Thursday, December 29, 2011

What game publishers fear

What is the frightening secret that game publishers in 2011 (and beyond) pray you will never discover?

Cutting-edge graphics have very little to do with how much fun a game is to play.

Witness the impressive success of this website:

Great Old Games now sells over 300 excellent titles, all DRM-free, and most going for about $6. Even games that originally sold with DRM are also included, but the versions have the DRM removed. Playing PC games without the hassle of DRM is the original inspiration for the establishment of

The games on, although older by one year up to more than a decade in some cases, were all top rated games upon their original release. The only reason you'd find them in the bargain bin now is because they're old, used or in limited re-release.

Here's the interesting part... most gamers' objections to older games are based solely on the relatively poor graphics, as compared to the most current games. Mind you, the graphics may have been cutting-edge at the time the game was released, but it doesn't take long for what's hot today to become yawning material tomorrow due to rapidly forced obsolescence.

These games however, despite their sometimes very dated graphics, are still fun to play! Even with the newest, 'hottest' games, not every game is for every gamer; that's why there are different gaming genres. And so it is with older games; there are five-star titles in every genre. You just have to take a moment and look.

Where to find these great games? You name it., used bookstores, game trading stores, game trading web sites, eBay,, and more. is an excellent source of information for figuring out what older games would be fun for you.

Here's an sample search result from, with the settings as follows: Platform = PC, Categories = All, Released = at any time, Reviews = at least 10, Sorted = best to worst.

A search of all PC games of all genres, sorted by the average ratings from multiple game review sites.

That search list is just scratching the surface of all the gaming goodness out there for all you souls weary of being abused by arrogant game publishers. Take a rest and play games that are tried and true! Games that still give countless hours of gaming pleasure.

So, you say, this is all very fine and dandy, but what proof could possibly justify the original claim in this essay that a game can be tons o' fun with less-than-stellar, even primitive, graphics?

Why, the game called Minecraft, of course.

First released as an alpha on May 17, 2009, then beta on December 20, 2010. The full PC version was released on November 18, 2011... but the game had already sold one million units ten months earlier. Add to this the fact that the game had reached the four million sold mark just eleven days before the official PC release.

And, to top it all off, the site, which consolidates all the major review sites into one total average score, lists Minecraft as the ninth best PC game of all time.

Why is this particular meteoric rise of any relevance? The game's graphics are extremely primitive. They're completely blocky and simple, very reminiscent of the original Doom. Quite unattractive, really. But the sandbox/construction gameplay makes all the difference in the world. Critics and fans alike rave about this game. I personally tried it and it wasn't my cup of tea, but that's just me.

Visually, it's a throwback to 1993. In gaming years, that's like the Dark Ages. But because the gameplay is so addictive and compelling, it still flourishes at a time when the only games that can successfully command a sixty-dollar price tag upon release are big developer titles that took hundreds of people to produce. Minecraft was originally created by one guy!

As of the posting of this essay, 18,558,513 people have registered to play at the Minecraft web site, and 4,367,543 people have purchased the game.

The statistics in the previous paragraph indicate a possible theft rate of approximately 76% by the way, for those of you who think an independent game fares any better or worse with the Pirate Bay crowd. So actually Minecraft has a more successful sales percentage than most of the big game publishers. Go figure. Score one for the little guy. The DRM used is online activation, one of the least invasive types.

What's the moral in all this?

The DRM-crazed, deep pocket, brass-knuckled game publishers out there haven't a clue about how to best generate revenue in the game biz. They keep bloating games with more and more realistic graphics, but do they always deliver the best gameplay? Do they treat their customers with the respect you give someone who pays your wages?

No on both counts.

Eye candy is undoubtedly a very attractive feature of a video game. But take away the "wow, look at that" factor, and you are left with whether or not the game keeps your attention for more than a few hours. Some hot, new games accomplish this; most do not. I am as impressed by great graphics as anyone, but what games do my wife and I still spend countless hours playing together? Age of Empires II The Conquerors, and Heroes of Might and Magic III.

And... after trying out most of the Call of Duties, Battlefields, Half-Lifes, Team Fortresses, Medal of Honors, Cryses, Left 4 Deads, Halos, Clancy shooters, Star Wars shooters, etc... my favorite multiplayer shooters are still Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament (the original and the 2004 versions), the original Unreal, and of course, Serious Sam (First and Second Encounters). True greatness in a game is rare indeed, and should be strived for instead of blindly spending so many development dollars on impressive graphics.

Best of luck to the EAs, Valves, Rockstars and Blizzards of the world... you're going to need it if you keep pushing the wrong buttons. Such a pity. You could have been rich and loved by all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The DRM trail of tears

For the uninitiated, DRM is Digital Rights Management, or as Richard Stallman refers to it, Digital Restrictions Management.

DRM was once, long ago, a clever idea to insure that more people would buy your software instead of just copying it for free. In the last decade however, it has transformed into a hamster wheel of egotistical and paranoid software publishers chasing their tails in impotent attempts to prevent unpaid copies of their software from being acquired and enjoyed.

From the excessively verbose and somewhat threatening EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) you are exposed to during the installation of software, you are furtively introduced to the concept that the program that you just purchased is not actually yours. Some may think this a minor distinction, but it isn't. The EULA is informing you that although the following things are true, you still don't own the game or program:

  • paid your own hard-earned money for the software in full
  • hold the disc(s), box and manual in your hand
  • retain the receipt for your records
  • register the software online or by mail
  • tolerate varying degrees of frustration and irritation from the effects of the version of DRM the publishers decided to foist upon you, the legal customer

Click here for more information about the part EULAs play in copyright "protection." In particular, look at the "Third Generation DRM schemes" three-part system.

Some may feel inclined to point out that just like any other "intellectual property," the data on the disc is owned by the creator, and merely on loan to you, the paying customer. Similar to a book or movie you buy and enjoy; the physical medium is yours to keep, but the content is the sole property of the creator.

This seems like a fair assessment to me, in terms of credit for work performed. I think an individual should be able to decide if his or her labor should be free to use, paid for, or whatever arrangement is most amenable to the laborer. However, how this justifies the use of DRM that can temporarily (or permanently) revoke your ability to use the software you legally purchased, I'm at a loss to comprehend.

For some of you reading this, the DRM issue is a non-issue. You either don't play games on the PC, or you do, but view unwanted DRM installation as a minor glitch in your user experience. I understand. If you don't know your privacy is being invaded, or you don't mind suddenly not being able to play your game when you want to (for a variety of DRM-related reasons), or you really don't care that someone you just paid is dictating what you are allowed to do with your own computer... well then hey, you're correct. All this fuss about DRM is just whiny nonsense.

However, if you are tired of being restrained, constrained, and detained by the people with their hands in your pocket, then DO something about it. Stop buying software that contains unreasonable DRM!

What is unreasonable DRM? Well, common sense would dictate that the following examples are certainly unreasonable... after each example, I give a reason why the specific DRM is unacceptable.

  • DRM that prevents you from being able to use the software you paid for.

    • The whole purpose of purchasing the software is to use it; if software use is intentionally interrupted temporarily or permanently by the DRM, then why would you even want to buy it in the first place? Would you buy a car you knew might not start sometimes, due to factors often out of your control?

  • DRM that invisibly installs rootkits, which can be used by the proprietor for any number of questionable deeds, such as remotely accessing your computer without your consent or knowledge.

    • Is it okay for any software maker or publisher to be given hidden control of your computer at its lower levels? See here and here for more about a past case of a 'legitimate' company installing a hidden, low-level rootkit along with the software the customers purchased.

  • DRM that invisibly installs unwanted drivers that cannot be removed after the game is uninstalled, without special assistance or procedure.

    • What if you'd rather not have invisible and potentially questionable software on your computer? Starforce and SecuROM have both suffered severe public-relations disasters for their hidden hardware drivers. See here and here for instructions on how to remove the offending drivers.

  • DRM that requires you to maintain a constant Internet connection, even for a singleplayer game.

    • What if you want to play the game and you're in a situation where you can't access the Internet? Mobile computing with no available wi-fi comes to mind, for one.

  • DRM that limits how many times you can install the software.

    • What if you regularly reformat your OS drive for security purposes?

  • DRM that won't let you install the game if other particular third-party programs are installed on your computer.

    • Does a game publisher really have the right to force you to uninstall optical drive emulators, even if you use them for convenience and the preservation of original software discs, and not for digital thievery? See here for an example caused by the DRM company SecuROM.

  • DRM that, even after installation, requires the disc to be in the drive for the game to be playable.

    • The risk of disc quality degradation or failure increases with every insertion, removal, and revolution of the disc. What if the disc is eventually unreadable, and the game is no longer sold?

  • DRM that manifests itself as the removal of basic user experiences, like LAN gaming.

    • Taking highly desired features away from the customer might not be the wisest decision, especially if your reasoning is motivated by ad revenue. See here for more about how Blizzard, for example, stuck it to their customers in order to force said customers to log onto a server that carries advertising that would otherwise be absent in a LAN gaming environment. Be sure to take a glance at the many user comments below the article.

  • DRM that can cause computer hardware failure.

    • This is not an urban legend, despite reflexive scoffing from Mythbusters devotees. See here, and read some of the comments below it from people who have experienced not just a need to reformat the hard drive, but actual damage to various computer components.

  • DRM that doesn't allow you to make a safety copy of your legally purchased game.

    • What if the disc is eventually unreadable, and the game is no longer sold?

  • DRM that limits how many times you can make a safety copy.

    • What if all previous safety copies are lost or damaged?

Apparently, statistics indicate that DRM-free games are stolen at the same rate as DRM-laden games. See here for more. So, game publishers: why do you insist on wasting development dollars and risking customer satisfaction, just so you can realize your misguided (and impossible) dream of outsmarting digital thieves?

Also, it seems university research indicates that DRM encourages theft. See here for more.

There are more reasons than human immorality for digital "theft." Witness the success of Louis C.K. with his low-cost, easy to access, no-DRM video release called Live At The Beacon Theater.

To wrap this up, let me state clearly: DRM is acceptable only if the user experience is not impaired.

The best DRM is of course, no DRM at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I eschew the news

In the previous essay on December 16th, I mentioned that my wife and I keep cable and dish television out of our dwelling and our lives. In reaction to this information, one could easily cast scorn our way, and conclude with minimal thought that we prefer to sit in darkness and rub two sticks together.

We do enjoy a few select television shows, but Hulu and Netflix are our sources, which means we can skip the other 99.9% of nonsense that fills the remainder of the bandwidth. On streaming content from Hulu, commercials are handled by us leaving the room to do whatever, and returning in the allotted time for the show to recommence. This allows us to accomplish something more pleasant than viewing the unwelcome advertisements, such as the elimination of waste products from our bodies.

Some of those who would judge us for avoiding the news may find brief relief to know my wife likes to torture herself with the New York Times during lunch at work. So, the truth be known, it is I who deliberately shuns the news. Feel free to judge me for the bumpkin I must be. However, if you dare, please follow as I give some examples of why the news holds no interest for me whatsoever, and probably never will.

Here are some 'top' headlines in today's news (courtesy of, and the reasons why they hold no relevance to me whatsoever:

Suspect in New York elevator death is charged with murder, arson
Grisly details about the latest addition to humanity's notorious list of murderous psychopaths. Nothing in this article enlightens me, nor edifies me. It merely makes me sad and disgusted, two emotions that can be unfortunately experienced by events in my own life on occasion. How does the knowledge of this despicable anathema's evil deed improve my life? It doesn't.

BLITZER'S BLOG: Tense times ahead as North Korea transitions
Twelve paragraphs of one man's speculation that change nothing, therefore a waste of my time. Much like my own blog, some might say.

CNN Poll: Gingrich lead gone, dead even with Romney
A current poll result, which is meaningless next week, combined with a rehash of previous polls and statistics, and wrapped up with high-schoolish commentary on the ebb and flow of each candidate's popularity. Boring and pointless.

Gingrich explains how much he pocketed from Freddie Mac
A collection of nitpicking facts regarding the underhanded dealings of a political figure who attempts to downplay his malfeasance; a behavior that is not new, not going away, and therefore doesn't illuminate me at all.

Perry: Romney and Gingrich backed the 'biggest act of theft in American history'
Finger pointing and accusation, which may or may not be true. Either contention is meaningless, as the money has already been stolen from the unfortunate victims. Anyone paying attention to history can tell you that when it comes to the corridors of power and the wealthy 'one percent' privileged in society, that money isn't coming back. It will happen again in some way, over and over again. The plugged-in perpetrators will stand a ninety-five percent chance of getting away with it. How does reading about these accusations enhance my life, my knowledge of the world, or my ability to vote responsibly in 2012?

U.S.: 'No firm evidence' loose weapons have left Libya
More unsettling speculation regarding a typical rogue regime, with the added authenticity of numbers thrown in to make it more palpable. The real concern for the reader is whether or not these weapons will ever be used on American soil. I ask: how does worrying about such an international incident prevent it from happening or keep me safer? Does my knowledge of the possible threat of Libyan weapons somehow help our country's NSA, CIA, Homeland Security and multiple branches of the military prevent an attack? I think not.

Chrome overtakes Internet Explorer 8
The latest developments in Internet browser wars are completely irrelevant to me, as I use neither of the two most popular, yet inferior, applications mentioned in the article. The open source Firefox is still the best choice, and the one I've been using for years. Internet Explorer was top dog only due to customer ignorance and exclusionary clauses forced on computer manufacturers by Microsoft. Chrome is top dog now only because they have the most effective advertising for the same ignorant computer users who eventually (of course) tired of Internet Explorer's customer-unfriendly features. Amazing what you can accomplish when you run the world's most popular search engine, right? Not to me.

Tech Check: Could a texting-while-driving ban happen?
Alarmist reactions by whining electronic-crack addicts to pending federal law. Does the realization of such a law affect me, someone who thinks it foolish to fiddle with electronics while one should be paying attention to traffic? Not really. As annoying as it is to be required to fasten my seat belt before driving, for example, I would be hard pressed to produce a convincing argument as to how my freedoms and individual rights are being violated by potentially saving myself from flying through the windshield on impact. Wake me up when someone in Washington decides to put surveillance devices in every electronic device, or better yet, in my own cranium, whether I like it or not. That would be something of interest and genuine alarm. The aforementioned whiners' time would be better spent doing something to stop the latest pile of steaming legislative s*** from the RIAA and others, who seek to limit what you may have access to via bogus copyright 'protection' laws.

Carrier IQ: We don't record keystrokes, but your phone does
More negative fallout from the mobile electronic revolution. Does it surprise me that crooked individuals and companies create applications that invade our privacy? Not at all. The power of computing devices has never been fully understood by the zombies who stand in line to buy them, and may never be. My response to the latest, greatest, hottest, coolest, most awesome device or application? Not interested. My life is full and pleasant without it, just like all the billions of happy people that existed before the iPhone was regurgitated from the imagination of Saint Jobs.

What's really behind Twitter's staff exodus
Do I even need to comment on the myriad reasons why this is entirely unnecessary for me to know?

Stocks sell off as banks tank
More financial blathering laced with inventive terms, all to direct my attention to the rise and fall of the stock market... an entity that has become schizophrenic in the last couple of decades, thanks to genetic algorithms paid for by greedy grinches who like to get as much of the pie as possible. Never you mind that those pies are made up of money from you and me; that the 'rich' make an opulent living out of taking it from us is not new, and therefore not edifying at all.

Ellen DeGeneres buys Brad Pitt's Malibu home for $12 million
Seriously? I suppose my life could be much more enhanced by such knowledge... if what other people possessed was something that actually mattered to me. But alas, it is not. I don't wish to keep up with the Joneses, so knowing anything about their acquisitions is completely meaningless. Just as meaningless is gossip about the 'rich and famous'; these are people I'll never meet or know personally, so why would their various and sometimes bizarre activities hold any importance for me?

Okay, perhaps by now you get the idea. Or perhaps not. Either way, you go ahead and keep consuming all the information that the world can offer you in the bloated 21st century. As for me, I'll spend my time eating, sleeping, working, and loving my wife... mostly free from the burden of thinking about unnecessary nonsense.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The latest offensive defense

"Because the law, my boy, puts us into everything. It's the ultimate backstage pass, it's the new priesthood, baby ... acquittal after acquittal after acquittal until the stench of it reaches so high and far into heaven, it chokes the whole f***in' lot of them." --- John Milton (Satan) from "The Devil's Advocate"

People have asked me why my wife and I don't have cable television piped into our house, and more specifically, they have often wondered how I can get along without knowing all the latest news in the world. One glance at today's headlines provides a definitive answer.

As I understand it, there is a football coach who has more than fifty felony counts of sexual abuse of young boys. See the article I saw here:

Team Sandusky introduces the 'hygiene' defense

Unfortunately, this manifestation of NAMBLA-sanctioned sickness is nothing new. Also, as the article seems to indicate, lawyers have reached yet another level of twisted deception; all for the sake of winning the case, of course. An excerpt from the article, which is an actual quote from the attorney who came up with the latest disgusting sophistry:

"Some of these kids don't have basic hygiene skills," attorney Karl Rominger said. "Teaching a person to shower at the age of 12 or 14 sounds strange to some people, but people who work with troubled youth will tell you there are a lot of juvenile delinquents and people who are dependent who have to be taught basic life skills like how to put soap on their body."

The truth, as a concept, is an interesting entity. Regardless of subjective views and wishful thinking, there is only one truth in any situation. There are many ways to interpret truth, many versions of the truth, many lies to avoid the truth... but still, in the end, there is only one truth about any given event that occurs in the world. It happened or it didn't. Yes, yes, blah, blah, blah; but fifty felony counts are a bit excessive to be merely a simple case of false accusation.

We have been exposed to the idea for so long that 'subjectivity changes everything' that we are losing touch with a basic moral skill like simply being able to judge between right and wrong. Paid advocates of the guilty have spent many years honing their craft; there has been precedent after precedent which has opened the door to 'anything is possible.'

And that's just the way the evil of the world like it. Truly... how inspiring it must be for any malefactor to ponder the idea that if the best lawyers can be afforded, he or she can most likely get away with anything. Truth matters much less than winning, it seems.

What kind of person honors the 'client confidence' part of the lawyer's oath, but disregards the part that requires the lawyer to never maintain deliberately misleading defense tactics?

I realize there are still human beings walking the earth who desire to do the right thing as much as it lies within them; for that reason alone we're probably all still breathing. But this does not erase the fact that the artifice of law is too often used to free the guilty. In the 21st century, we regard the lawyer 'smart' who can accomplish such a task, even though we simultaneously experience outrage that it actually happened.

Returning to the "hygiene defense," I have but one question for Rominger:

How much do you think it would cost for you to buy back your soul?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Blizzard's Worlds of DRMcraft - A Manifesto

Note - inflexible console gamers: you're already hopelessly addicted to your electronic kiddie crack, so you can skip this entire essay.

Blizzard Entertainment: a living legend in terms of game creation. The major releases being several highly successful game series - Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft. These three include the World of Warcraft (or WoW for short) massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), the most successful subscriber-driven online game ever.

I've played and enjoyed Diablo and Diablo II, the original Starcraft and its expansion called Broodwar, and Warcraft III and its expansion as well. But due to Blizzard's insistence in the last few years to include unreasonable DRM (Digital Rights Management) schemes with their games, I have lost interest in playing their more recent releases. As long as they insist on DRM, I will continue to skip them at the checkout counter, no matter how "awesome" the game appears to be.

Here's an accurate and amusing video on YouTube that cleverly illustrates the wrongheaded approach that Blizzard now uses, specifically (in this case) their decision to not include LAN play in Starcraft II:

The "Real" Reason Why There Is No Starcraft 2 LAN Play

The argument over basic freedoms as a consumer has turned into a tiresome flame war in the Internet, with the majority of the combatants taking my side... and for good reason.

I love PC games. That's right, I said I love PC games. I love them so much, I collect them and cherish them. Regardless of endless EULAs (End User License Agreements) that keep shoving legal vomit down my throat that says the disk in my hand means nothing in terms of ownership, I still love and collect these disks and the boxes they came in. I consider the best ones as works of art.

I also love to play games on a PC because basically... well... playing games on a console just makes me feel like a lazy chump. That's right, a lazy chump, when I think about the lack of total backwards compatibility coupled with non-stop forced upgrades, the severe limitations of the format as compared to PC gaming, inferior graphics, and the insulting marketing analysis that indicates I'd rather use a console because I'm too feeble to figure out something as basic as game, patch and driver installation.

But this essay isn't about PC versus console gaming. This is about Blizzard's (and other companies') dangerous fascination with pissing off their once loyal customers. So back to it...

My love of PC games means I purchase and retain the original disks, manuals and boxes. I am not a thief. I do not download games for free; I do not install games I haven't paid for. I think referring to those particular kinds of thieves as "pirates" is deliberately deceptive hyperbole, but that's a whole different discussion.

I used to join in the aforementioned Internet argument about DRM and throw down with any slack jawed ding-dong who thought DRM was a harmless bump in an otherwise smooth autobahn of gaming joy. But I no longer bother with that waste of my time, as I eventually had an epiphany, which I will now share.

I would like to urge PC gamers out there to do as I have done:

Refuse to buy any new games that contain DRM greater than an initial online activation or perhaps a CD key serial number.

Does this make me stubborn? I suppose it does if you actually believe you can't live without playing the latest game from Blizzard, or any other DRM-crazed company. But the bottom line is the bottom line: if you speak with your wallet, the game companies will listen, plain and simple.

I could suggest that the more angry of you out there should deliberately download the cracked DRM-spoiled games for free from say, a site called Pirate Bay... but no... I will take the high road and not encourage anyone toward "illegal" activities.

How am I able to ward off the compulsion to give in and buy a new game and put up with its annoying, insulting and ultimately ineffective DRM?

Because there are thousands of DRM-free games to play on a PC. Within that group, there are hundreds of A-list titles that can keep you in gaming bliss for years! Most of these games are still available for purchase, and believe me, years after launch, the prices can't get any better! Imagine paying five dollars for a game instead of fifty or sixty.

This is not exaggeration; it is easily verifiable fact. Click the following link for only one example out of many:

This site sells over 300 high quality, DRM free older games, most for $5.99.

Combine that fact with another fact: how much free time do you really have to play video games? If you took a moment to honestly add up the time you devote to PC gaming, you will come up with an approximate number that can easily be addressed by only a handful of the hundreds of existing top-rated games I mentioned previously.

Don't be a sheep! Instead be a thinking, reasonable, wise person as much as it lies within you. Don't reward companies that treat their loyal customers like potential thieves, while the actual thieves download the cracked games for free and laugh themselves silly at all the money and time that publishers waste on trying to show the crackers who is boss.

Wake up, Blizzard, et al: the crackers own your DRM posteriors, and always will. Grow a pair of sensible spheres and treat your legitimate customers with the proper respect.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keeping his DRM head in the sand

I have been a fan and subscriber of Maximum PC magazine for many years now. So long, in fact, I recall when "Thomas McDonald" was "T. Liam McDonald."

I've noticed that in recent times I enjoy McDonald's column less and less. There is a certain fanatical ethos that surrounds a magazine specifically designed for diehard PC enthusiasts, and Mr. McDonald appears to have lost it somewhere. Perhaps my perception is clouded, and McDonald never actually had it, I don't know. I may be mistaken, but when a columnist feels it necessary to waste his or her entire monthly contribution attempting to expose and ridicule reader complaints, I'd say it could be a sign that his tenure at the magazine is growing tenuous.

The column in question is in the Maximum PC "Holiday 2011" issue. McDonald's decision to make light of Maximum PC readers' angry letters regarding his November column entitled "The Diablo Is In The Details" was not the wisest of choices. Who knows, perhaps he has secretly wanted out of his obligation to Maximum PC, and figures a mob of keyboard tappers with torches will get the job done for him.

The nitpicker in me will dutifully point out that he's become so sloppy with his journalism, he can't even be bothered to reference the correct magazine issue. His holiday issue column states in the very first sentence that his Diablo III DRM commentary was from the December issue instead of the actual November issue. Petty detail yes; just one more indicator of his apathy, also yes.

Petty details aside, Mr. McDonald does not have the best interests of his readers in mind anymore, if he ever has. No one concerned about major issues such as Right and Wrong in regard to how software companies treat their paying customers would have been so flippant regarding Blizzard's (and other companies') decision to require a constant online connection for the upcoming Diablo III. Multiplayer? Of course that is necessary. Singleplayer? Completely unreasonable and wrongheaded.

Witness currently successful companies like 2D Boy and Stardock, who have won the hearts and wallets of millions with no DRM at all. In life, theft is unavoidable; it is merely a percentages game, since individual and collective human nature dictates that there will always be those who feel entitled to something for which they haven't paid.

I don't want this essay to go on too long, so I won't be individually attacking all of McDonald's ridiculous statements defending DRM, such as the "millions" of dollars publishers spend on their "loss-prevention schemes." How much code was actually necessary to require a constant online connection? Even the most expensive network programming contractors wouldn't charge anywhere near that amount to get the job done.

The ugly wake up call that many publishers seem oblivious to: DRM of this nature is not successful. It does not stop those who wish to play the game without paying for it! The long history of quickly cracked DRM is unblemished. So why expend so much effort including something in your game that will annoy your paying customers and ultimately not affect the thieves at all?


The DRM-crazy publishers all live under the arrogant delusion that they can find a way to permanently thwart the crackers, and end theft of digital "property." Based on the structure of digital information, this is impossible. Unfortunately, some people who make important decisions still haven't learned this simple truth.

I do agree with one particular comment by McDonald (despite the sarcasm included in his version): if the DRM pisses you off, then don't buy Diablo III. Excellent advice I plan on following, despite my love of Diablo and Diablo II.

Am I missing out? Not really. There are so many great games to play out there, I won't even think about Diablo III, and I'm sure the invincible Blizzard won't miss my money either.

I'm also sure that Runic Games, the makers of the superb Torchlight series, will enjoy receiving my money. They treat me with the simple respect any paying customer deserves.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beware The Motley Fool's advice

While checking my local weather forecast this evening, I found the following text advertisement from The Motley Fool financial investment web site:

Okay. Aside from the obvious advance of technology, which dictates a high probability that some day personal computers as we know and use them today will no longer be the standard... we are nowhere near that day.

There are many reasons why these tired pronouncements of PC death are foolish; most obviously, these so-called PC-killers are really just PCs with different window dressing, as they contain the same technology our PCs already contain, albeit with much less power and adaptability. iPhones, HTCs, Blackberries, tablets, etc... they're all just comparatively weak and specialized PCs. So the notion of PCs permanently replacing PCs is a bit silly.

After actually laughing out loud at this latest croaking of impending doom, I then had some quick thoughts.

Yes, this was merely an advertisement for The Motley Fool, and as is so typical of marketing agency hyperbole, it shouldn't be consumed as fact. Yes, this was just one more prognostication of death for the PC, which has become a popular techno-legend, much like the previous propaganda about "the cloud" usurping PCs with billions of dumb, Internet-reliant terminals. There is no statistical evidence backing these proclamations in terms of dropping PC sales; the real reason we are occasionally treated to this poppycock is because some upstart company is trying to generate investor capital.

More significantly, beyond those observations, what became quite clear to me was this:

If this advertisement's message is what passes as wisdom from The Motley Fool web site, I won't ever be utilizing their financial advice, unless I wish to be a motley fool with empty pockets.

Friday, November 18, 2011

"The X Factor USA": petty and revealing censorship

I encountered something revealing on the following page:

If any of you read the blog essay just prior to this one, it is the same link to the same excerpt of "The X Factor USA." It's the episode segment where Simon Cowell calls "Astro" on his arrogant attitude.

What I found fascinating was that I left a simple comment thus:

"Astro" is not an a**hole; he's a symbol of the 21st century.

Now, I realize this isn't a glowing praise of the fourteen-year-old rapper, but it is far from anything near as caustic as many of the vulgar and rude comments being left by others, many of which contain the f-bomb. Many of the comments are disgustingly and unabashedly racist. My comment was actually a reaction to someone calling "Astro" an a**hole.

"mariana5791" another YouTube user, left the following comment before TheXFactorUSA deleted mine:

@spongefreddie i dont wanna live in the 21st century then... (HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT)

So I have to ask: Why bother to remove my comparatively tame comment?

I can only speculate on the why, as I have no access to the individual who clicked the 'remove' button on behalf of The X Factor USA (it's their YouTube channel).

As I don't want to get too wild with my suppositions, I'll simply observe that the decision to delete my comment was most likely based on anger, and that anger motivated by fear.

Fear of what, you ask?

Truth can be a lot more unsettling than cynical sarcasm and ignorant vulgarity.

"Astro's" Defining Moment

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."

I just happened upon an excerpt from a television show called "X Factor," which consisted of Simon Cowell (one of the judges) sternly reprimanding an arrogant fourteen-year-old rapper who calls himself "Astro."

Here is a link to the full incident (The excerpt in question begins around 2:50):

[Note: the video was made private sometime after this essay was published. "Private" is often YouTube-speak for removal under duress. Astro most likely complained, thinking his digital embarrassment would be removed forever. Like Tom Green in other posts in this blog, Astro was wrong. You can now see it here (this time starting at 3:10:

First off, other than viewing the clip, I don't watch the show, neither do I have any interest to start. Secondly, I'm not particularly interested in whether or not "Astro" deserved to escape elimination versus a forty-two-year-old woman. Thirdly, at this point I'm not going to expend any time with the perpetual argument between those who think 'rapping' is singing, and those who do not.

What I am going to point out is that on a very small scale, this televised incident, and the burp of controversy that erupted among some anonymous and angry Internet troglodytes, have both effectively demonstrated a problem that is becoming more and more evident in the 21st century: the negative results of hyperactive subjectivity.

I would lean toward arguing that "Astro" is merely emulating the idols he's grown up with... 'stars' who similarly have fooled themselves into thinking subjective opinion is all that matters. In a philosophical sense, this can be correct; however if a person is at all paying attention to cause and effect as it plays out around them, then they will observe that this way of viewing the world is ultimately wrong due to inevitably destructive effects.

Five years from now, very few will care much about the X Factor incident. "Astro" will most likely become a big 'star' with legions of human beings endlessly reassuring him via electronic blubbering and record sales that his every word and action is a gift from heaven.

Thus, the delusion is enforced, time and time again:

If we believe it, it must be true.

That works just swell... until someone comes along with a bone to pick with the human race and decides to take matters into his or her own hands.

There's a difference between the two? Yes, but only in magnitude of the destructive effect, not in the core reason the arrogance is wrong in the first place.

Read the first sentence of this essay again.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Capitulation, Netflix Style

Reed Hastings released this blog entry to the world on October 10th:

This much shorter, less apologetic post gets right to the point. Qwikster has been abandoned.

This was a good decision, of course, so trying to put a negative spin on it is pointless.

The one thing I am moved to say is that I hope Netflix's exorbitant price hike in July has sufficiently offset their resultant poor stock performance, otherwise how will all of us millions of slavish subscribers be able to keep Hastings living in the manner he is accustomed?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Netflix Downward Spiral

The mighty may still fall; even in 2011.

If you tried to access the Netflix web site last night, for about three hours you encountered a static page displaying a total of 264 streaming movies from 11 different categories. Now, 264 movies may seem like a lot, but compared to the entire Netflix catalogue, it's a very small fraction.

It didn't matter if you tried to access the home page or the member sign-in page, or any other page. All that was available was the one static page with 264 streaming movies. No queue, no settings, no nothing. At the top of the page was the following terse, non-explanatory message:

"We're currently experiencing a technical issue."

Below that was a bit longer subtext, that read, "While we get things back to normal, some features aren't available - but you can play select titles on this page."

Interesting. While this could be the result of any of a number of possibilities, I would like to suggest three that immediately stood out to me.

Possibility Number One
(the most plausible to me)
This is merely the beginning of sorrows for Netflix customers, as Netflix attempts to permanently separate the DVD rental and streaming service into two different online entities. Oh yes, there will be more outages as they bumble their way toward their goal of justification for charging customers nearly twice as much as they did previously. One possible future 'apology': "Sorry, we have to alter rates as we see fit; we're dealing with two different companies now."

Possibility Number Two
The technical difficulty isn't technical at all, but merely an annoying way to temporarily gauge what people will be willing to stream in to their entertainment screens on a Saturday night. This may be the night many people like to hit the town, but it's also the night many more people like to curl up with a movie on the couch. The value of pulling such a stunt would be in examining on a small scale how users will react to less selection, such as when Starz pulls out permanently in February 2012.

For those who have their own DVDs, or use RedBox, Blockbuster, or Netflix for their DVD rentals, the temporary inaccessibility of the Netflix user account interface is a minor issue.

But for those who have elected to go with streaming only, and who don't use any other service, such as Hulu Plus, having such a limited access to streaming content is quite irritating. Especially on the heels of rate hikes and the company-spawning prestidigitation that was sold to customers as unavoidable.

If this is what happened (and I actually doubt that it was), then Netflix has dug themselves even further into a hole that they already may not be able to crawl out of, in terms of customer opinion.

Now, on to what I'm hoping actually happened, whether or not I am correct.

Possibility Number Three
Quite simply stated, Netflix pissed off the wrong people with their greedy antics.

The wrong people: those with the savvy to wage an attack on public or private Internet servers, with the intentions of doing anything from minor mischief to completely corrupting the data of the entire legion of cloud-connected networked computers managed by Netflix.

Any company the size of Netflix surely has almost equally savvy individuals who constantly monitor server activity and design plans that allow for data recovery in the worst of scenarios. That's what data redundancy is all about, especially backing up data to off site locations. In the networked digital world, only a fool maintains no backup of his or her company's data.

So what I propose happened is that the entire Netflix online 'empire' was compromised and corrupted to enough of a degree that emergency measures were activated by Netflix to temporarily point their IP address to a server cluster not on their normal network. A server cluster capable of streaming 264 movies until data is restored and the point of entry is discovered and patched.

So there you have it. I could easily be wrong about all three proposals, but the romantic part of me, the part that cheers for the underdog who battles against the greedy monarch who devirginizes the brides of peasants on their wedding nights... that part of me wants to think that a handful of highly irritated and highly talented individuals decided to send Netflix a message:

You are not invincible, and your decisions do have consequences, both good and bad.

Monday, September 19, 2011

CEO doublespeak, courtesy of Netflix

On Sunday, September 18, 2011, Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix decided to post a blog entry in an effort at damage control. Somehow a person who has created an extremely successful DVD rental empire has supposedly overlooked the possibility that effectively doubling rates could possibly make his customers angry.

The original post is here:

As I've grown weary of endless spin from those in power, I've decided to provide a translation for any who may be interested. What follows is the text of Hastings's blog entry in italics, with my paraphrasing afterward in bold text:

I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.
I messed up. I'm going to give you an explanation that justifies my greed as CEO of Netflix.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I'll try to explain how this happened.
We've pissed off too many customers since announcing our rate hikes, so I'm doing the standard customer-service apology as damage control.

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something - like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores - do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.
My greatest fear is the loss of our virtual monopoly on rented home video entertainment, now that Starz is pulling out. Here's two examples of failures of once-successful companies to arouse sympathy. Please understand that because Starz is taking away about one thousand movies from our service, I need to get ahead of the game and charge you more money to make up for projected losses.

When Netflix is evolving rapidly, however, I need to be extra-communicative. This is the key thing I got wrong.
When Netflix is altering price structures to produce more revenue, I need to spend more time apologizing and giving simulated heartfelt explanations if I want to keep people from transplanting my money tree.

In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success. We have done very well for a long time by steadily improving our service, without doing much CEO communication. Inside Netflix I say, "Actions speak louder than words," and we should just keep improving our service.
In hindsight, I should have paid Starz what they wanted.

But now I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn't have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.
But now that I see how a significant portion of my user base is pissed off and close to either scaling down or canceling, I realize I should have started my spin sooner, and the rate hikes more gradually. I'm still going to insure my personal wealth, no matter how much you don't like it, so I've decided to make it sound like the real offense is a lack of communication. That way my feigned humility is validated and hopefully you'll be less angry about being charged too much, since now I'm so willing to have a fireside chat with you.

So here is what we are doing and why:
Here is what we're doing, and what I want you to think is the reason why:

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD, plus lots of TV series. We want to advertise the breadth of our incredible DVD offering so that as many people as possible know it still exists, and it is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection on DVD. DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.
Here's a list of things you love about our DVD service, to get you thinking about how great we have treated you in the past, and hopefully lessen the sting of how we're treating you now.

I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We feel we need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolve, without having to maintain compatibility with our DVD by mail service.
We can't currently offer all our DVDs as streaming selections, and I want you to think that's the reason why I'm charging you more. I feel the need to tell you about our evolving market, because somehow that's supposed to explain why having more DVDs than streaming content justifies the rate increase.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It's hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to "Qwikster".
We are splitting our services into two different entities, because later on we can raise rates as we see fit, without the customer making inconvenient connections in their heads about the disparity between the two pricing models.

We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name "Netflix" for streaming.
We chose the name Qwikster because it rhymes with 'trickster.' We will keep the name Netflix for streaming because if it goes under, we can more quickly disassociate ourselves from our past mistakes with a different name for our original service, and our stockholders can't completely dismantle our money machine.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, and now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. Another advantage of separate websites is simplicity for our members. Each website will be focused on just one thing (DVDs or streaming) and will be even easier to use. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn't show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.
I'm finally going to provide a much-requested video game rental service, for more money of course, which I like to call an 'upgrade.' DVD by mail has always had its own team, but since we added streaming, we've had to hire more people, so we're going to charge you more. We're doing separate websites for DVDs and streaming, and I'm telling you that it's for simplicity, while I simultaneously inform you that you will have to double your efforts sometimes.

There are no pricing changes (we're done with that!). Members who subscribe to both services will have two entries on their credit card statements, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as the current charges.
There will be no more pricing changes until we decide to buy another yacht or summer estate.

Andy Rendich, who has been working on our DVD service for 12 years, and leading it for the last 4 years, will be the CEO of Qwikster. Andy and I made a short welcome video. (You'll probably say we should avoid going into movie making after watching it.) We will let you know in a few weeks when the website is up and ready. It is merely a renamed version of the Netflix DVD website, but with the addition of video games. You won't have to do anything special if you subscribe to our DVD by mail service.
I want to create an additional CEO for the company, with commensurate pay, and you need to help shoulder the cost.

For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that distinctive red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be the same for many of you. We'll also return to marketing our DVD by mail service, with its amazing selection, now with the Qwikster brand.
For me, the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of cash in my pocket. I want you to think I have a sentimental attachment to the Netflix logo, so that you won't notice how raw I've rubbed my hands in anticipation of increased revenues.

Some members will likely feel that we shouldn't split the businesses, and that we shouldn't rename our DVD by mail service. Our view is with this split of the businesses, we will be better at streaming, and we will be better at DVD by mail. It is possible we are moving too fast - it is hard to say. But going forward, Qwikster will continue to run the best DVD by mail service ever, throughout the United States. Netflix will offer the best streaming service for TV shows and movies, hopefully on a global basis. The additional streaming content we have coming in the next few months is substantial, and we are always working to improve our service further.
A huge portion of our members are very unhappy about these recent developments, but we're going to continue with them anyway. We want you to think that creating an additional business, which requires more staffing, compensation, etc., will not only make us better at streaming, but also better at DVD by mail... even though historically speaking, our previous attention to that service is why we're driving sports cars in the first place. We will be the best because we say so, and all the additional money we rake in from global streaming will make us very happy that we raised your rates.

I want to acknowledge and thank our many members that stuck with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.
I want to thank all my customers who would rather pony up the extra dough than simply take a moment and look elsewhere, like Blockbuster or Hulu Plus. I want to pretend to apologize again, with no intention of fixing the problem. I also want to phrase my apology so that I don't actually admit that I treated my customers thoughtlessly.

Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.
Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to produce me revenue. As far as your trust... as long as you enjoy sitting around and watching movies and recorded televsion shows, and we make it as easy as possible for you to do so, your trust doesn't matter. You'll still pay us and keep me rich.

Respectfully yours, -Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix
Deal with it, -Reed Hastings, Video Pimp Daddy

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Netflix-Starz Reminder

Netflix and Starz have decided to end their partnership in bringing us, the viewers and subscribers, collective content for us to enjoy. Currently as of the writing of this essay, the partnership is projected to end on February 28, 2012. This means that approximately one thousand movies will no longer be available via Netflix. To view a few more details, go here:

and here:

While this is a small matter in the scheme of things for most people, it is disturbing for the same reason so many other events and situations are disturbing: greed.

Starz wants more money for the streaming content it provides Netflix, and Netflix doesn't want to pay that much. That's the whole issue in a nutshell.

Perhaps you don't care about this development in streaming content. I use Netflix streaming, and I'm not even all that upset about it. I view it as just another inconvenience foisted upon me by the 'powers that be.'

But what does make you angry?

The price of gas? The price of food? The price of basic utilities and other necessities? The unjustifiably extravagant lives of CEO's, movie stars and professional athletes? Identity theft? Robbery? Rape? Murder? War?

Do the harshest of these things compare to a financial dispute between two business entities, in terms of how it affects us?


Does the Netflix/Starz dispute remind us how little we actually matter in the decisions made by the powers that be?


Despite our feel-good mantras and delusions, human beings are ineffective when it comes to proving to the universe that many of our most shining examples of successful people are more worthy than spiders; creatures that cunningly spin webs and drain hapless victims dry.

Follow the money.

Watching a Starz movie on Netflix at midnight on February 28, 2012 is very much like watching our own world develop year after year:

Because of the decisions of the few, that we didn't make but still condone, it will end unsatisfactorily mid-stream, with no proper resolution.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Compass, Will Travel

Somehow I ended up vortex-clicking some Dear Abby archives, and came upon this article:

Dear Abby: "Dear Abby: Aunt worries about sexually active niece"

Now... this is the 21st century, of course. Thanks to decades of pop culture and social engineering, sex has no mystery or sacred status any longer, and has been banished to the unceremonious bucket of human endeavor, along with eating, sleeping and using the toilet. Thus, the currently politically incorrect word 'morality' has all but vanished from conversation regarding sexual matters.

So why is it still disturbing when one reads about a mother who's actually proud of her fourteen-year-old daughter's fellatio skills and frequency?

Somewhere between our incessant defiance against any perceived roadblocks to our personal freedoms, and the undesirable former system of leeching and witch-burning, you'd think there could be some sort of agreeable, common sense middle-ground for everyone.

Interestingly, despite our 'enlightened' efforts toward removing judgement from many of life's perplexities of character, a person such as the mother in the article still causes the average adult to clench teeth and shake head in disgust. This is a direct result of an easily identifiable deviation from a universally understood moral compass.

Perhaps, as a sentient and sports-stadium-building species, we will one day 'evolve' or mature to the point where we no longer attempt to ignore the sometimes ugly truths about ourselves by sticking our middle fingers in the air and declaring:

"Who the f*** are you? You don't know me!"

We don't need to know you; your behavior speaks for itself.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Steve Jobs is no genius

On August 29th, 2011, the New York Times published an article by Andrew Ross Sorkin, which tentatively points out that Steve Jobs, billionaire, is not much given to public charity. If Jobs wants to shun donations to charitable organizations on a personal and professional level, that's his business, and I'm not interested in judging that behavior. Here is the link to the original article:

However, Sorkin proclaims at the onset of the article that Steve Jobs is a genius.

Genius is a word too often ascribed to individuals based on our admiration of them, instead of being based on empirical evidence. Empirical evidence being the ability to do extraordinary mental feats, often with no preparation or extended time to perform them.

There actually are people on this planet who can, for example, perform mathematical magic like the main character in the movie "Good Will Hunting." These are the true geniuses in the world. They are people like Steve Wozniak, who conceived, designed and built the first Apple computer. This was an exceptional accomplishment, especially at the time in history that he did it.

Steve Wozniak is a genius. Steve Jobs is not.

Jobs has many admirers. I may have counted myself among them, had I been born earlier, and also if I had remained ignorant of the horrible way he's treated people, including his own daughter in her formative years, and his own loyal employees.

Sure, you can point out that geniuses aren't always nice people. That's beside the point. Here are some honest ways to summarize Jobs's different hats:

Technological innovator (of electronic crack), hippie generation demagogue, and intrepid salesman (master manipulator of the cash cows known as Apple customers).

He has, through the cult of personality, brought Apple back from the brink of disaster and generated much revenue for the company and himself. These are impressive accomplishments, but they don't necessarily qualify for the title genius.

A mistaken idea that has trickled down from the one percent of the wealthy to the person-on-the-street is: if you get paid more, you're smarter. If you've achieved considerable material success in the world, you are regaled with all sorts of knee-jerk descriptions, such as genius, visionary, brilliant, etc.

Certainly, it takes more than a 75 I.Q. to amass great wealth. But seriously... is it sheer intelligence that is required, or the cunning of a sociopath?

I see Jobs as he is: a clever human being who, by one part vision, one part serendipity and one part opportunism, managed to carve himself a place in the history of computing. His part was significant, but hardly worthy of the title genius.

If you look in the dictionary for the word 'genius,' you will see a picture of Linus Torvalds or John Carmack before you will ever see Steve Jobs.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our King's Disguise

"Pieces of Eight" is a song written by Dennis DeYoung, and recorded by the band Styx, of which DeYoung was once a member. The song itself was on the album of the same name, released in 1978.

Here is a link to the words of the song, from a lyric site that will spare you the obnoxious popup ads that most of them subject web surfers to:

Written many years ago, the words of the song seem out of date. The lyrical format is classic seventies rock, but rather than an excuse for sub-par quality, that particular distinction is a label worthy of praise. The ethos of the time may have included the often-cited sex-and-drugs excess we've all been taught to associate with the 1970's, but in comparison, the song lyrics of today tend to lean too much toward the shallow and jaded.

What are the words of the song speaking about? Basically, they're addressing the materialistic path we've taken as a society (western civilization in general, I would assume). DeYoung's experience is as an American who has visited abroad enough to appreciate the different ways people view money and material possessions.

The fact that DeYoung was extremely successful and became wealthy by virtue of his career with Styx, is easier to put aside, when one ponders the general stance of most of his lyrics. He would have written the same words for his songs, regardless of material success... to call him to the carpet because he sings of the evils of greed is not hypocritical. There's a huge difference between an artist who makes good, and a CEO who manipulates the retirement funds of his hapless employees.

Back to the song.

It's possible that some who have listened to the song may have missed the most important line in it. The line is, "I'm just a prisoner in a king's disguise."

While most of the song deals with someone's literal workaday events and somber ruminations regarding the absurdities of our materialistic 'rat-race,' the line I quoted pretty much sums up the crux of the problem DeYoung addresses in the song:

We think we're conquering the world with every additional crown of acquisition and fleshly achievement, but in fact, the more we devote ourselves to such materialistic and shallow pursuits, the darker the spiritual cell we're incarcerated in becomes.

We've spent so much time deceiving ourselves with our "king's disguise," we've arrived at a place in our hearts and minds where spirituality has acquired a reputation as a worthless philosophical crutch of the weak and foolish.

How else could you explain so much justified greed and theft? We think no one is watching our hands dip into someone else's cookie jar, and modern wisdom dictates that if we're not caught stealing, we're the smart ones. There's no answer to that prepossession, other than to continue attempting to 'do the right thing,' and suffer the laughter that ensues.

Why are aspects of the world so dark? Stop pointing fingers and look in the mirror.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Typical Misdirection

My wife sent me an article from her favorite online newspaper, the New York Times. The August 25th, 2011, article was entitled, "Dr. King Weeps From His Grave." It was an op-ed contributed by Cornel West, and she (my wife) relayed to me a passage from Herman Melville that West quoted.

Here's a link to the original op-ed:

I read the article, and immediately emailed my wife the following:

I agreed with the majority of what the writer was saying, but even in his mostly accurate appraisal of our "sick society," there is interpretative propaganda sprinkled throughout:

"... a morally bankrupt policy of ... lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned"

"Arbitrary uses of the law - in the name of the "war" on drugs - have produced ... a new Jim Crow of mass incarceration."

"... right-wing populists ... seize the moment with credible claims about government corruption ... This right-wing threat is a catastrophic response to King's four catastrophes; its agenda would lead to hellish conditions for most Americans."

"As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty" and "... this means support for progressive politicians like Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Mark Ridley-Thomas"

Let's see what Wikipedia says about each of these three people:

"Tavis Smiley is a ... liberal political commentator"

"Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist".

"Ridley-Thomas has been criticized ... for his proposal and personal defense of plans to remodel his office through the spending of $707,000 in discretionary funds. "

Last, but certainly not least, is Wikipedia's report on Cornel West (the author of the op-ed) himself:

"Cornel Ronald West ... is ... [a] prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America."

So, in conclusion, "Dr. King Weeps From His Grave" is just another example of legitimate emotional appeals delivered for the more furtive purpose of hidden agenda promotion via misdirection.

I highlighted the snippets to make the specific point that propaganda is often best delivered under the guise of appealing to the average individual's anger about identifiable injustice. In this way, an illogical connection can seem logical; especially to a reader who shares Mr. West's political sensibilities.

However, I would like to state officially for the record that this kind of clever misdirection is perpetrated by all political squawking heads, be they liberal socialists, like Cornel West, or the right-wing populists whose "catastrophic responses" West attempts to steer us away from.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DRM analogy

I've concocted a simple analogy for all those DRM cheerleaders out there in the web-o-sphere, who can't see the forest for the trees.

Let's suppose there is a car manufacturer out there (we'll choose GMC, due to their incredible track record of inane company decisions). Now let's suppose that GMC decided to release all their pending new car models with a special kind of theft security, called DRM (instead of Digital Rights Management, we'll use Richard Stallman's interpretation, and call it Digital Restrictions Management).

This DRM is a computerized form of theft control that is installed in the automobile's electronic assembly, in such a way that trying to defeat it or remove it only results in the car being unable to run. It works by using wireless network communication between it and either satellites or cell phone towers, whichever are more available. As long as the online server successfully "handshakes" with your little electronic chip, all is well.

This DRM is marketed as the safest, most effective, and most "non-invasive" DRM you can have installed in a car. You don't have to worry about key fobs or any other hardware, you simply have to speak a quick code-word into a voice-recognition module mounted on the dashboard.

Now comes the good part, for all you ding dongs who still view DRM as tolerable...

One fine day, you go out to use your car. It really doesn't matter what you're using it for in this analogy, just that it's pretty important to you that you get in and go.

You get in, press the button to start the car, speak the code word...

...and nothing happens.

Now, it doesn't matter to you how easy and invisible the DRM is purported to be, all you know is you just want the car to start and take you where you want to go. Thus you're not entirely thrilled about the spider web of online FAQs, forums and community support pages you must navigate through on the dashboard display in order to troubleshoot the problem.

In this sort of situation, there is no contingency plan X, Y or even Z for starting the car. It doesn't matter to the company who designed the DRM, or the company that bought and implemented the DRM (in this simulated case, GMC) that it may be very important for you to drive your car right now. At one point, you find a page that informs you to call a cab, the police, fire department or an ambulance if you absolutely must go somewhere and the car refuses to respond.

As you endlessly tap at the dash buttons, trying to find an answer to this dilemma, your anger builds as the ugly truth presents itself:

  • You paid thousands of dollars for this car, and should not have to play help-desk bingo just to use it.
  • You begin to realize that although you paid for the car in full, and it sits in your driveway, and you pay for all its gas, insurance and upkeep, you don't actually own it.
  • You start to hate the company that created this car, because you realize they're only in the business of creating users instead of owners. You're like a cow that's being milked with the illusion that your stall is the entire world, or better yet, a hapless drug addict who keeps the drug dealers living in palatial mansions.

So my question to you, reader, is this:

Even though the DRM car is new and looks "really cool", just how long do you think a car company like that would stay in business, when car companies B, C and D still use "archaic technology" like a metal key to start the car?


Not very long.

So why would you embrace equivalent DRM technologies in your software?

Still not okay...

As I am the sort of "computer person" who isn't known for giving up, I finally discovered the so-called problem with Steam. I needed to temporarily turn off my anti-virus (only for the tiny update, not for any other network communication between my computer and Steam), which isn't that hard to understand, but it is inappropriate, when faced with the fact that I never had to do this before, through many previous logins and updates from Steam in the past.

As Duke Nukem Forever loaded, and I played for a few minutes to verify its stability, I felt that particular sort of relief that washes over you when you solve an aggravating computer-related issue.

However, a moment later, I again frowned about the process, and the original point I was making, which is still just as valid:

Being at the mercy of a 3rd party, when all I want to do is play the game that was legally payed for, is disturbing, annoying... and just plain wrong.

It truly drives home the message that so many EULAs (End User License Agreement) relish trumpeting (paraphrase provided):

"This game (software) is not owned by you, even though you paid full price to a retailer and hold the disk in your hand. It is merely on loan to you, and if we decide you no longer have a right to access the content, we can revoke that right immediately and permanently."

Hey, game publishers: way to show respect to the people who make it possible for you to continue creating software for a living! It's not like the game publishers' controlling behavior is motivated by something selfish and loathsome, right? All hail the mantra of the corporate vultures disguised as 21st century game publishers:

"The bottom line is all that matters."

The Evil That Steam Does

After spending two hours post midnight fighting Steam's own little brand of draconian DRM, I went to bed. Later the same day (today) when I woke up, I figured, hey, it's sunny outside... perhaps Steam just had some temporary problems with their network. I'll give it another go.

Long story short, it was another bust. Kept getting the same messages, etc. So, in utter frustration and resignation, I uninstalled Steam, thinking that perhaps a clean installation would end these problems.

Wrong-o, my friends.

I had four legally purchased games installed on my computer: Duke Nukem Forever (DNF), Left 4 Dead 2, Counter-Strike: Source and Counter-Strike: Source Beta. DNF alone takes over six gigabytes of space. Not to mention all the Orange Box games, which I previously installed (again, retail disks) but hadn't played in a long time.

Guess what? When you uninstall Steam (an online verification system), you also uninstall EVERYTHING else that goes with it. This means if you have an intractable problem, such as the problem I was having, and you decide to uninstall Steam, you are penalized for this decision by losing all the data on your own computer that pertains to the games that you are forced to use Steam in order to play.

Furthermore, to make matters more insidious, when I performed the re-installation of Steam (which of course magically experienced none of the previous "network" problems), I am greeted by the ugly reality that I must re-download ALL of the games I had already installed, configured and was successfully playing before all this crap began.

Doesn't anyone else out there see the problem here? Two of these games were bought as retail disks, installed as such, connected to Steam to verify their authenticity, and were played for X hours apiece. Then, because of some unexpected error by Steam's own software, I am forced to re-install them.

How can any customer have confidence that this will not happen again and again?

One of the most disturbing aspects of this debacle is that when I reinstalled Steam, I had to enter a special code, which was sent to my email address. This code was necessary, I am told, because I'm trying to use my account an a different computer. This happened not once, but twice!

This is the same computer I've been using the entire time! No new parts, no new network configurations, nada.

Clearly, I am suffering the consequences of Steam's mistake: they have overshot their own ability to provide proper service, because they have simply grown too large for their resources to successfully address all the myriad problems their service has eventually produced.

I ask you: is it "good and right" that an online company, which can fail not only by network problems at their end, but also by their own poorly planned software, be allowed to decide that I can't play a game on my own computer, that I installed on my own computer, and that I legally purchased from a retail outlet?

Every one of you game publishers who have granted Steam so much power, have no right to complain when it continues to generate unhappy customers. And if your bottom line is good enough for you to not be concerned, then shame on you.

The Evil That Game Publishers Do

I just spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with Steam, in order just to play Duke Nukem Forever (DNF). I'm not talking multiplayer, I'm talking singleplayer.

I've heard both sides of the online verification argument. Yes, it's less "invasive" than some of the highly questionable DRM's (Digital "Rights" Management) such as Securom and StarForce, and when all you need is a single online activation (such as with a Windows OS), this sort of DRM doesn't seem all that bad.

However, the wisdom of forcing paying customers to put up with the unreasonable requirement of having to verify online every single time you want to play is also highly questionable.

Steam offers many "features." Some of these are somewhat fun, such as having a gaming friends list and being able to chat with said friends. But let's not be under any illusions here. All the content Steam offers is worth nothing if the game you purchased can't even be played.

Yes, this evening, I had some time set aside, and all I wanted to do was play DNF. Was it a wise decision for 2K and Gearbox to rely on Steam for their copy protection scheme? I think not, as witnessed by tonight's ultimately squashed attempts by me to play the game.

First, I was informed by Steam popup windows that DNF wasn't currently "available" when I attempted to start the game from an icon on my computer, that is linked to a legally purchased game that is installed on my computer. I then went on an odyssey of searching Steam forums for advice to get the game to work.

The next of many less-than-welcome messages:

"Incomplete installation of Duke Nukem Forever (55)"

I'm told by Steam's "support" page that:

"This issue can also occur on computers with Avast installed. You will need to configure Avast to ignore Steam itself and all Steam game files. Some users have had to uninstall Avast to resolve the issue."

No dice on this one, sorry. So they happen to include their secondary option, which is probably the most common:

"This may also indicate a Steam Service failure. Please try enabling the Steam Service:"

The steps to enable the Steam service are of course not applicable, because all attempts were failures (I have a professional IT background, so it's not likely user error; typing commands in the Run box are not exactly rocket science).

This led to several things, like trying to update the game, verifying integrity of game cache, updating again (this time automatically, with no help from me), then more than one reboot of Steam. After doing these things, upon a reboot of Steam, I get another popup window (normally reserved for their annoying and endless sales pitches for other games I have zero interest in), but this one informs me that DNF is now officially updated.

But, like the rest of this sad joke on me, and everyone else who legally purchased DNF, when I attempted to start it again, I get a popup that tells me:

"Preparing to launch Duke Nukem Forever..."

Then it freezes permanently at the following progress report:

"Completing installation ... 1%"

After two hours of this needless nonsense, and the feeling that I've been robbed somehow, I gave up and wrote this essay.

So there you have it. My wife purchased the game (new) at, I installed the game on my computer, previously I was able to play it, I've made no changes to my Steam or DNF configuration... and I'm out of luck.

Good job Steam, by pulling a Bill Gates and convincing the world that you will be the standard for game DRM. Nice job with your DRM choice, 2K and Gearbox. Smart attitude, all you clueless, spineless wonders who sit back and babble about how you don't mind online activation every time you start a game, even in singleplayer.

Somewhere in all this, there is genuine evil, but we're all too sophisticated to recognize it anymore. All in all, I'd say we deserve the theft of our freedoms via the disgustingly lazy complicity we practice every day. Hey, someone got rich during the process, right? That's a nice cup of hemlock for a philosophy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The truth about Duke Nukem Forever

Once upon a time, there was an empirically gifted trio of musicians from Canada who called themselves Rush. Despite the undying loyalty of millions of fans who swooned over Rush's technical excellence and conceptual acumen, there was a cabal of well-placed, cliquish curmudgeons who took a twisted joy from denying Rush their proper recognition. These self-appointed arbiters of taste, most prominently the fop rag known as The Rolling Stone, had consistently blocked the world from officially regaling Rush with appropriate honors.


You see, if you want to be a genuine rock star, where every exercise of poor personal judgement is seen as a profound and revolutionary statement, then you must be either alcoholic, strung out, dissolute, controversial, crazy, or just plain bad. If you're an exceptionally talented musician who prefers to maintain a "normal" personal life, and have no interest in nefarious activity or political activism, well then... you're simply not cool enough for the Hall of Fame.

Much like the cynical grinches who refuse to induct Rush into the Hall of Fame, the "journalists" who have gathered themselves together to burn Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) at the stake are entirely in love with their own biased arrays of creative defamation. I was going to take them all on one by one, but the huge list isn't worth my time. If you're seeking the most even-handed and honest review out there, the only one you need to read is the PC Gamer review by Dan Stapleton:

In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, I am a Duke Nukem "fanboy." I have not only played Duke Nukem 3D off and on with some frequency since about 1998 (I discovered FPS fun two years after Duke Nukem 3D's release), but I've played several ports, and I have collected thousands of user-made maps. I was crushed by the news back in May of 2009 about the lawsuit by Take-Two Interactive, and the subsequent dissolving of the DNF development team. Then a year and a half later, I was ecstatic beyond measure when on September 3, 2010, Gearbox Software made their totally unexpected announcement to release DNF.

But these facts about my personal love of one of the gaming world's most iconic characters are beside the point. The reason I wrote this essay is because I'm quite tired of agenda-ridden poppycock passing itself off as legitimate journalism.

For years, up until the release of DNF, Gamespot was my most trusted source for PC game reviews. This is sadly no longer the case. Kevin VanOrd of Gamespot gave DNF a rating of 3.5 out of 10. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, no matter how accurate or erroneous, and although plenty of VanOrd dittos will line up and throw rocks at anyone who disagrees... well, objectively speaking, VanOrd's review is largely inaccurate, and misguided as well. Seriously, he should know better.

What the 3.5 rating is saying, without qualification, is that according to past Gamespot reviews of other PC games, that DNF is worse than the following games:

  • Beachhead 2000 (3.9 rating)

  • Torrente (4.3 rating)

  • Mall Tycoon (4.6 rating)

  • Purge (5.1 rating)

  • Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza (5.7 rating)

  • Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 (5.9 rating)

Something tells me the actual list of crappy games considered by Gamespot to be better than DNF is much, much larger than this. I listed these particular games because I've actually played them, thus I am qualified to make a somewhat objective comparison, regardless of my love of Duke Nukem.

Each of those six games I listed is clearly inferior to DNF in a multitude of ways, which include user interface, user controls, gameplay, graphics, sound, and fun factor. I challenge anyone who doesn't begin with a biased hatred of Duke Nukem to come forward and attempt to convince the reasonable gamers out here that these games are all better than DNF. They won't even try, because the effort would be futile.

I could go on with this essay far too long, picking apart the absurdly sissy-pants rubbish that Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica penned, or the endless whining of Jim Sterling at Destructoid, who should remain forever wrapped in the womb of the Pathetic Excuse For FPS Play, also known as the console. In fact, there are so many of these overly-eager-to-rape-The-Duke faux journalists that have left themselves open to honest criticism by going too far, I could spend the next six months burning them all at the stake.

But what's the point? I would not only be wasting my time (and yours!), I would also being performing that cliché reaction of the hypocrite: lowering myself to their standards.

The most compelling reason for me to post this reaction to their collective witch-burning is my empathy for the developers who sacrificed so much to bring this game to fruition. While Gearbox committed the last-second slam dunk, it is actually the nine brave individuals at Triptych Games who carried the vision over the land mines known as Broussard's never-ending search for perfection and Take-Two's impatient ploy to swipe the DNF intellectual property for their own financial windfall.

Triptych Games is comprised of former employees of 3D Realms who worked on DNF all those years, since it was first announced on April 28th, 1997. When Take-Two attempted their resource-grab back in May of 2009, and 3D Realms laid off the entire DNF team in a stubborn expression of defiance, guess what happened?

These nine brave souls continued to work on DNF in secret, without pay! For over a year! And furthermore, they continued what could have only been a labor of love born from pure passion for the Duke, with absolutely NO promise of any compensation. Just the undying belief that Duke was worth keeping alive for themselves, and for all those out here who love him.

Sure, I get it. The passion of a developer is not enough to give a video game a higher rating than it deserves; with that I agree. But... the disgusting lack of respect these stalwart and talented developers have received from the "official" game critics on the Internet is indeed pathetic. For certain, regardless of whether or not you like The Duke, DNF is nowhere near a 3.5 or a 2.0, or whatever worthless rating these ding dongs dared to ascribe to an entirely better-than-adequate game.

For those out there who would like to put some names and Internet entities with these comments I've been making, go here:

This is an EXCELLENT exposé of these journalistic hacks, complete with charts, stats, names, ratings given, and web sites these reviews appear on. Not all of the objectionable critics made the list, because some serendipitously avoided inclusion due to the non-numeric rating system of their site, such as Ars Technica's rating of "Skip," and Game Revolution's "D+" grade.

One last thing... unlike the majority of the politically correct mosquitoes who played for five minutes and merely parroted the feminist and new-game-whore party line, or endlessly whined about how long DNF took to be released, I've actually played the game.

And Dan Stapleton was one hundred percent accurate.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Noah’s Ark is slick!

A news story out of Hebron, Kentucky today reported that a group is rebuilding Noah's Ark to biblical specifications. As usual, the atheist killjoys disguised as activists-who-are-only-looking-out-for-your-constitutional-rights have decided this is one more example of the "religious people" of the world attempting to completely dismantle the entire edifice of modern science, and send us all ignorantly and happily back to caves with flint-head spears and poor hygiene.

I've asked this question countless times in my mind, but now I'll ask it aloud of atheist activists, because it begs to be asked:

"What are you so afraid of?"

Answers in Genesis ministries is the group that has decided to take on such an ambitious project as rebuilding the mighty seafaring vessel which is supposed to have carried the majority of the world's existing land-dwelling species during a world-wide flood that covered the entire earth. This supposedly happened at a time when the skies rained for forty days and nights continuously, and the "fountains of the great deep" also sprang forth with apparently deluge-like flows. (This is according to the biblical account, specifically Genesis 7, verses 11 and 12, for those of you who are curious where these statistics come from).

Nonsense? Well, the beauty of human subjectivity is you can believe what you wish. Make no mistake however; no one who was there back then is here to speak, so making assumptions about the past is a sucker's bet. However, I digress... so back to the focus of the essay.

This time around, the atheists are using the separation of church and state as their angle of attack, due to the project being approved for $40 million in taxpayer-funded incentives. The ark is only part of an entire theme park, which is estimated to cost around $155 million (the article's picture caption says $170 million).

The activists are squawking because they don't think public tax dollars should be used to fund a religious enterprise. This would have been a viable argument, except there's an extenuating circumstance that comes into play: 900 jobs. State officials approved the $40 million on the contingency that the park achieves its projected attendance (1.6 million visitors during its first year).

There will be hundreds of people working on the ark project, including a team of Amish builders and Patrick Marsh, who helped construct various Universal Studios attractions. They're even building it the "old world" way, with wooden pegs instead of nails, and by straight-sawing the timber. They're going to include lots of animals in the finished ark; some live, but most will be stuffed or mechanical.

The ark project manager is quoted in the article as saying, "There's a lot of doubt: 'Could Noah have built a boat this big, could he have put all the animals on the boat?' Those are questions people all over the country ask."

He also said, "When you get to walk through the boat and see how big this thing really was, and how many cages were there, and how much room there was for food and water ... our hope is people start seeing that this is plausible, that the account could be believed."

So, into all this visionary effort, walks the intellectually smug exclusionist, also known as the Talking Head Atheist.

This time one of the more prominent players is one Mr. Edwin Kagin, a ex-Christian who now devotes his J.D. assignment to less jurisprudence and more activism. Some of his efforts are an anti-God printed gem called "Baubles of Blasphemy," and a camp for "protecting" the children of atheists from such horrendous summer activities as contemplating the glory of God's beautiful creation, also known as Nature.

He's a longtime critic of the ark-building group, and he says the public attraction will convert people to creationism by challenging scientific findings about the world's history.

Excuse me... but just how is building a huge boat, and demonstrating that it could carry and sustain many animals a challenge to science? I don't recall learning anything in science class about the impossibility of building a ship large enough to carry several thousand species of non-aquatic creatures.

And if some former skeptics experience the ark for themselves, and come to the conclusion that the premise is at least possible, how does that produce the earth-shaking and science-destroying revolution he and his kind apparently fear?

God will never leave the imaginations of human beings, and this so-called "debate" has been raging for millennia... it wasn't sprung on the human race suddenly by Darwin, as some would have you believe. Understand that fact and move on to other more fruitful activities... all the venom spewed by the vocally aggressive atheists is so much wasted energy and talent. They need to get lives and leave others to their own thoughts for a change.

I digressed again, oops. Back to the essay proper.

Another quote from Kagin (italics mine):

"Many think that since creationism is so irrational and so unscientific that nobody really could believe it, but that's not so." He says that the new park will be "so slick and so well done, you can get people to believe in anything. Creationism, when you're ready to believe anything."

Let us not ignore the deliberate use of the adjective "slick." I will take the high road and assume he meant the professional quality of work that's designed to lure tourists, and not the more petty possibility that he's attempting to make the visionaries involved in this project look like shysters out to hijack your independent thought with smoke and mirrors.

The ark article also mentioned another gadfly atheist association, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). This is an organization that has, since 1947, performed the prestidigitation of claiming to protect your religious freedom, while simultaneously making sure not one American student will ever be exposed to such an objectionable idea as the possible existence of a creator god. Again, a wonderfully productive expenditure of one's time and resources, similar to the "Abimelech Society." The AS "freethinkers" are those clever loose cannons that attempt to make the world a better place by tossing any bibles found in motel or hotel nightstands summarily into the trash.

Regardless, the AU seems convinced the theme park will be beaten to a pulp by constitutional law. However, Kagin says the case would be a loser, due to the way tax incentives are structured for organizations that seek to increase tourism in Kentucky.

In a chuckle-worthy moment of schoolyard logic, the AU actually said in a public statement:

"Noah didn't get government help when he built the first ark, and the fundamentalist ministry behind the Kentucky replica shouldn't either."

This essay has run on long enough, so I'll leave the easy job of ripping that last statement apart to you, reader.