Invocation.

Turn off training (to do so, press m to visit the Abilities menu) in the specific weapon you wield until such time as you discover a superior weapon in the dungeon, preferably one that permits the use of a shield, but be flexible. There isn't a hard and fast rule on what constitutes a superior weapon. This is a judgment call on the part of the player. If you fall in love with a weapon, turn on training in it and stick with it until the end of the game.

On Running Amok

From Malaysia, the English language borrowed a word that describes the many shootings in the United States. The word is amok, as in running amok, without rhyme or reason, intent upon violence. This strange tendency has percolated up from ancient times and is by no means a modern novelty. People run amok for reasons having to do with long-repressed anger and rage, often aggravated by mental illness, especially depression.

What is modern is the widespread availability and popularity of firearms. Guns have changed the equation of running amok for the worse, from society's viewpoint, although for the killer, the gun is a godsend. If you run amok with a scimitar, your victims can at least run away if they see you coming. There is no adequate defense against a stranger with a loaded gun. Every one of us is vulnerable, from rich to poor, unless one chooses to live in a fortress for life.

Should we make guns illegal? No, because making things illegal just creates a huge black market, as we can see today where drugs and prostitution are concerned. Guns have permeated so far and so deeply into the U.S. population that it seems unlikely they can ever be removed. There's also the risk of the government being taken over by a military coup. The availability of guns to the people helps to safeguard liberty. Liberals who favor making guns illegal should bear in mind that freedom is not guaranteed. There could come a time when the homegrown Taliban here in the U.S., the religious right, takes over and begins building concentration camps for all the people that they hate. At such a time, guns may be the only thing standing between you and becoming a statistic to their religious fanaticism.

The answer to gun violence is to remove the "cool" factor and reduce the prevalence of violence in the American psyche. Instead of movies that glorify gun violence and recommend killing as the solution to all problems, we should watch movies that better reflect our ethics and social values. This is a recommendation for people to make informed choices about their entertainment, not a prescription for censorship.

Raising awareness is key. Media sources that exaggerate the severity and prevalence of crime, like FOX news, tend to make people afraid for their safety and to think that they need firearms for self-defense. Right-wing outlets also tend to glorify war, and if war is acceptable, murder cannot be half-bad--as long as you're murdering the "right" victims.

If you want to reduce gun violence, turn off FOX news and quit subscribing to right-wing media outlets like USN&WR. Turn to media sources that place a value upon peace and thoughtful and mature behavior. Choose entertainment that reflects your values, instead of mindless militarism.

Wars Profit Us Nothing

I can't think why the United States is focused upon Iran, other than myopia from lingering in Iraq too long. China has taken many of our jobs with our explicit consent and the connivance of our leaders. China threatens Taiwan with war and holds Tibet in thralldom. Toward its own people, it is one of the most repressive states in the world, without the personal freedoms that we take for granted in the United States. In China, the media and even the Internet is tightly controlled. The government is so corrupt that it bears a close resemblance to organized crime. In such a society, starting a war would be easy, very easy. The Chinese are a highly indoctrinated people. Only one thing stops the fascists over there, and that's the presence of the United States.

Should we challenge China now? No. But we should be aware that economic strength, including manufacturing capability, is more important in the long run than short-term military superiority. How will we supply our military twenty years from now?

Recall World War Two. What was the deciding factor in the victory of the Allies over the Axis forces? Could it have been our superior manufacturing capability? We supplied our allies with so many tanks, bombers, fighters, guns, bombs, and ships that the Axis powers were overwhelmed in the end.

We are being worn down in a slow and methodical fashion by our own strategic blunders. The United States has been grinding its nose in the Middle East and Afghanistan for no apparent reason other than pride. While the U.S. bleeds billions of dollars a month in various cesspools around the world, within the U.S., jobs are being lost, particularly manufacturing jobs.

People have lost confidence in the ability of this country to lead. That is because George W. Bush was a poor leader, a puppet for Republican criminals that hoped to gain wealth through his myopic policies. If any of them became rich, they should share their gain with the rest of us, who profited nothing from the war. But I wouldn't hold your breath on that one.

Right-wingers feel that their money makes them morally superior to the rest of us. After all, Ayn Rand provides a philosophical justification with her Objectivist philosophy, which holds that money equals morality. The more money you have, the more ethical you are as a person. Another way of putting this is that money is all that matters, a common Republican mantra. Those who have less money are worth less. The only possible reason that the poor are poor is laziness, immorality or stupidity. Their blood is cheap. Let's send them off to die in a war. That way, government spending will go toward the companies we have invested in. Our shares will rise in value. Don't you believe in evolution? Survival of the fittest. What defines "the fittest?" Simple. The amount of money you have. This is the repulsive Republican philosophy in a nutshell.

Many private companies have proved themselves to be mismanaged by CEO's who only thought about short-term gain for shareholders rather than long-term strategy. These CEO's waged class war upon working people. They were rewarded for cutting jobs, benefits, and wages. That is the ultimate limit of skill among American CEO's. They are only good when it comes to harming workers. For this peculiar skill, they are the highest compensated CEO's in the entire world. Problem is, they just don't know how to manage a business. For that, they need outside consultants, market wisdom, and finally when all of that fails, taxpayer money. Those who are paid the highest contribute the least and cause the most harm.

Who should be paid the most? Those with the most skill. The engineers, scientists, and workers whose skills truly are irreplaceable. You could replace most CEO's with an 8-ball and get better results for less cost.

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Any politician who does not appreciate the need to cut military spending and redirect it toward domestic concerns is a politician that needs to be sent back home in the next election. The era of invading little dunghills around the world for little or no reason is over.

Concentrate upon building up the United States economy through a focus upon research and development and job creation. Business as usual under too many Administrations has meant excessive military spending upon fancy gadgets in a time of peace. The U.S. needs big ideas and big dreams, not business as usual.

Stupid wars waged by stupid men has run up much of the eleven trillion dollar debt that Republicans now pretend to be concerned about. Debt can be incurred for good or bad reasons. If you incur debt in order to buy a car that will take you to work, debt is good. If you incur debt just to buy a gun and shoot people at random, then debt is counter-productive.

Let other nations go about the dreadful business of starting wars. If we ever engage in an overseas conflict again, we should be recognized as the white knight, with the support of the international community--including their financial support.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dumbed-Down Journalism

US News & World Report is a hard-right magazine that appeals to the Rush Limbaugh crowd. They are pretty consistent in supporting all of the religious-right and conservative Republican causes.

USA Today is a nationwide newspaper that tries to be as apolitical and inoffensive as possible, covering more than just one perspective on their editorial page.

Compare these two recent headlines covering the same bit of news:

"Study: Hospice patients feel abandoned by doctors" - USA Today

"Dying Feel Abandoned by Docs in the End" - US News & World Report

The USN&WR writer feared that most of his readers would not know what the word "hospice" means, and had to replace it with a weird substitution, "dying". Certainly hospice patients are in a bad way, but they are not going to die this very day, are they?

Abbreviating doctors as "docs" adds a weird levity to the situation, as if it's all a big joke, like Bugs Bunny saying, "What's up, Doc?" To me, this betrays the emotional disconnect within the thought processes of right-wingers. They simply don't care about people, and it shows in their choice of words.

Why should the "dying," as USN&WR puts it, feel abandoned just in the end? Why not in the beginning or the middle? In the end, hospice patients feel nothing at all. Think about it.

Should we be surprised that conservatives digest the dumbed-down journalism of USN&WR? I am. Maybe I shouldn't be, but I am. I don't know how they can stand it.

Warning Signs from Your Service Provider

When your service provider acts in a nervous fashion, sending you dozens of mailings pleading with you to buy more or tell your friends to buy more, then you know something is amiss with their finances. The last refuge of a CEO is to make a ton of mass-mailings, cross his fingers and pray that the suckers bite.

I subscribed at one time to Vonage, an excellent VOIP (Voice Over Internet Provider), through which unlimited long distance calls are made in exchange for a low monthly fee. Back in 2007, they began flooding me with offers through the mail. Ugly shiny decals to put on my car, and ugly cards to hand out to all of my friends. If I recruited a new customer, I would receive something like two months free. Well, I tried, I really did, but most people just don't make that many long distance calls to begin with, and those who do feel like they can just use their cell phone.

Upon receiving my fifth mailing containing marketing spam from Vonage, I became suspicious. It's that horse sense of mine. Something was just not right. I did a search on Google news and there was my answer. Vonage was in big trouble! In fact, many financial analysts predicted that it would fold in the first half of 2008! That did not turn out to be the case, as far as I know. At any rate, I called up Vonage to cancel my service, because it turns out I didn't make many long distance calls myself. The Customer Service Representative was such a nice lady with a pleasant sounding voice that I changed my mind. She had quite a way with words. I remember her saying, "If you keep the service, we will cut your bill in half!" Swayed by her feminine charms, I stayed with Vonage another six months.

The moral of this story is, negotiation sometimes works even with corporations, particularly when they are bleeding customers. They will do anything to stop the bleeding, including chopping your bill with a cleaver. Vonage may still be a good service today. I did not follow what happened to them after I quit subscribing. I think they are still around, because I got an email from them a month ago. Maybe they found a sugar daddy to help them through the difficult times. Most of their troubles stemmed from a lawsuit inflicted upon them by a larger corporation that seemed intent upon destroying them altogether. Vonage was actually a cute and feisty little dog of a company, and I wish them all the best.

Years ago, I used Charter Communications, a cable provider, as my Internet Service Provider. I wasn't terribly happy with them. The #1 problem was reliability. The Internet would go down and stay down for anywhere from ten minutes to TEN DAYS. No explanation would be given, and no refund credited to my account. Is that fair? Of course not. Sometimes, I called their technical department on the phone, but no one knew anything. Other times, I got in my car and drove to the local office for Charter and asked, "Why is my Internet down?" Their local office tells more about Charter than anything else. The employees are all behind bullet-proof windows. They pointed to a red telephone located in the lobby and told me the telephone would answer all of my questions. I picked it up, and a voice on the other end said, "Sorry Sir, we are working on the problem right now." This is about the time I decided to cancel Charter.

Charter then began sending me offers, at the rate of one per week, to come back to their ever-loving arms and embrace mediocrity once again. They were willing, not to reduce my bill, but to increase the services and give me a sweet package deal. They offered internet, VOIP, and basic cable television for $69. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? If I hadn't experienced numerous occasions without any Internet, I would think so, too.

Charter liked to brag about how fast cable was compared to DSL. This misses the point entirely. As with electricity, the main issue with any ISP is reliability. The Internet must be up 99.99% of the time. As for speed, DSL technology has progressed until the speed gap is not what it once was. As for the package deals offered by a cable provider, who cares about television? Passive entertainment is the way of the past. Interactive entertainment--the Internet--is the way of the future. I would rather save $1 than pay anything additional for television. At any rate, the cable provider makes money off the content providers. Why do they need to also hit the customer up for fees? They're lucky anyone subscribes to them anymore. Most of the channels on cable TV are loaded with irritating commercials, and the content itself is abysmal just as it always has been. Cable providers brag about having a hundred channels, but how many of those channels are worth anything?

What ever happened to Charter? Bankruptcy! Am I surprised? Not in the slightest. Their Internet service was lousy, and for me, that is enough reason.

When you start receiving desperate offers in the mail, that's a strong signal that something is amiss. Do a search on Google and find out whether the company is suffering financial difficulties. You should not sign up for services with a company that is about to get flushed down the toilet. It's actually quite irresponsible and selfish for such a company to entice unsuspecting people to sign up with them. They're trying to recruit suckers to take down with the sinking ship.
techlorebyigor is my personal journal for ideas & opinions