I’m still alive.

I’ve had a lot of things go on that have made me forget about updates here for a while. We sold our condo and bought a house, started renovations on the house which still aren’t fixed, spent over 3 weeks on a business trip in India, my computer died on me (twice) and had to be repaired, and I also installed Windows 8 on it (twice). I’m hoping to start publishing some updates soon.

The Witcher 2.

For several years, I was addicted to a computer game called The Witcher. It was a great first person fantasy game with real time combat, good puzzles, and a very good, and in depth, virtual world that lent itself to exploration and character interaction. Michelle would come into the study and say, “Oh, Fabio,” because of the long hair of the protagonist. I’m pretty sure that I’ve played through it about 5 times now, only the first time having no idea about anything in the game other than what I discovered as I went. (On subsequent playing I had read about all of the things I’d missed and made sure to do things right.)

I was excited when The Witcher 2 came out because, by all accounts, it was just like the first one but a lot better. I’ve only just started to play it but I’m already disappointed. I just can’t get used to the new interface. It’s just difficult to use. This is not because I have a poor video card and am simply having problems with the game being slow on my system – rather, I just don’t like the new interface elements. It’s not only different (and in a bad way) from The Witcher, it’s also different from almost every other “first person shooter” game I’ve played. I shouldn’t have to fight with manipulating mouse, keyboard, and onscreen elements – I should end up immersed in the game itself, and not even really be aware of the fact that I’m “controlling” things. Yet, that’s not the case with The Witcher 2. Instead, I end up cursing at the game mechanics the entire time I’m playing it, and I don’t really look forward to sitting down and seeing what happens next because I know that I’m not going to have a good experience.

I even have problems with the simple visuals. I’ve read a lot of reviews about how stunning the game is. Being constantly distracted by having to fight with the game engine aside, I haven’t even really found that to be the case. One of the problems is the lighting. Either everything is too dark – even in mid-day it doesn’t seem as if there’s enough light – or, if I turn up the brightness, it’s too bright and details get lost in glare that’s been introduced.

As of this moment, if I were to give the original game a score of 10, I’d have to give this game a score of 6 – and that’s if I’m being generous. I’m actually quite amazed that I haven’t read a single negative review in line with what I’ve experienced. A lot of people mention problems with the menu system. Personally, it doesn’t bother me. (Even though the mouse pointer is far too slow when navigating the menus. Not when actually playing mind you, just when using the menus. I find this very odd and, frankly, rather surprising as something as simple as that should never happen. I’ve tried several suggestions to fix this, all to no avail.) For me, it’s the actual game play, and not menu system navigation, that’s important. Strangely, nobody in their reviews mentioned the problems that I’ve had. The game is fast and responsive – it’s just … “klunky” (for lack of a better word) and hard to control. I spend far too much time correcting what I’ve done and trying to point at the right thing, or go to the right place. The difference between the original game and this one is like night and day, and I wish that I could have the old game engine back – although with the game design changes (such as new combat mechanics, etc.) that have been made in the sequel.

I’m really hoping that it will grow on me, but I’m afraid it won’t.

Another game that intrigues me is the upcoming Legend of Grimrock. I stumbled upon it when looking at a review of Minecraft – also an interesting game, but not one that’s to my personal taste. LoG seems like something very simple and fun. Perhaps just the thing for me to get over my disappointment with The Witcher 2.

Everything happens for a reason?

That’s a saying that Michelle likes to use a lot. We’ve had some debates over it in the past and, ironically, her boss, Reverend Dr. Derek Anderson, takes my side; he disagrees with the saying just as I do (although I haven’t sat down to talk with him about his reasons for doing so). The saying seems to imply that there’s a destiny for everybody, and the problem that many people have with that is they believe that fate is in conflict with free will. I don’t actually think that’s the case. I think it’s possible you could have people who are completely free to choose what they want to do – yet the universe is set up in such a way that the actions of everybody are still predetermined. It wouldn’t be that they are forced or compelled to do something, or that their decisions don’t matter. Think of somebody videotaping the next 10 minutes of your life and the choices you freely make. After those 10 minutes, they rewind the tape and play it back. You know exactly what’s going to happen because it’s already happened. But that doesn’t invalidate what you did at the time that the recording took place. What if the universe is like that? What if it’s already all been recorded and we’re just playing things back? Would you feel any less surprised by the way things turn out?

I’m also not sure that the saying has to imply that there’s a destiny anyway. Look at somebody playing a game of chess. They move a piece from one square to the other. The movement of that piece is “what happened” (and there’s also a reason for it having happened) – but it’s not the case that they necessarily knew, 3 moves back, that they were going to make that move; nor is it necessarily the case that they know what’s going to happen 3 moves into the future. Looking at things in that light dispenses with a set destiny, because the player is making things up as they go along, but it also challenges the idea of free will even more than the first position. (Because the piece is being moved rather than being allowed to move on its own.)

My personal opinion is that things just happen to you by chance. I think that we’re able to influence events to some degree, and our actions can cause some sets of events to be more likely to occur than others, but I don’t think that anything is a given. Nor do I believe that there is some outside, sentient force specifically governing everything that we do and making us do things towards some purpose that remains unknown to us. (I have no reason to believe that – and I would find it to be the most terrifying thing of all if it were true – because I won’t want anybody or anything directly controlling me.) Which is not to say that I don’t believe there’s some kind of positive “life force” that everything living is a part of. While I’m not going to try to articulate that here, I do believe that we are all part of the same energy and that this energy is synergistic and positive.

The above aside, though, what I really object to about this saying is (to me) its hypocrisy. People only say it when something good happens, either spontaneously (winning the lottery) or after something bad (being fired then finding a better job). I think of it as a kind of trite emotional band-aid – but one which is only applied after the fact – and one which is really just a crutch for having faith in yourself and being positive in your own right, rather than assuming that there are good things planned for you. (Ultimately, you need to be the captain of your own ship – otherwise you’re not really living, you’re just existing and going along for the ride.) The fact that it’s hypocritical seems obvious to me when nobody takes it to its logical conclusion (as an objective statement) by saying it when something bad happens. I get struck down with flesh-eating disease and am told I’m going to die by morning. Nobody is going to cheerfully tell me, “Oh, well. Everything happens for a reason!” Nor did anybody go around saying that to Holocaust survivors, or people who suffered any number of other tragedies. To actually say that, in those circumstances, would be considered the height of insensitivity. But if you can’t say it in those situations, at times when people need to feel hope more than any other time in their lives – when they’re right at the brink of despair – then what’s the use of having it has a “happy catchphrase” in the first place? Instead, in those cases, what’s normally said is, “We’ve been through bad times before, and got through them, we’ll get through this too.”

So, not only do I not actually agree with the statement in general, I don’t actually see the point in using it at all. I’d rather say, “Can’t life be amazing sometimes?”, or “I’ll never get over how connected everything is,” or “It sure is a small world,” or just, “Wow!”

New beer.

There’s a new brewery that’s opened up in Toronto: Spearhead Brewery. It’s always good when we get more variety. Even more impressive is the number of pubs that will be serving it (I assume) on tap. In addition to some of our favourites, C’est What? and “The Academy Of Spherical Arts, there’s a lengthy list of others that we haven’t even visited yet, but will need to add to our Toronto list – not just for this beer but in general.

Back to normal.

I’ve finished converting everything on this site to WordPress. In general, I’m quite pleased with the transition process and I believe that I’ve made everything look as close to the old site as possible. The one thing that’s missing, that I couldn’t resolve technically, was the use of newspaper columns for my articles. When I tried to apply them to my WordPress theme I ended up with some columns being wildly different heights than others – and it seemed to do so randomly. I was never able to determine why this was happening or how to fix it. However, although it was an interesting formatting feature, I don’t think I’m really losing much by not having it.

I’ve meant to post here several times recently, but never seemed to get around to doing it. Hopefully that will now change.

Watch this space.

This is a very quick post to say that I’ve now switched from Moveable Type to WordPress. I like working with WordPress a lot more, however there’s an extensive amount of work I need to do on the site as a whole to re-integrate everything and “skin” it to look like it did before. As of this moment, things still don’t look right immediately – and I don’t have any of my personal, non-blog components hooked up properly either.

No comments for you!

I’ve recently discovered (because I never comment on my own blog entries) that comments are no longer working. Instead, when trying to add a comment, I get a nice error message that doesn’t tell me anything. The software my blog is currently using is Moveable Type. I’ve been using this since version 3.x was released, several years ago. I’m not exactly “unsavvy” when it comes to researching a problem and fixing it; in this case, however, I’ve had no luck determining what the problem is. (After looking into a few things that did no good.) It’s not just me either – the problem is also affecting Michelle’s blog.

I may end up having to export my blog entries and comments and either completely reinstall Movable Type (then import) – or simply switch over to WordPress. This is the other leading blog software, and one which Michelle is now using at work for her church’s Web site.

I find it annoying that I recently had a bunch of spam comments appear here – despite the fact that adding comments the normal way doesn’t work. That may also be a good indicator that I should give WordPress a try and see if I like it better. In the meantime, however, you can read everything I write, but – unless you’re a spammer – you won’t be able to comment…

Selective vilification.

I just read a news story about some people who showed up for Halloween as a KKK member and one of his victims (somebody dressed up in “black face”). They showed up at an event at the Campbellford branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, kicking off a firestorm of protest and indignation over the blatant racism being portrayed.

I’m all in favour of being sensitive to the climate of people around you. That’s why I recently argued that the owners of Burlington’s own breakfast spot, Russell Williams, should seriously consider changing the name of their restaurant – given the recent events surrounding the serial killer of the same name. I recognize that the restaurant has been in existence for a long time, and that there is nothing wrong with the name per se, but a name change might lend a degree of sympathy towards the situation, fending off any criticisms by people who are upset by the association and generating good will on the part of the owners. Some people might react by saying that there was no need, but others might nod in appreciation. As a business, I see more of a potential downside to not changing the name.

In the same light, as in the case of the KKK costumed party-goer, if I do something that seriously offends a lot of people, or which I believe will offend a lot of people, I should carefully consider if I really want to do it or not. Of course, that never stopped the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Tom Green, or, in the past year, Joaquin Phoenix, all of whom have gone out of their way to deliberately offend or cause extreme reactions. And perhaps that was the intent of this costumed pair. In which case they likely deserved the reaction that they got. Or maybe they were just so short-sighted as to not realize what would happen. Then again, maybe they really are racists and simply don’t care. For either of those situations the reaction is still just as deserved.

However. There’s another part of me that can’t help but think about Halloween in general. As it’s become in modern times, it’s a celebration of the grotesque and macabre. The “very best” outfits are those that revel in death, destruction, and the callous mistreatment of others by the characters being portrayed by those dressing up in their likeness. Do we really want to say that it’s perfectly okay to dress up as hideous, depraved monsters – and make fun of those who’ve been horribly mutilated and mistreated? How is it okay to be perfectly content with that message but still get riled up over somebody dressing up in a KKK outfit? Surely torture and murder would seem to be at a higher level of moral repugnance (and unacceptability) than just racial intolerance. If it’s all just in fun – why is it that some things still can’t be?

I’m sure it has something to do with both the fact that the KKK outfit is representative of a real-life situation – and also that it symbolizes events that are still too recent in our collective conscious for us to easily forget. I don’t think that anybody would have a problem with somebody dressed up as Genghis Khan – but they would almost certainly have a problem with somebody dressed up as Hitler. While both represent the same level of moral reprehensibility – one is so far in the past that any sense of immediate outrage has long ago passed, making it easy to accept the “fictional myth” rather than fighting against communicated personal pain.

This is a no strain zone.

I recently decided that I’d investigate getting a new keyboard for home and work. Up until then I’d been using a Microsoft Natural keyboard for a few years and had quite enjoyed it. For any touch-typist, it makes things easier and reduces strain on your wrists – but I suspected that there were still better keyboards out there.

I decided to get a Freestyle w/VIP accessory from Kinesis. They have another model, the Advantage Pro, which might end up being even better, but it also has a learning curve of several weeks and I wanted something that I could just start typing on right away.

In addition to the keyboard, I got an Evoluent VerticalMouse, which is like a regular mouse except turned 90 degrees so that you’re “shaking hands” with it rather than holding it with your palm down. This is a much more natural position for your hand and arm to be in, so it relieves stress that way too.

Of course, I got a set of these for home and work. It didn’t make sense for them to be in one spot but not the other. I got Michelle one of the mice for her to have at work too, but not the keyboard as she wasn’t too sure of that one right away. (If she gets used to it at home, I will see about getting another one for her at work.)

So far I quite like both of them. I’m not able to control the new mouse quite as well as a regular mouse, but I’m getting better at it. I’m also able to type on the new keyboard just about as well as the old one, and I think it will improve a bit as time goes on.

What’s old is new again.

After months of work again, on and off, I’ve got the new server online. For all that I wish I hadn’t lost it all earlier, I actually did learn some new things rebuilding it from scratch once more.

In the process, I also had a look at the latest Horde / Imp for a Web-based email alternative to SquirrelMail (which I’ve liked using, but I thought it was time for a change). I was surprised that the interface was still not tightly integrated and that a changing message count was not properly reflected in the UI elements. A curt and non-helpful response told me to use Dimp for that instead. I took at a look at it, but it had its own problems. I’d used it once before, had a problem, and, back then, had also run into non-helpful responses from the developer and its membership. I finally gave up with it, and that’s what led me to SquirrelMail.

I finally scrapped Imp – again. This time, I decided to try RoundCube. It’s still in early development stages (although I gather it’s been around for a while) – but they’re doing it right. While it’s basic at the moment, the interface seems spot on from the beginning. It seems to me as if that’s the correct approach – don’t throw all sorts of things together until you can get the basic framework looking good and working well.