Monday, November 15, 2010

Early steps with Starcraft 2

This weekend I completed the campaign of Starcraft 2. I played it mostly on casual, except those scenarios that I failed to complete on casual, which I replayed at a harder level. I was a bit disappointed in the length of the campaign: for some reason I had expected... More. It's the same reason why I stopped playing World of Warcraft: I like the parts that are hardest to create: story lines. I don't really care doing things a second time at a harder level if they continue to look the same (in Ulduar things looked surprisingly different on hard modes, which made them something I wanted to do).

However, I don't think people play Starcraft 2 for the story. In fact, I only played the campaign so that it would be marked as complete on my profile: I was already heavily involved in playing with other players. I use "with" deliberately here: my first games were with a friend of mine against the computer. Unfortunately the AI is easily tricked by a cloud of mutalisks, which you can build before their first wave hits. By carefully attacking their base right at the moment they arrive at yours, you can force their army to return to their base, leaving you more time to build more units... So fighting against the computer became slightly less interesting.

This is where we decided to form a group and fight in a dedicated 2v2 league, for which we developed and tried out a number of strategies, some of which I will describe in later blog posts. For some reason, playing those 2v2 games reduced the number of practice games I had available as well, and after doing some practice games too, I decided to qualify for 4v4. 4v4 had one problem, though: despite being fast, my MSI GX630 is not fast enough for that mode. 3v3 works fine, but in 4v4 the battle is over before I can do anything. So I decided to quality for 3v3 next.

I'm avoiding 1v1 because I'm playing more to cooperate with other people rather than fight against people. Of course, most people seem to think of this differently, and there were even cases where my partners started to fight each other over resources, rather than focus on the common enemy. But this is part of the fun. I'm still in the copper league at all levels, which means I'm in the bottom 40%. But that's ok, I'm only just beginning to grasp how everything fits together, and there might be many things that I'm still missing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My "new" keyboard

My old keyboard, a 1984 Tulip, sadly died. The CTRL key had already broken off once, but I had managed to glue it back on. This time the damage was too much, though, and I had to get rid of it. Fortunately I had another keyboard, the Northgate Omnikey Ultra, in storage. This is a slightly more modern keyboard, from 1989, and is actually a step up from the Tulip. Some of the keyboard layout is a bit odd (I fixed most of it by reassigning scan codes, but there are still a few areas that I need to get used to) but the typing is amazing. I had used it before at work in Rochester, but there the people complained about the noise (it is loud) so I stopped using it. A keyboard like this makes you want to type. I looked on the Internet, and generally people seem to agree (Wikipedia calls it "the best in the industry". Other websites talk about "a legend in the computer industry", "personal favorite", "best keyboard", and the leader of PC World's column "the 30 products and services we miss most").

And PC World is right. The Tulip keyboard, the Northgate, and the IBM Model M keyboards are no longer available. The only way you can buy them is used, and given their lifespan of about 30 years, they will eventually only be seen in musea. Creative Vision Technology tried to make a keyboard like them in 2006, but it seems those aren't sold anymore either. What these keyboards have in common is that they use Alps Slider Switches, rather than a membrane. This means that they are more susceptible to liquids (if the liquid gets into the switch, your keyboard is basically dead) but also that anyone typing on them will notice that they are better. They aren't necessarily ergonomic (they can still cause carpal tunnel syndrome) but they just feel extremely good. And, just faster than sound flights, they are no longer commercially available.

The disappearance of these magnificent keyboards is most likely caused by the mouse. Because the mouse became more important in the interaction with the computer, the keyboard became less important, and people were no longer willing to spend $190 on a good keyboard. Instead, they bought a $5 keyboard and a slightly more expensive mouse. Which is fine for people that never used the old keyboards. But I will miss them. Let's hope my Northgate will last a long time, still.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Risk assessment

Today I saw someone update their feed with "Stuck in traffic [...]". I'm hoping that a passenger sent the message, but it is likely that the driver, while stuck, decided an update wouldn't hurt. Oddly, in the same feed is a message "[...] school bus w/o seat belts [...] Should I just drive her & pick her up?". For some reason there are people that think that buses (even without seat belts) are less safe than cars, and that sending updates from cars while driving doesn't increase risk. Here are some statistics:

Number of deaths per billion based on one hour of risk exposure (from the book 'Dangerous Places'):
Rail or bus in the United States: 10
Traveling by car: 1200

Increase of crash risk due to sending a text message from a car: 23x.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mosha down: visitors

Mosha is in the guest bed room, and the visitors complained about the noise, so I had to turn the server off. I should be back in at most two weeks. My apologies for the inconvenience.