Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On the take?

There are a couple of different starting points for this one. The first starting point is an email I received on the jason at gamenikki dot com email address. A reader wanted to know what my experience with the new RadeonHD 3870 X2 was. Well, fact is, I'm not on the pre-release list for advanced hardware from ATi/AMD... so I haven't had any experience with the new graphics card.

The second starting point comes from somebody who rubbished my claims that MaximumPC had a history of listening to whoever had the biggest checkbook in their reviews and articles.

It's not exactly a secret that I hold the opinion that Anandtech / Dailytech is financed by Intel Corporation. I've documented several items where AT / DT either outright lied, forget to tell the whole story, tried to re-write history, or simply left out data that didn't support their position. I've also commented in the past that I don't really hold any respect for Ziff Davis / Cnet sites because they have a reputation for accepting the bigger check.

The starting point for the comments about MaximumPC and Ziff Davis / Cnet is fairly simple. MaximumPC is owned / hosted by Future Publishing, who also works other magazines like Nintendo Power and the Official Playstation Magazine. Ziff Davis is a similar large publisher with a history of magazine publishing, exampling that is used to publish the Official Playstation Magazine. Advertising rates were a big issue with popular magazines. A double page spread could easily be worth a several thousand dollars, and even getting a quarter of a page could be several hundred.

One of the things that was noticed in the print magazines is that often times the products with the massive double page spread add... were getting the highest review scores. A couple years back a Ziff Davis employee asked about the shift from print magazine to online publishing commented that part of the loss of print subscription was due to what was perceived as a selling out on the part of the print publishers to whoever was buying the most ad-space. The perception was echoed by numerous people around the industry, with other magazine editors admitting that they had played to whoever was buying the most ad-space, magazines including the Official Playstation Magazine and the Xbox magazine... both which are published by Future.

The industry behavior hasn't gone away either, exampling the recent controversy surrounding the Kane and Lynch video game and Jeff Gerstmann's review. Eidos, the game's publisher, had heavily invested in advertising space on the site Mr. Gerstmann wrote for. When the game was handed a low score and was ripped to shreds, Mr. Gerstmann was almost immediately fired.

Regardless of the explanations and reasons issued afterwards, most of my friends in the industry believe that Mr. Gerstmann was fired because he went against the wishes of EIDOS, and that Cnet caved in.

The problem is, such behavior is typically common among the magazine publishers with online publishing fronts. Sure, PC Magazine, MaximumPC, and other magazines with online publications aren't that bad. In some cases... they are fairly accurate. In other cases... there's always the feeling that their publishers have admitted to writing for the buyer of the most ad space... so there's a shadow cast over many of the reports.

MaximumPC is sort of a sore spot because they had a reputation for sponsoring "upgrade tests." To pick on AMD for a minute, when Vista launched AMD ran an upgrade test that the The Inquirer snapped a picture of. AMD's upgrade test did little more than scan the list of hardware already in the machine, and then compare it to a list of parts there were known to work. A few months later AMD ran another test for Vista Gaming that the only way to pass it... was to have their brand new processor and their brand new graphics card.

Now, in my view, it was one thing for AMD to do that as a vendor. The upgrade tool was obviously a promotional tool for AMD. I think it's another thing when something that purports to be neutral runs a similar test... and you get results that tell you that on the newest product from a particular vendor will work... and that's the reputation that MaximumPC has...

Now, I'm not saying that magazine sites with online publishing arms cannot generate good material. I'm not saying that everything they do has to be taken with a barrel of salt. In reference to an article about Solid-State support and an Mtron SSD drive. MaximumPC might be accurate about the performance of each drive in that review... but it wasn't really comparing apples to apples. They compared a 16gig SSD drive which had fantastic performance... but with a price tag of $1000... against much cheaper magnetic drives.

Okay... so what's this got to do the with the Radeon card I was asked about before?

Well... where do I stand on the subject of ads and accepting cash or products?

I've stated before that I don't like ads. I don't like ads because I've seen too many sites, too many magazines, too many publishers, and too many editors cater to whoever buys ad-space. I don't like ads because of all of the ad-agencies that come up with pop-ups, pop-unders, redirects, and so many other tricks out there.

Yet, at the same time, I'm running ads on this blog... and I've said the following in a follow-up comment:
The concept for myself is that I want to build a business that is capable of... supporting Mepis. Say Yamal who has compiled the last couple of ATi drivers. I would like to be in position that I could ship Yamal a Radeon 9600, a Radeon x1800, a RadeonHD 2x00, and a RadeonHD 3x00 so that he can test out the drivers on each type of card.

If someone did the same with Nvidia, I'd like to be in a position to simple ship the volunteer the needed hardware to work with.

As I've pointed out in the past, money that has gone into custom systems so far has seen shipment of items like a Rage128 AIW, a Plextor ConvertX, and a Chaintech AV-710 to Warren so that he has hardware examples.

However, that sort of hardware support and financing is going to take a long time to setup. It would be nice if I had a computer shop or a vendor such as Asus say something like this: "Saist, we'll support you and Mepis. If you need a particular piece of hardware, give us a call." For something like that from a 3rd party vendor who is interested in supporting Open Licensed software I wouldn't have any problems doing a deal where I run specific ads, or specifically single out that vendor for a recommendation.

So... I've opened myself up to the possibility of offering ad space to particular vendors. However, I don't want to be captive to the vendor. If it's a bad product, I'm going to say it's a bad product. If it's something I don't agree with, I'm not going to agree with it. Probably why I don't have a working relationship with Eidos.

Monday, January 28, 2008

GPL and BSD : impact

One of the many common newcomer questions to Open-Licensed software is why there is such hostility between the supporters of Linux, and the supporters of the various BSD's. Popular examples include the writings from the leader of OpenBSD, Theo De Raadt, who has earned the nicknames of Theo The Rat or Theo The Rant. Other examples include the chants of many BSD supporters that Linux isn't really free.

So, what's the big deal? Well, when comparing the apparent hostility of KDE to Gnome, the explanation was found in the history of the tool kits used to make each desktop enviroment. When comparing the apparent hostility of BSD to Linux, the explanation comes down to the license used for each. The BSD's use a BSD license, which stands for Berkeley Software Distribution, which came from Berkeley university. Linux currently uses the Gnu Public License version 2.

The basis of each license should actually answer this question.

There are several BSD licenses, so many that you'll typically see any particular license under BSD terms listed as a BSD-Style license. Example, the Vorbis and Theora codecs. The terms themselves are fairly simple.

#1: Anybody can access the source code
#2: Anybody can copy the source code
#3: Anybody can modify the source code
#4: Anybody can use the source code
#5: Anybody can relicense modified code

Sounds pretty simple, at least compared to the Gnu Public License. Here are the terms of say the GPLv2.

#1: Not everybody can access the source code.
#2: Everybody who can access the source code can copy the source code
#3: Everybody who can access the source code can modify the source code
#4: Everybody who modifies the source code must submit the changes back to the original author
#5: Everybody who modifies the source code must maintain the original license

That does seem a little bit more complex. Immediately we see that the GPL has restrictions placed on what can be done with the code. Ergo, the BSD-style license is more free... or is it?

Read the simplified terms of the BSD-License again. Note anything missing? Well, if you didn't, here's what is missing. Any changes that are made to the BSD code don't have to be given back to the author. Anybody can take a segment of BSD code, do whatever they want with it, and never post any changes back, tell the author what they did, or anything else.

Okay, that really doesn't seem like a bid deal, does it? Well, lets put this in perspective. Lets take a popular Linux program such as Amarok. Now, Amarok is a bit resource heavy... okay, it's resource hog. Now, what would happen if somebody took the Amarok code base, re-wrote a bit of the code to reduce memory and processor usage by 10%. Under a BSD-style license the Amarok developers would never benefit from that work. In fact, whoever made the changes could theoretically relicense the music program under a new license that would prevent Amarok from every implementing the performance fixes... even if they reversed engineered the fixes.

The GPL on the other hand starts out with a bit of structure. Under the terms of the GPLv2, only the clients of a licensed program can ask for access to the source code. If you released your GPLv2 program with no cost to everybody, then everybody who can download your program can ask for the source code.

If you released your GPLv2 program at a cost, only people who have paid for the product have access to your source code.

If anybody makes any changes to your source code, they have to send the changes to you.

Using the example of Amarok again, under the GPLv2, if somebody reduced the performance penalty for using the Amarok by 10%, the changes made to Amarok would have to go back to the original authors, and then if they want, they can implement those changes themselves, or even merge the new code in directly.

So, there is a critical difference between a BSD license, and a GPL style license. The BSD license adopts a care-free attitude about written software, while a GPL style license enforces restrictions around that software to make sure everybody benefits.

Corporations like Microsoft love the BSD-style licenses. Case in point is the Microsoft NT TCP/IP stack, which is basically a binary copy of the BSD TCP/IP stack. With a BSD-Style license, while code can not be stolen, rights of ownership cannot be enforced either.

Corporations likes Microsoft hate the GPL-style license. Case in point would be the various lawsuits filed by BusyBox. BusyBox authored code under a GPL-style license, and was successful in getting various vendors using their software to publish the changes. Under a GPL-style license, code can be stolen, and steps can be taken to bring violators back in accordance with written law.

So BSD-style licenses are bad and GPL-style licenses are good.


Again, not that simple.

The choice of license really depends on what the author wants to do with their software. If you want as many people as possible to use your program, you'll probably select a BSD-style license. If you want your software to be used in commercial products, you'll probably select a BSD-style license.

If you care about what happens with software and what changes are made, a GPL-style license is probably more appropriate. If you plan on maintaining your product as a for-sale product, then the GPL-style license is again a good choice.

From my perspective the GPLv2 is a nicely balanced license. You can do whatever you want with the software if you follow a few simple restrictions which are built to ensure that everybody benefits from any changes.

From my perspective the BSD-Style license can be a good one, if some of it's supporters would just shut up. The problem, as I see it, is that the BSD-style license supporters are about freedom at any cost. The problem, as I see it, is that many BSD-style license supporters can't see that that they generally get the raw end of a bad deal.

The problem that many newcomers to Open-Licensed software see is the conflict between those who scream for freedom at any cost, and those who scream for freedom with responsibility.

Between all the screaming though, I somehow feel that many readers will feel like I did halfway through this... tired and wanting to talk about something else.

One of the points I was originally aiming for was how the GPLv2 license was suited for much of the commercial software that is sold today, and the topic on my mind was video games. However... I went into how that would work a while ago with Auto Assault. So... not going to repeat myself.

Hopefully this does give newcomers to Open-Licensed software an idea of some of the behind-the-scenes conflict.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Engineers are not Engineers

Recently I've seen more news stories popping up about the so-called drought in the south-east USA. I'm one of those people that go drought? What drought? I'm having to keep RainX on my windows.

However, regardless of what I see in the way of rainfall, water levels are reportedly dropping across the Southeast USA, and some of the nuclear power plants are in danger of shutting down. The shutting down of existing nuclear power plants to do lack of cooling means that energy costs will sky rocket in a section of the USA that has enjoyed drastically less energy costs and energy production problems than many others.

Now, as I think I've said before, I don't consider the Corps of Engineers to be Engineers. In fact, I consider them idiots. In fact, I've already got the potential energy problem for the southeast solved. In fact, I've got the energy problem for the entire United States solved. I know this because I know 3 facts.

Fact #1: The Alyeska Oil pipeline in Alaska. Quick review here: http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/pipelinefacts.html

It's over 800 miles long. Crosses 3 mountain rangers and over 800 rivers and streams. Functions in sub-zero to moderately warm temperatures. Not only was it finished in 1977, but in the over 30 years that it has been in operation, there hasn't been a single leak.

Fact #2: The USS Nautilus crossed the North pole beneath the Arctic ice cap in 1958, and the U.S.S. Triton circumnavigated the world in 1960 while submerged. What did both of these subs have in common? They used Nuclear reactors.

Want to know something else? To this date, aside from catastrophic failure due to poor maintenance or enemy sabotage, the US Navy hasn't had any known cases of radiation poisoning occurring in their nuclear subs. Despite the fact that Sailors are often under 100 feet or less to an operating nuclear reactor.

In fact, in order to properly cool the nuclear reactor, many subs could make use of Seawater.

Fact #3: We have oceans next to the US.

Okay, can you see where this is going? Let me spell it out. Back in the 1970's a private company built a leak-proof oil line through weather temperatures that are generally best described as extreme. Since the 1950's the US Navy has been putting small nuclear reactors to sea with sailors and never having a problem. Such subs could also use sea water to cool down their reactors.

What's to stop Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, or other states from using the salt water from the ocean... to cool their nuclear reactors?

Let me lay this out.

Build pumping stations on the costs. Route sea-water from the ocean to nuclear power plants. The nuclear power plants then use the SeaWater for cooling purposes instead of natural local water sources. This allows the natural local water sources to replenish themselves. In the case of artificial reservoirs like Clarks in Lake in between Georgia and South Carolina to be brought back up to level. Currently the reservoir is used to feed a hydro-electric plant. With a Nuclear Power Station, that Hydro Electric plant can be taken offline and be kept as a backup source of power.

Okay, I can already hear the technical problems involved with this sort of engineering feat, and I've already got them solved.

First problem, routing the Sea-Water pipelines. Okay, I know somebody who is a train fanatic. In fact he's got maps of all the railways in the Southeast USA. What you might not know is that every nuclear plant currently in operation... is serviced by a railway. Every port in Operation... is serviced by a railway. City, County, State, and Federal Zoning regulations have already set aside land to be used to route rail traffic. So, here's the solution to the running the pipelines. Build them over, or next to the existing Railway infrastructure. This accomplishes two goals at the same time. The first goal is routing the sea water without disturbing existing economical infrastructure. Job done. The paths have already been cleared. The second goal is monitoring the pipeline for leaks. Job done, trains that pass through can keep an eye out on the various pipelines. Not that such an effort is needed considering that the oil pipeline in Alaska is far less monitored by human eyes.

But wait a second... trains cause vibrations? They cause a pounding effect? Won't that loosen nuts, bolts, and other items within the pipelines? Okay, does anybody know the stress that is put on nuts in bolts inside the engine of a Bugatti Veyron? Does anybody know the stress that is put on the nuts and bolts of the engines for massive cruise ships and their monstrous 26,000+ brake horsepower output? Does anybody know the stress that is put on the nuts and bolts of a train trestle when a train goes over it?

Seriously, protecting a pipe carrying sea water from a train's vibrations is childs play compared to what has been accomplished 30 years ago. It's not even an issue.

Okay, Second problem. How exactly are these pipes going to be powered? Something has to push the water through. Remind me again where these pipes are being routed? Oh, yes. Nuclear Power Plants. Simple answer is to have the Nuclear Power Plants themselves provide the power to pump the seawater over the vast distances.

The more complex answer creates new jobs, and new job opportunities. Recall again that the Navy has been putting nuclear reactors in extremely small containers. Exampling the
USS Nautilus again. It measured at a length of 320 ft, a beam (width) of 28 ft and a draft (height) of 26 ft. Now, what's the size of the average American style football field? If you said 360 feet long by about 162 feet wide, you'd be about right. The average size in yards is about 120 yards long by 53 1/3 yards wide.

Alright, now how many football fields do you have around your local town? Probably 3 or so. Now, you could put a Nuclear Reactor as used in a submarine into the space smaller than a normal football field.

See where this is going? In order to keep the seawater pumping along the route, simply veer off occasionally from the rail system and into a pumping station powered by a submarine sized nuclear reactor. If you have the size of a football field to play with you have enough room for local reservoirs for the water to go into if it needs to cool off, and enough room to route the flow line.

This method also has bonus implications for surrounding communities, as there would be a cheap local source of power. At the same time, small pumping stations would create thousands of new jobs. The Navy has been training nuclear engineers for well over half a decade now to maintain such engines, so there is a massive pool of qualified people who can maintain such systems.

And it's not like local communities would have to be worried about excessive radiation poisoning or other problems. Keep in mind the startling lack of radiation sickness reported among sailors on-board nuclear submarines. Keep in mind that the engineers responsible for this submarines have to keep the subs running properly when they could be half a mile or more underneath the ocean, where the consequences of failure are far worse than of a problem in a localized pumping station.

Okay, job done. Pumping power solved. Jobs created. Clean efficient energy for the masses. What's the catch?

Well, there isn't one... aside from cost. The Alaskan Oil pipeline cost 8 billion dollars to build in 1977. Okay, engineering has not stood still since then. There are better metals, better plastics, better building materials. There are more extensive electronic monitoring tools available. Almost all of these materials are far less expensive to produce as well. On top of that, all these pipelines are carrying is sea water... which lets be honest, isn't likely to catch on fire. Also, if it does spill, big deal. A lot of salt water goes over some railroad tracks. Environmentally speaking then, even in a worse case scenario of the pipelines cracking open, it isn't an ecological disaster.

The financial cost is actually going to be found in other aspects of the plan, not just in the transporting of the water. The biggest problem is of course getting the water out of the ocean and filtering it.

Lets ignore power costs and go ahead and dedicate a football field to our localized nuclear power plant.

Lets also clearly define what we are looking to get, sea water only. We aren't really concerned about the saline content, as that will actually help with the water transport. Remember those science experiments as a kid where you made ice cream by mixing up some ice with rock salt? Salt lowers the freezing point of the water, which in turn means that the water can be transported further without having to worry about freezing the contents.

What we want to remove then is physical artifacts, such as fish and debris from the water. Probably the best way to do this would be to build our water collection devices in a closed lagoon or bay which is sheltered naturally from the currents. Alternatively, construct an artificial bay and float our collection devices in the middle. Building an artificial lagoon or bay might pose the advantage of being able to control fish and debris entry before the main pumps. Possible designs for collecting seawater include floating pumps that move the water through flexible or collapsible tubing into the main storage area for further processing.

While it might be desirable to filter the water as it enters the original pumps, this will raise maintenance costs to replace filters. A possible solution then is to filter the water after it is pumped from the ocean, but this raises the amount of real-estate needed to pump the water, filter it of physical debris, and send it on up the pipelines.

So, why only remove physical impurities? Why not clean the water chemically at this point?

Well, two reasons. The first is that building a filtration system for chemicals at the start of the sea-water pipelines will drastically raise production costs and maintenance costs as well as prolong construction time. The second is that by moving just sea water along the pump lines, new jobs can be created for water treatment professionals to treat and prepare the water for general usage along the way.

Possibly after the nuclear power plants are getting proper cooling support would be it be possible to move chemical filtration into the chain of supply at an earlier stage.


Now, imagine for a minute the possibilities that this infrastructure could bring in the future, and not just 5 or 6 years, 1 or 2 years.

Nuclear power is one of the cleanest energy sources available today, and one of the most plentiful. Smaller reactors along the pipeline path can help off-set power distribution of the current main nuclear power plants, so communities that host a pumping station might find that many of their basic power needs are met locally.

This infrastructure also presents unique travel opportunities. Currently I drive a Tahoe. Going to Atlanta and back is a 4 hour+ round trip which east about 3/4's of my gas tank. That gets kind of expensive, so I don't go to Atlanta that much.

Okay, what if a 200mph train system was built linking Atlanta, Augusta, Nashville, Orlando, Columbia, Winston - Salem, and Birmingham? What if that train system was powered by nuclear reactors in the same way the pipeline was powered? What if that train system was also built to accommodate the sea-water pipeline? Price per killowatt, such trains could charge $10 for a ride from Augusta to Atlanta, or $20 from Atlanta to Columbia, or $30 from Atlanta to Orlando... and still make a profit. Suddenly, goign to Atlanta wouldn't be that big of a deal. I could possibly go see the Braves every night they played. Going to Disney wouldn't be that big of an issue. Going to Columbia for football games... not that big a deal.

The power companies and the railway networks could literally within a year, make cheap travel possible from City to City in the South East.

And that infrastructure doesn't have to stop the there for travel or for energy development.

At the same time my plan has another great ecological benefit. By removing the need for Hydro Electric power, or for fresh water cooling sources, lakes such as the Clark's Hill Lake on the Border of Georgia and South Carolina can be raised back up to their desired levels.

Letting natural water sources return to normal will encourage rainfall, as their will be additional water available in order to generate rain. The result will be an artificial break on the "drought" that is occurring.


Now, most of my work is published under the Creative Commons Attributions Share Alike 2.0 license. Basically you can copy it, send it off, just as long as my name is attached and the original source linked to.

This one... is not. I'm intending to send this writing to various legislators across the SouthEast. I think this plan will build a model that will solve energy concerns for the entire US. I also haven't finished this yet. There still are some details, like the potential costs and how those costs can be covered that need to be dealt with.

The explicit terms of this post then are as follows : You may only copy segments, not the entire article. You may not re-write or modify the contents. My name and the original source must be linked clearly.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Was Vista a disaster for Microsoft?

Recently Microsoft posted their profits for 2007. Despite Vista being one of the worst disasters to hit the computer systems markets since Windows ME, Microsoft seemed to come out way ahead... or did they?

Profits don't always tell the full story about how a company performs, and I'm not talking about Enron. The case in point is to be found in both K-mart and Disney Corporation. If your primary source of news is ABC, CNN, Reuters, Associated Press, NBC, CBS, or such, you may not have been aware that both K-mart and Disney corporation were under boycott from conservative groups led by the likes of Focus on the Family for years. In fact, if you listed to the liberal media, you probably thought that K-Mart's retail problems in past years were due to anything else other than a boycott.

However, the example I want to focus on is Disney Corporation. The reasons for boycotting Disney products were pretty numerous. Disney was behind bringing several of Kevin Smith's movies to product. Disney World and Disney Land were known for hosting "Gay Days" where uniformed employees on the clock were meeting and escorting gay couples around the parks. Disney was actively promoting itself in homosexual magazines. People like Dr. James Dobson decided that wasn't right. It was a destruction of the family values that Walt Disney had held dear, and a destruction of the legacy that was Disney.

As children, most of us had the ultimate dream of going to Disney Land... Can you imagine how a parent is going to explain to their 5 year old kid why two fat overweight balding guys are giving each other tongue out in the middle of an intersection at the park? Talk about a destruction of a dream.

So, Focus on the Family, AFA Journal, and other conservative organizations arranged a boycott. Big deal according to Michael Eisner. Disney continued to post record profits, and built a successful film franchise with Pixar.

Or... did they?

Under Michael Eisner, Disney Corporation was hamstrung. They boycott from conservative groups was hitting Disney Corporation harder than anybody could imagine. Resorts that were in the process of being built were canceled. Orders for more cruise ships were also canceled. The once epic 2D powerhouse that used to be Disney Animation was scrapped in favor of cutting deals with the likes of Pixar whose 3D movies were much cheaper to produce.

Consider the Disney Channel for a minute, and the Toon Disney channel. Years ago Disney was known as one of the premier houses of 2D animation. Easy examples of their work included cartoons like "Mighty Ducks" and "Gargoyles." However, check out Toon Disney today, where the best new animated cartoon is easily "Kim Possible" ... and lets be honest... it's not really holding a candle to the old "TaleSpin" cartoon series now... is it.

Then there was the Disney Channel itself. I used to watch "Jett Jackson" all the time. It was a great show. Now, compare the production values of "Jett" to something like the "Suite Life of Zack and Cody." Lets go back even further, say the series "SpellBinder." It's not even what you would call a competition. Current Disney Channel productions could have been shot on a hand camera. And in some cases with stuff like "That's So Raven," they probably were.

Okay, so what's the point then? It's not exactly a secret that current Disney Content is a poor shadow of what the company used to produce. Like or not, Disney's best material generally has come from Pixar.

The point is that there is a difference. Disney Channel saved itself on paper from the conservative boycott by slashing costs. Film productions that used to be done entirely in-house on Disney owned sound-stages were outsourced. Disney Corporation cut several distribution and production agreements with other movie vendors to try and remove their direct operating cost. TV and animation production quality went out the window as more experienced lighting technicians and directors were let go, in place of people who could get a job done, without breaking the bank.

On paper, Disney Corporation never suffered from any boycott. On paper Michael Eisner got up and laughed at the conservatives who dared try to lay siege to his media empire.

In reality, Disney Corporation was hamstrung. In reality Michael Eisner has been removed and his cadre ejected. In reality Disney Corporation has gone back to the family friendly principles that Walt Disney once held.

The point is that paper and profits are not the entire story.

I've already stated that I'm not buying the sales numbers reported for the Xbox 360. I've already stated that Microsoft dumped bungie. I've already posted a blog about what a CompUSA employee indicated about Vista return products...

So lets start adding up the non-paper factors for Microsoft's profits.

Fact is, while Vista has been a disaster for Microsoft, Xp has not. Xp has easily maintained a sales ratio of 3 to 1 or greater during the time since Vista's launch. Consider then that Xp prices were not slashed. They were not dropped. If you want Xp, you pay the same exact price today that you would have before Vista launched.

Fact is, Microsoft has been dropping dead-weight companies. After getting profits on Halo 3, Microsoft quickly cut Bungie loose to get the dead weight off of their books. So, Microsoft has a nice tidy profit in it's books for Halo 3, but instead of being invested back into a dead-weight developer, Microsoft said bai bai. So, that money looks good.

While Microsoft is cutting loose on dead weight developers and clearing out what passed for first party developers, Sony and Nintendo are both increasing the number of first party projects underway, which will show up on their tax records.

From what the CompUSA employee implied, Microsoft was not accepting returns on returned products. Basically Microsoft was refusing to refund a sale of Vista that had to be refunded. The CompUSA employee also implied that Microsoft was refusing to refund purchasing costs on unsold copies of Vista.

Let me lay that part out because it has a great bearing on how Microsoft seemed to perform.

If I understand the Microsoft ordering policy correctly, OEM's and Vendors must pre-order licenses from Microsoft. All of the licenses must be paid in full up front. The OEM's and Vendors then mark the products up to retail, and that is the price that you end up paying.

The actual cost is probably revealed when you go to Microsoft's site to register another license key alongside one you have already purchase. The secondary license key is likely the OEM and Vendor cost.

The result of this business model is that a product that fails at the hands of the Vendors and OEM's, doesn't actually hurt Microsoft. Microsoft is already paid, in full, under this business model.

As I posted back in 2006 in an article title The problems with Reliance on Microsoft, many vendors and OEM's were anxiously awaiting Vista to jump start a lagging PC economy. Vendors and OEM's were so excited that Vista was going to give people a reason to upgrade, a reason to buy a new computer, a reason to buy new hardware... and so on.

That didn't happen. Vista didn't move the industry at all. However, the industry itself... prepared to push Vista out like it was cotton candy at a fair.

What people have to understand is that while Bill Gates is not a developer, he is an extremely charismatic and intelligent business man. Microsoft has managed to get themselves into the right place where major product disasters don't affect the bottom line on profits. Microsoft has managed to shed dead weight that it doesn't have to invest money in. What was investment money and money tagged for expenses... is now profit.

Fact is, while Microsoft looks like it did great on paper... the external factors tell a story of a company that is getting hamstrung on all sides.

The collective disaster of Vista on retail has sent all major OEM's scrambling to get non-Microsoft solutions for their computer systems on the market... and that failure is going to show for the likes of Dell, HP, Gateway, Asus, Averatec, and many others.

The question remains... how many of the OEM's and Vendors are going to lay their problems at the feet of Microsoft where the problems belong...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

CoH : Stun / Disorient?

Okay, in a previous post I extolled the values of a -storm's O2 Boost power. In doing so I commented that not many other powers protect against the stun effect by name. A lot of powers do give a disorient protection. Well, what's the difference? A quick check to the in-game help resulted in an answer that was less than mud. A quick search of the site using the terms stun disorient site:cityofheroes.com resulted in a clarification that resembled a shattered mirror.

As I understand the concept, stun and disorient refer to the same type of status debuff. A status effect where the player is rendered unable to use any powers, and sits there with rings around their head indicating they are dizzy. Some powers explicitly state they case or protect against stun, suck as the Archery Stunning Shot. Other powers state they cause disorient, without stunning, such as the Dark Miasma revive power, Howling Twlight.

To get a clearer answer or definition on the two, I'm going to use three of my own characters as examples.

The first character is a Fire Armor tank. The Fire Armor tank only has two real defensive powers. Those powers are Fire Shield and Plasma Shield. Fire Shield can be gotten at level 1 and it states that it gives good resistance to lethal, smashing, and fire damage. Fire Shield also states that it gives minimal resistance to cold, and offers protection from disorient. Plasma shield can be gotten at level 12 and it states that it gives resistance to energy, negative, and fire, and protects against Sleep and Hold effects.

The second character is a more recent scrapper, a Willpower scrapper. At level 1 a will power scrapper gets a health boost and a slight defensive rating against all damage types. At lvl 2 a Willpower scrapper can pick up Mind over Body which gives defense against smashing, lethal, and psionic damage. At level 8 a Willpower can pick up Indomitable Will which gives resistance against disorient, hold, immobilize, sleep, fear, confuse, repel, and knockback. This power also offers defense against psionic. It isn't until level 28 that a Willpower scrapper can pick up their final defense, Hightened Senses, which offers defense against smash, lethal, fire, cold, energy, and negative energy.

The first thing you might notice is the level difference in when powers are obtained. The Tank gets its defensive powers far earlier than the scrapper. The second thing you might notice is how uneven the status protection is. An average scrapper gets far more types of status protection than a Fire Armor character, which is the basis for my claim that the Fire Armor classes are in desperate need of an overhaul. Specifically, in order to match the scrappers native knockback and immobilize protection, a fire armor has to pick up the Jumping Pool with it's combat jump and acrobatics powers, which fill in for the missing native knockback and immobilize protection.

The powers themselves don't tell the full story though. On the tank the effectiveness of a damage resistance can be slotted. The result is that Fire Shield currently offers a 56.9% boost over the standard amount of protection for disorient.

However, the same protection on a scrapper can't be slotted. The only resistance
Indomitable Will can be slotted for is defense against Psionic attacks. The amount of protection offered to the other damage types or effects cannot be increased.

The result is that in gameplay while my Fire Tank is more easily affected by fear, confuse, and repel effects than the scrapper. However, while my fire tank has been destroyed by enemies that use those status effects, I couldn't even tell you if my fire tank has been stunned. I don't remember. I do quite clearly remember jumping into a bunch of Crey with my willpower scrapper... and promptly getting stunned. I also recall of bunch Tsoo able to stun my scrapper, a bunch of freakshow, and I even want to say that I got stunned by a bunch of Lost in the sewers.

With my willpower scrapper I've also been held and immobilized by Galaxies in Striga, despite having a power that specifically said it protected against such effects.

Okay, so all that does is simply prove that scrappers are not tanks, and that they are different classes. It doesn't actually answer the question of stun and disorient directly.

Okay, so lets add a third player to the mix then, a super reflexes stalker. One of the powers the stalker can get is Practiced Brawler. Like the Willpowers's Indomitable Will, Practiced Brawler protects against knockback, disorient, hold, sleep, and immobilize. Also in line with the Willpower set, the SuperReflexes status effect cannot be slotted for effect. So the basic protection that a player gets with the power.. is what they get.

While my stalker is most often affected when Practiced Brawler runs out and hasn't popped again, I have been status effected through the protection.

Ergo, I am going to hazard a guess from experience with these 3 types.

My guess is that while stun and disorient refer to the same type of status effect, they refer to different causes.

Stun largely seems to be caused by a physical impact. Stun results in the disorient affect.

However, Disorient effects can be imparted without the use of direct physical impact.

So, just because a power can protect against the effects of Disorient, that power may or not be able to protect against Stun.

Clear as mud, no?


Edit: I realize I'm editing this over a year later. More of a note in the archives.

Further updates to the real numbers system clarified resistances and mag protections.

I've gone over before the differences between damage defense and damage resistance. Damage Defense determines whether or not you get hit. Damage resistance determines how much damage you take WHEN you are hit.

Status effects have a similar system. There is the Magnitude of the Attack, and the Length of the Attack.

Example: A smashing Mace attack has a Stun Magnitude of 3, and a time duration of 20 seconds. (not real numbers)

The Avatar being attacked has a Stun Magnitude Protection of 6, but no resistance.

When the avatar is attacked the Stun Magnitude is compared against the protection. With a Stun Mag of 3, the attack will not Stun something with a protection of Magnitude 6. The attack then starts counting down a 20 second timer.

If the Avatar is attacked again in that 20 second time period, the system does a quick math check. It finds that the player is already under a 20 second timer for a Stun Magnitude of 3. The system adds the new attack to the previous attack. The player now has two countdown timers for each attack. However, because the total magnitude of the attacks is 6 (3mag + 3mag), the Magnitude of the attack is still not high enough to get around the protection.

If the Avatar is attacked again in the original 20 second time period by the same attack, the system does a quick Magnitude Check again. It finds that player already has 2 attacks counting down each with an Attack Magnitude of 3. The system adds the 3 attacks together for a magnitude of 9. This is higher than the Avatar's protection... and the Avatar is promptly stunned until the attacks wear off.

The system is then complicated by Resistance.

Lets take that Original Attack of Magnitude 3 and give our avatar a 50% resistance. When the Avatar is attacked, the 20second countdown timer is halved. The attack only counts for 10 seconds. Each successive attack has the countdown timer reduced by the resistance.

In the case of the Fire Tank I have, the Stun Protection at level 50 is 13.0, while the Stun Resistance is 80% Duration due to an Aegis Proc. This means every stun that lands automatically has 20% of it's countdown timer knocked off.

By comparison, the WP scrapper I originally used would only have a maximum stun protection of 10.38 at lvl 50.

Go On, tell me how you really feel.

I've sat on this topic for a couple of days now. I've counted to 10, played several rounds of UT'99 with bots named as Theresa, and so on. Yet, I still think I want to do this. If the opening line wasn't a hint, I'm slightly mad. I'm slightly mad because I'm blogging about a person whom I typically hold in high regard. When he says something, it's probably a good idea to pay attention. However, this person has recently announced his intentions to leave the Mepis Community, and I just want to scream "Don't let the door hit you on the way out jackass."

A basic problem for me is trying to decide where to start on how this, desire, came about. Last year discussion really started on how turn the Mepis distribution of Linux into a community run distribution. For the most part Mepis Linux has been developed as a one man show by Warren, with other developers either being employeed on contract or agreement as time went on. The Mepis Development team has pretty much bounced back and forth between 1 or 5 people for an extremely long time. The result is that as a distribution, Mepis tends to lag on technology behind other LiveCD's. It doesn't matter how many positive reviews you get, or how stable your operating system is, or how much hardware works out of the box that doesn't work in other distributions if you pay attention to perception. Mepis has always been perceived as a slow moving, never on time distribution.

To many writers it didn't matter about the behind the scenes legal battles, the health problems Warren continues to go through, and so on. Mepis wasn't moving fast enough.

I don't mean this in a bad way, but last year talk began to circulate on how to remove Warren as a bottleneck. I don't mean remove Warren from Mepis. I mean move him into a position like Linus has with the Linux kernel. Linus enjoys a heavy oversight on the kernel, general responsibility for the release of the kernel, and the ability to still get dirty with the code. However, if Linus for some reason came down with a cold and couldn't type, that wouldn't stop Linux kernel development. Andrew, Ingo, or other lieutenants could take over for a short time and make sure releases got managed. Sure, they'd whine and complain about having to do it, but the process wouldn't stop.

So talk went on about how to best set Mepis up so that if Warren wound up in the hospital or out of commission for several months, updates, patches, and applications wouldn't be held back as a result. Sure, the named release might not occur, but users wouldn't be left completely out of a loop.

Some of these aspects were immediately attacked by various members of the community. Allen Gabston-Howell went to work on a community mirror for Mepis, and a community repository. With the family emergency mentioned before in this blog, Timkb4cq also set up a community repository. Another member of MepisLovers, Jerry, spearheaded a complete users manual, which I believe I've mentioned before as well.

Now, if you've downloaded the Mepis 7 Final, you might note that the release has some completely new artwork. What you might not know is that the new artwork was accomplished in I think under 2 weeks by some dedicated artists. Now, I feel a little guilty since I stayed out of the new artwork progress... since I quite frankly couldn't care less. However, now seeing the new artwork, and seeing how quickly it all came together, I feel sorta stupid that I didn't try to get involved at some level.

So, the proof is there that the community can have an immediate and positive effect on Mepis Linux.

However, most of us who started seriously talking about the future of Mepis last year, probably knew it was going to be a long road. Mepis Linux wasn't going to become a community-distribution overnight. There are a lot of technical details still to go in how to handle the OS as we try to move from a loose-knit chaotic group into something with a visible form.

For example, Ubuntu has as Ubuntu Technical Board, whose general purpose is to oversee programs that are used with Ubuntu. Mepis Linux is going to need something like that. There are going to have to be people who check the packages that are in the repositories, review suggested packages for inclusion, and so on.

There has to be a stated definition of what Mepis is, what it's going to be, and how that is going to be accomplished, and that is a definition that all contributers would have to hold to. We've had multiple posts in the MepisLovers forums about people who want full disk encryption in the Mepis Installer. I'm firmly against that because I see Mepis being targeted to just work.

One of the key features I see in Mepis is that it is a complete OS off of the disc. There are not that many choices to make when you install it. Some services and some formatting, but for the most part, what you see on the LiveCD... is what you get. I personally think that Mepis should be about simplicity from the disc.

All of this is made more complicated by Warren himself. I think I've used the analogy in the past that getting information out of warren was akin to trying to pull a tooth from a live Polar Bear. It hurt last year when Warren announced that he was going back into contracting. Mepis had pretty much failed to make a positive financial impact on Warren.

That move hit me since I'm trying to build a business based on Linux offering pre-built computers, books, and online guides. If Warren couldn't make it work? What hope do I have? The crucial difference that I have to remind myself of is that MepisGuides is being turned in Linux Guides by Je.Saist. In order to sell computers and books I can't use Mepis as a branding. I can state that the books feature Mepis, and that the computers come installed with Mepis, and I can insure that money from the sales gets back to Warren, but I have to use a different branding for myself. The result is that I can be flexible. I can offer OpenSuse. I can offer RedHat. I can do support for other versions of Linux. In most cases, if my guides don't depend on Mepis Assistants, they'll generally work on other versions of Linux.

The process is made more complicated by Warren's health. I perhaps was the one responsible for spreading the idea that Warren was in bad health again during his move back into contracting when trying to counter-act potential negative community feelings over the lack of updates.

Most of us don't want to talk about health. Aside from a post on my old LiveJournal blog I don't think I've brought up my own nerve problems here. I don't want to talk about how a neurosurgeon looked me in the eyes and told me that if my legs went again I could be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I don't want to talk about how I can't run or walk extensively because my knees swell up and turn purple. I don't want to be known as that "Sick guy who really needs your help." I want to be known as that "tech guy who writes a great blog, makes you think" and as "that tech guy who does an awesome visual documentation site" and as "that tech guy that really knows his hardware." I know a couple of other people on MepisLovers who go out of their way not to talk about medical problems they have.

All of this is going somewhere, and I'm getting to it. The point for me is that I don't really like negative behavior around Mepis. I'd rather be focused on what is next, than on what is now.

So, it hurts again when I see somebody whose been a valued part of the community decide that Mepis isn't moving fast enough, Warren isn't responding fast enough, there isn't enough interest, and so on, decide that he's going to leave the community. From my perspective I perhaps see the move in a worse light since I know this person has threatened to leave again, and again, and again, in the past. It's almost a 3 month cycle of "things are not going the way I think they should be going, I'm pulling the plug and leaving." After a point... that gets old. It's gotten to the point now that I wish the person would shut his trap... and leave. Go ahead, pull the plug, leave a nice note saying goodbye and thanks for all the fish. Then don't come back.

Now, I know Warren is working on Mepis. I know that it is a priority for him. I also know that he's not at own home. He's in a contract apartment last time I checked. He's at a job where people say "thank you for being here" on a regular basis. He's got tasks to do aside from Mepis itself. So what if I don't hear from Warren in a week or so. So what if I don't get an email, or I don't see him log in to say a bug tracking system?

I knew last year that Mepis as a community run distribution probably wasn't going to be a reality until 2009. I think many of the others involved know that there is an extremely long road ahead as we try to find a balance between what works, and what keeps everybody involved at some level. I knew last year that Warren probably wasn't going to be checking in every week, on the week, and so on. I knew that like me, he can go for months without a peep... then turn around and post something amazing.

I, quite frankly, am horribly embarrased about updating the Guide site's front page. It's... I dunno, two months old now I think. That doesn't mean I've stopped committing guides to the archives, or that I've stopped working on the guides. I've got several hardware reviews and other items that need to go up.
In fact, I've actually got a guest submission sitting in the an email inbox that I've been horribly delayed on posting... which is actually the first guest submission ever.

At the same time though, I admit my front page is a mess. The current model of all the guides on the page worked for a little while... but now that I've got guides for AntiX, Mepis-7, Mepis 6, Mepis 3 Series, FTI, Cox, and so on... browsing the front page looking for a specific guide is a bloody pain in the rear. I freely admit that, and I already know how I intend to fix the problem. Simple answer, change the tabs at the top to point to each section, and give each set of guides their own index page.

The point for me there is that I don't see how I have any place to criticize Warren for being unresponsive and less than communicative when I've probably set the benchmark in Mepis for disappearing.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not saying it is not okay to level criticism. I am saying it makes me slightly mad when somebody abuses criticism repeatedly and then runs away.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

OpenGL - Microsoft left?

Small comment again. Got into a discussion over OpenGL. Now, as I've posted before, I hold that DirectX is a dead format. It's a proprietary API that locks developers out of the maximum number of systems they can publish on.

So, I find it very interesting that when talking about OpenGL and going over who all uses the API, a couple of the names stand out. AMD for example, which fields consumer and professional level graphics cards, as well as mobile GPU's that run OGL exclusively. Nvidia's in there too, and they have much the same line-up as AMD's ATi brand.

Then there are computing heavy weights like IBM and Dell who deliver the hardware that a lot of movie studios use to produce CGI effects.

Then there are vendors like Sony, represented by Sony Computer Entertainment... and vendors like Creative who used to field a series of professional level graphics cards.

Further down the lists you'll find entries like Mitsubishi... and Blizzard Activision.

In fact, for the current list? Well, I can only see two major technological vendors missing from the list.

The first of course is Nintendo, which might not be a big a deal as you would think. With contracts with both IBM and AMD, Nintendo is probably better represented by both.

The second is... Microsoft. What makes this even more odd is that I know that unlike Nintendo, Microsoft used to be part of the OpenGL Architecture Review Board. So...

The next time someone says to you that Microsoft supports open Standards... point out that Microsoft left OpenGL in 2003... and hasn't made any effort to rejoin.

Mepis based Computers

Recently the subject of supporting Linux based computers came up again on MepisLovers, and I mentioned once again that I sell custom computers. Well, a couple items about why I don't have a store-front yet. Warren, the creator behind Mepis, doesn't want a store directly attached to the Guide site, and has expressed that he does not want the computers to be branded with the Mepis name either. Similar to the books that I'm working on, they can't be branded with Mepis.

So, I don't have a storefront because I want to put it on my own server, which as I stated on MepisLovers, keeps getting pushed back for one reason or another. While someone else has offered me server space to build up a store on... I'm extremely hesitant to do so for personal reasons... Not many of the them logical...

The result is that outside of an admittedly hard to read blurb on the MepisGuides.com page I don't have a clear posting of what exactly it is I sell. I do most of the hard-details in email or personal messages when somebody wants to buy.

Essentially I sell two different types of computers; custom used and custom new.

Custom Used:

One example of the custom used is the Abit NF7-S 2.0 system that is still up for sale. It's a computer that has been in heavy use for a long while, and I finally got the parts together to replace it with a new system. My target with custom used systems is to be priced at $500 or lower.

Another example of the custom used system is the Athlon64 2800 I listed a while back. It's actually going back up for sale when I complete a hardware report for the system, but it has an open-boxed BioStar Motherboard now, so items like the connector cables are from my stock rather than from the board itself. It also lacks a backplate for the motherboard itself.

Custom Used systems then are older solid boxes, intending to be a bit cheaper.

Custom Built:

The other type of computers I sell are custom built units. These are the ones I explicitly mentioned on MepisGuides.com. While the custom used computers can come in any number of chassis designs, the custom built systems come in Apevia X-Qpack designs only, both the X-QPack and X-QPack2.

While I like the chassis themselves, I can't say that I'm fond of the power supplies they ship with, so all custom built computers come with Thermaltake power supplies equipped with a single 120mm fan.

From there customers have a choice of either an Intel Processor or an AMD processor, and a choice of an Nvidia graphics card or an ATi graphics card. I will state though, and sorry this is not up for argument, an Intel system is not going to be as fast as an AMD processor at the same pricepoint. I've also stated multiple times before that Intel is open-source hostile and AMD is not. So, if you want a system I am going to heavily push AMD processors.

However, if you really want to have an Intel processor, I'll build one in.

Custom Systems used to ship with Chaintech's AV-710 Sound card. However Walton-Chaintech has seen fit to remove this card from the market, and Hercules Guillemot has declined to release their version of the card, the Gamesurround Fortissimo 4, I've had to find a new add-in card. Right now I'm looking at Diamond's XtremeSound XS71 7.1 as the add-in sound card of choice.

Each system also generally ships with a wired keyboard and mouse combo from Apevia, generally because I can get the keyboards and mice in the same colors as the Apevia chassis. As an optional extra then for $30 on top of the base price, the systems will ship with either Ideazone's MERC Keyboard and Mouse combo, or a set from Gear Head.

From there the specifications for each computer system are changed depending on model.

$600 / Melody Class: Melody class computers are the cheapest custom systems, and focus on being extremely quite. Melody systems include replacement fans for the stock Apevia fans, mostly using Scythe quite fans. Melody systems also swap out the stock processor for a 120 MM Zalman heatsink to cut down on the noise.

If an add-in graphics card is desired, fan-less cards will generally be used.

Melody class systems can ship with single core processors since the current cheapest Intel Dual-Core Conroe costs around $175, but the Single cored Conroe-L can be had at 2ghz for around $65.

Melody class systems also only ship with 1 gig of ram.

$800 / Symphonic Class: Symphonic class systems start at $800 and a dual-core minimum processor. They also start with a mid-range graphics card and two gigs of RAM.

However, Symphonic systems do not include replacement fans by default on the Apevia Chassis, which are going to be extra.

$1200 / Orchestra: Orchestra class systems start at $1200 with a quad-core processor and 2gigs of RAM. They also ship with replaced fans, and a higher-ranged graphics card.


Okay, now for the caveats.

Monitors: I generally don't ship or bundle monitors with each system. While I generally recommend buying most computer parts from online retailers, printers and monitors are two components that it's better to shop local retail. You'll generally get a better warranty from an Office Max or Best Buy than you will from an online vendor. You'll also be able to have eyes on contact with the monitor before you shell out money. Technical Specs are one thing... how the monitor actually looks is another.

However, if you want a monitor, I will note that Scepter Monitors are generally a good low-cost choice to buy, and I can add one in to the orders I place.

Credit Cards: Thanks to the help of one very patient customer, I've had an opportunity to go through a direct credit-card system and not paypal or a direct check. Well, if you do want to pay by credit card... yes. I can take it. However, there is going to be a surcharge of 5% of the system cost, and it's going to add a week to the processing time. Sorry, but I don't move enough units to be considered "priority" by the people handling the credit cards.

Warrenty: While I fully expect each computer I make to run years without any problems, all I can really offer is a six month parts warranty.


Extended Services.

I generally do this locally to my area, but I do offer a wider range of extended services involved with custom case building.

Remounting: $50 + price of parts If you have older beige case, and you'd like to move into something that isn't as atrocious to look at, I do offer a remounting service. All of your existing equipment will be transferred over into the new case, and a back up provided for the existing drive.

Cooling: $50 + price of parts: OEM's such as Dell are famous for providing inadequate cooling for their chassis. The idea is that many of their systems are designed to last only a couple of years. Proper case ventilation and processor cooling can go a long ways towards turning a 2 year Dell into a 5 year workhorse.

Limited Hard-drive recovery: I do have a limited ability to recover hard-drives : more information on request, as well as pricing.

Operating System Conversion - Single Drive: $50 : If you want to have a Linux installed on your computer and don't care what happens to the Windows installation, I do offer a service to back up all existing data and convert to Mepis Linux or OpenSuse Linux.

Operating System Addition: Additional Drive: $50 + cost of hard-drive: If you want to have Linux installed on your computer on a separate drive, I do offer this service and either Mepis Linux or OpenSuse Linux will be installed on the second drive.

Operating System Addition - Single Drive: $75 : If you want to have a Linux installed on your computer while retaining your existing Windows Installation on a single drive, I do offer a service to install the Debian based Mepis Linux, or Novell OpenSuse Linux and leave your existing Windows installation relatively intact. Relatively intact is defined as the Microsoft Installation disks should be on hand.

Microsoft Cleanup: $75: If you have a computer running Microsoft Windows as it's primary Operating System, I can clean it up for you. Clean-up procedures include removal of Norton, McAfee, or other less than desirable security products, and installation of tools that are proven to work, such as AVG anti-virus and Spybot Search and Destroy.

Hardware Repairs: $75: If you need hardware repaired or replaced, I can do that as well. Repair includes stress testing of new parts.



I generally don't deal in Laptops because I'm not large enough to have an OEM contract with a major supplier such as Clevo or Asus. However, if you WANT to buy a Notebook with a Linux installed, I do offer something of a consulting and conversion service.

Laptop Conversion: $100: laptop conversions include converting an existing laptop to Mepis Linux or OpenSuse Linux, and 3 day shipping back to the client.

Laptop Addition: $150: Laptop additions include adding an installation of Mepis Linux or OpenSuse Linux to the drive, and 3 day shipping back to the client.

The idea then is that if you want a notebook, simply give me a price-range that you are looking to spend, what kind of screen size you are looking at, what processor type you'd like to have, and what type of graphics card you'd like to have. If you don't know, or really don't care, just give me a price point and I can tell you what's available.

For the charges listed over the price of the laptop + it's initial shipping I will convert it to a Linux base.

I will also do the same for Macintosh computers at the same price points as Laptops.

Is Burton Group Independent? No.

News story this morning citing the OOXML format as superior to the ODF format as established by the Burton Group. Burton Group portray themselves to be independent in the report.

Okay, open up your favorite search engine be it google, yahoo, jeeves, Microsoft Live, or whatever and do a search for these terms:

Burton Group Microsoft

Burton Group Linux

Now... you tell me... is Burton Group Independent, or are they a puppet of Microsoft?

I know what I saw, I saw a hand puppet. So, Burton Group: Nice Try. But there is one important item missing from your research. A history of being accurate.



Seems that ArsTechnica agrees on this matter, they actually have a rebuttal up:


Did Microsoft lose the format war?

Partially major news over the past week or so. Warner Brothers was one of the last dual disc vendors for High Resolution DVD, supplying both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray versions of their movies. Now, Warner Brothers has announced that this summer they will be dropping HD-DVD and supplying High-Resolution movies on Blu-Ray only.

Sounds good then right? Well, not if you believe Don Lindich of the Pittsburgh Post. Seems Mr. Lindich believes that Warner Brothers decision wasn't really on the level. Instead he claims that Warner Brothers told Toshiba to court Fox. Sony countered Toshiba's courting and gave Fox cold hard cash to remain on the Blu-Ray format. As Fox wouldn't switch to HD-DVD, Warner Brothers wouldn't go to HD-DVD, so Warner Brothers went with Blu-Ray. I know, his theory reads like a Soap Opera.

The logic train there notes that Warner Brothers had already determined that they were going to either side with HD-DVD or they were going to side with Blu-Ray. If Warner Brothers went with HD-DVD only, nothing would really change. The current movie production camps were already tilted in Blu-Ray's favor, and going HD-DVD only would simple even the two sides out.

Ergo, in order to end the format war, Warner Brothers wanted another Blu-Ray only studio to switch as well, so that the odds would be tilted in favor of HD-DVD. So, Warner Brothers suggested that Toshiba court Fox who was currently Blu-Ray only, and was having some problems with Blu-Ray production. Old saying, go after the sick and weak, those who already have broken legs.

However, according to Mr.
Lindich, Fox decided that they'd talk with Sony about their production problems, and Sony got them straightened out. Okay, Fox is happy, everything is well, production problems sorted, no reason to switch to HD-DVD.

Okay, Fox isn't moving, so Warner Brothers determines that in order to end the war, they'll go with Blu-Ray, which will then have the most number of publishers period... which will end the war.

Now, I'm going to poke a couple of Star Destroyer sized holes in Mr. Lindich's theory right now.

The basic story might be true. I'll grant that there are some soap operas to be had in the format war, but I think Mr. Lindich overlooks quite a few factors. The first is the sales difference between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Warner Brothers has something close to a 5 to 1 sales advantage of Blu-Ray movies over their HD-DVD counterparts.

Ergo, Warner Brothers was already eying Blu-Ray to begin with.

So, what incentives did Toshiba offer Warner Brothers? What did Toshiba or the HD-DVD Alliance do to start with that would even make Warner Brothers consider the less successful retail product.

Now, Mr. Lindich claims that Sony handed Fox $120million to stay with Blu-Ray... after stating that Fox went to Sony about their production problems. Now, I don't know how many people have been in technical support, but obviously Mr. Lindich has not. Actually, I'm not even convinced he's in the real world.

When you buy a new car, say a Ford, and it breaks down within a couple of months. Who do you take the car to? The Ford Dealership with the trained mechanics from Ford? Or the Chevy dealership with trained mechanics from General Motors. Well, if you Mr. Lindich, you obviously go the Chevy Dealership. If your Not Mr. Lindich, you go to the Ford Dealership.

See what I'm getting at? Fox was having production problems with Blu-Ray. They went to the people who make Blu-Ray, which is Sony, in order to get assistance to solve their problems. That's what you do when something breaks and you have a contract or a warranty. You go to the vendor.

The way Mr. Lindich puts his statement about a payout then misses a crucial question. Exactly what incentives were Toshiba and the HD-DVD alliance offering Fox to begin with? Replacing all of their Blu-Ray production equipment with HD-DVD equipment isn't exactly a non-expensive proposition. So, okay, Sony gives Fox $120million. Mind telling me how much HD-DVD equipment is going to cost?

As I see it Fox placed a call to technical support, got their problem solved, and got some cash back. Hey, that's pretty good if your having to call in.

So, Mr. Lindich's story conveniently leaves out involvement by Toshiba and the HD-DVD alliance, and leaves out one other player.


Now, as I've already laid out in the post Michael Bay ain't crazy, Microsoft has a certain amount of vested interest in insuring that no single High-Resolution format really succeeds. The success of a single Disc-Based format means that Microsoft's streaming plans for Vista are put on a back burner. Never-minding that Vista has already broken the records Windows ME set for failure, Microsoft now has the face the probability that consumers will have easy access to High-Resolution video on numerous consumer devices that are not it's Xbox 360 lineup, and are not dependent on using Vista.

Fact is, Sony's managed to slice production costs on the Playstation3. It's well down from the original production cost of $800, and according to Engadget Sony can chunk a PlayStation 3 out for around $400. This is good news for the consumer since it makes a $299 version of the PlayStation 3 more likely in the US. Now, keep in mind that Sony already has a 299 version of the PlayStation 3 in the UK markets. Okay, so that version of the PlayStation 3 lacks any compatibility with PlayStation 2 games, lacks the memory card reader, and drops 2 USB ports. But, it is the same basic Blu-Ray player that you get with the higher priced models.

Now, I've stated before that I don't think Sony can get away with selling the PlayStation 3 as a Blu-Ray device only. I still stand by that statement. I think Sony is making a horrible blunder by not shipping the PlayStation 3 with Compiz-Fusion enabled desktop, Open Office, FireFox, and Thunderbird. I think that if Sony can get it into their heads that they still have the chance to completely smash Vista to pieces by turning the most powerful home console you can buy into the cheapest and most powerful Linux Computer you can buy, sales will effectively detonate.. Seriously, the cheapest system I sell is $600, and at that price point? It's not even a contest.

So, again, getting back to Microsoft. Did they lose the format war? Well, yes, they lost this part of the war. But keep in mind that Microsoft already was planning exit strategies back when the Xbox 360 launched. There is a Blu-Ray drive coming for the Xbox 360. There has been software support for Blu-Ray in Windows for quite a while. The dream of Microsoft to abolish the disc-based formats and move everyone onto streamed DRM movies with Vista?

It's back in the gutter where it belongs.

Monday, January 14, 2008

CoH: Travel

In City of Heroes I have a short list of items that I refer to as my idiot list. The idiot list contains certain items or actions that let me know that I'm playing with a complete moron. There are some qualifications before making it onto the list such the number of vet badges. If you don't have any vet badges, or maybe one or two, it's fine to make disastrous choices when building a character. Most of us playing have made some truly brain dead power choices at one point or another.

Tops on my list of people I'd rather not play with because they are idiots are those who choose multiple travel powers. In City of Heroes players have 4 different travel powers that can be obtained at lvl 14. Players can fly like Superman, jump like the Hulk, speed around like The Flash, or teleport around like Nightcrawler. Each of the travel powers is made up of 4 different powers, with the travel power itself being the third in the line-up. In order to get a travel power players must take at least minor power first.

The Fly classification for example has the powers of hover is a much slower version of fly; air superiority, which is an attack; fly, which as the name indicates allows the player to fly around; and Group Fly, which allows the entire team to fly around.

Thus, in order to obtain Fly players must already have a preceding power, either hover or air superiority. The same goes for the super jump class, super speed, and teleport. In order to two different travel powers then players must invest at least 2 extra powers in addition to the travel powers themselves. So somebody with both Super Jump and Super Speed must have at least combat jumping or jump kick, and haste or flurry.

Now, the big question is why would you not want two travel powers? Well, the first aspect is that power space is limited. A quick /respec on my kin/elec defender shows that in order to get every single power in my primary and secondary sets requires me to take two pool powers along the way, and at lvl 38 when I can get my last electrical power, I have 4 slots left over. In order to take 2 travel powers, I would only have 2 slots left over to spend on my epic power sets or other useful pool powers.

Not everybody is going to take all of the primary and secondary powers, and in some cases it is possible for some character classes to get away without many of the secondary powers, or get away with dropping some of the powers in the primary slot. Example, my Kin/Elec defender. Since a defender is primary support for the team, I used 3 available power slots to take the medic pool powers instead of attacks. On a Ill/Storm controller I have I didn't take two of the first four Illusionist powers because one of them was duplicated later in the secondary power set, and the other was a junk power. On my scrappers I generally avoid taking the taunt attack, since a scrapper isn't supposed to tank.

The second aspect of why multiple travel powers are a bad idea is that they don't stack. Trust me, I've spent a lot of time on the test server mucking about with various builds. Stacking Super Jump and Super Speed together does not net you any boost in performance. When you are in the air Super Jump speed applies, and when you are on the ground super speed limits apply. A quick experiment players can duplicate on the test server is to take a character with Super Speed and a character with Super Jump to Boomtown on the hero side or Cap Au Diable on the villain side. In Boomtown make your way to the top of the big roadways just north of the door from Steel Canyon. In Cap Au Diable, head up into the center of the city and find one of the walls up above the moat. Now... Jump off.

Okay, both seem to jump off at about the same speed going forwards. Now, go back and do it again but try to turn to the left or to the right. Note that the Super Jump power remains the same speed as you go left or right, but once your move using Super Speed? All of that speed is suddenly lost.

What Super Jump does is it gives the player air control. Super Jump removes the weight and physics restrictions when the player is in the air. If you want to jump, and then suddenly turn back another way, Super Jump lets you do that. Super Speed increases your ground speed. As long as you are touching the ground Super Speed increases your running rate. Once you lose contact with the ground though, Super Speed no longer applies.

The same is held true in the Kinetic powers of Speed Boost and Inertial Reduction. During the Winter Event many players kept calling for Speed Boost to get down the ski slope, but where unable to post good times because they had absolutely zero control over their movements once they were bumped off the ground by the slope. Players with Super Jump, and those hit with Inertial Reduction which gives a temporary super jump like affect to all players hit, were able to easily post times under 18 seconds. I myself posted a time just above 16.1 seconds.

When players combine Super Jump and Super Speed, what they are actually getting is a trade-off. A similar velocity is achieved whether or not the player is on the ground or in the air. However, veteran users of Super Jump are quite easily able to place themselves so that they continue jumping on and on, and never drop speed. Veteran users of Super Speed are easily able to track their paths forward so that if they do have to take a jump, they'll be able to take it in a straight line and keep their speed.

Overall then, combining Super Jump and Super Speed is a bad idea. Instead of making the character stronger with their own powers, or by taking more useful powers in the pool sets, like leadership, players weaken their characters trying to be cute about in-game travel.

One of the excuses I saw directly given for combining Super Speed with any other travel power is that Super Speed boosts stealth. Technically, this is true. Players with Super Speed do have a small stealth bonus. Players will also need to pick up Haste or Flurry, and Haste is one of the better pool powers in the game as it can rapidly speed up attacks and reduce countdown timers on long recharge powers like the revive powers. The excuse follows that players pick up Haste too boost their attack rate, then combine Super Speed with their other travel power for a Stealth bonus.

That excuse is promptly ruined by one of the pool power sets: concealment. Which for the first available power has Stealth. Stealth not only uses less endurance than Super Speed, it also grants a decent defense bonus while traveling, and a much higher bonus to hide from enemy mobs. Seriously, be honest. If you picked up fly for a power, you probably don't intend to be on the ground that much to begin with.

The excuse is made even worse when Tanks pick up a stealth power. A class that is designed explicitly to draw enemy aggro and take the aggro... trying to hide. Yeah, not really along the lines of what one would consider brilliant.

Combining travel powers isn't the only aspect of the travel power choices that have bugged me in the past. It's when classes chose a pool power that really isn't suited for their classs. Example, fire armors without Super Jump and it's level 20 power, Acrobatics. Fire Armor shares a common weakness with the Dark Armor sets, there is no native resistance to certain types of status effects. Fire and Dark armor sets have no native powers to protect against knockback or hold. So, the level 20 pool power of
Acrobatics found in the Super Jump power set is a class requirement. However, I've seen several Fire and Dark armors that don't pick Acrobatics up and go with other travel powers like fly or super speed. Then I promptly witness them getting their collective rear ends handed to them on silver platters by enemies 10 levels below. I remember one Fire Armor who was exceedingly happy my Kin/Elec had Increase Density. I flat out told him no I wasn't going to boost him during battle because he was an idiot.

Don't get me wrong on this, I'm not trying to discourage experimenting with different powers and how to set up and combine those powers. What I am trying to get across is to consider all aspects of what the power sets do, and how they'll play out.

And when a 15month vet badge defender starts telling a 27month badge scrapper how they should slot defense powers? Well, that just about tops the list of idiotic things that can be done in the game.

Nintendo pulls in execs from outside industry

Last year Nintendo made a surprising move of forcing it's sales and marketing groups to move to other cities. The move resulted in some of the existing sales and marketing staff to retire and leave Nintendo, rather than move. While I can't claim I understand, or could explain, exactly what Nintendo was thinking in forcing sales and marketing to move to begin with, mainly as I think it was a boneheaded move, I think I can comment on the recent announcement of new executives being placed in the Bay Area office in Redwood, California.

Gamesindustry.biz reports that Denise Kaigler, formerly of Reebok, is replacing Perrin Kaplan as the new vice president of marketing and corporate affairs. Bill Van Zyll, formerly of Whirlpool, will be taking over as director and general manager of Latin America.

Now, I know the first thought that will run through a lot of heads is why in the world Nintendo pick up executives outside of the electronics world? Well, consider Reggie Fils-Aime. Sure, he came out of VH1 where he was credited with turning the channel's ratings around, but his biggest accomplishments came from Pizza Hut.

Thing is, Nintendo keeps thinking outside of the box. One of the big factors behind the Wii's success is that it appeals to both the hardcore gamer, and the completely clueless. Consider the Brain Age games for the DS. You couldn't possibly call them a game by the standards of 1999 or 2001, but they sell like hotcakes. Then there is the WarioWare franchise, which is made up of nothing but micro-games.

Nintendo figured out that in order to continue growing they couldn't focus on the same people buying the same product all over again. I went into that subject when talking about World of Warcraft not being the benchmark for MMO's, and when talking about the best MMO. The result is that the Wii has one of the widest ranges of software available outside of a Debian Repository.

That's where marketing execs from the likes of Reebok and Whirlpool fit in. For Nintendo it's not just about selling games and products to the 10 million or so people who bought them last time around, it's about selling to the hundreds of millions more who buy shoes and dishwashers. It's about selling to a wider range of potential buyers. It worked with Reggie, so there's reason to believe it will work again.

Friday, January 11, 2008

CES: Bill Gate Gates dodges a question

During CES 2008 Microsoft front-man Bill Gates sat down for a video chat. During the chat the popular Gizmodo Website posed a question to Mr. Gates: What Microsoft product could have used a little more polish before release?

The recorded answer was a bit of a shock as Bill Gates stated the following in the midst of nervous laughter.
Ask me after we ship the next version of Windows. Then I'll be more open to giving you a blunt answer. -Bill Gates: CES 2008
Since the response was recorded in video there were several visual clues that normally would not be obtained in a normal text based reported. For example, the look on Mr. Gates face, and the fact that while answering the question he started to shift nervously, plus the changes in tone of voice. It was obvious that the answer given was not the answer that Mr. Gates wanted to give. In fact, it was so obvious Gizmodo ran the story under the title: Holy Crap: Did Bill Gates Just Say Windows Sucks?

Now, while getting something along the line of Mr. Gates saying Windows Sucks out of the response requires the use of a microscope while reading between the lines, the response was not positive towards Vista. The question then becomes why would Mr. Gates dodge talking about Vista? Well, for starters, it is Microsoft's flagship Operating System. If Mr. Gates outright degrades Vista on camera, it would be the final nail in the coffin for Vista. As is several other journalists are starting to call foul on the numbers for Vista's launch, with one website referring to the numbers as pie-in-the-sky and then later in the same article suggesting that perhaps the lower management didn't have the guts to tell the upper management what the real numbers were. Source: Bootdaily.

The problem is compounded by Mr. Gates having noted during the same CES, and as reported by Australian site Itnews, the 3 to 1 sales ratio of Xp to Vista hadn't gone anywhere. Over 60% of all new computers shipping with a version of Windows are shipping with Xp.

So, the point is gotten, Vista is a flop and Bill Gates didn't want to talk about it. Why then dodge the question? Why not just admit that Vista wasn't up to par, can't compete with Linux, can't compete with it's predecessor, and just be done with it?

Well, for starters, Mr. Gates is leaving Microsoft this July. As announced in June 2006 by Microsoft, there would be a 2 year transition period to separate Mr. Gates from Microsoft and transition to younger management. If the details were to be taken at face value then, Mr. Gates was not running the Vista Operating. The person running it would have been the prancing developer, Mr. Steve Ballmer.

By dodging the question at CES, Mr. Gates has distanced himself from Vista. He's made it clear that he does not consider it a good product, voices his doubts of the product, but doesn't actually come out and and say anything that could come back and directly haunt himself. For Mr. Ballmer, this is not what could be referred to as a good thing. There are lots of rumors that Mr. Ballmer is only still with Microsoft due to being kept at Mr. Gates pleasure. Once Mr. Gates leaves this July, Mr. Ballmer isn't going to have his protection.

There are also several rumors indicating that many of Microsoft's more senior staff aren't too happy with Mr. Ballmer. Over the past several years Mr. Ballmer has become more and more of a public relations disaster. Exampling the numerous threats that Linux infringes on Microsoft patents when there is confirmed evidence that Microsoft violates Open-Source licenses, and has stolen GPL'd code. Then there was the whole Chair Incident. Now, there's Vista.

With Mr. Gates having had his departure announced before Vista went to retail, he's not in the Vista picture. That leaves Mr. Ballmer as the front-man, and that's not a good thing. It isn't a secret that many within Microsoft also lay the blame for Vista square at Mr. Ballmer's feet.

Now, this is complete conjecture, but I'm going to say it anyways. It's my opinion that once Mr. Gates leaves Microsoft, the shareholders and board of directors will rapidly remove Mr. Ballmer from the company. I would also say it's a decided possibility that Mr. Gates might remove Mr. Ballmer directly just before leaving, as a goodwill gesture to the rest of the company.

Microsoft needs to do something to indicate that they understand exactly how bad Vista went for them, and dropping Ballmer? Might just be the real answer to the question Mr. Gates dodged.