Sunday, October 26, 2014

Beware Cosmic Religious Propaganda

So I went looking for Carl Sagan's Cosmos today on various internet outlets.  I have the first episode in my sweaty little palms on loan from Netflix, and I'm ready to give up and just get a cheap second hand copy of the program.  Having found good prices on eBay, I thought I'd compare pricing on Amazon.com.

Went to Amazon, typed in "Cosmos Carl Sagan" and midway down the page I found this, something
I had to review negatively;

I hate this for one very simple reason.  Not that I've seen it, it's religion masquerading as science and not worth my time to investigate.  Much like the billboards claiming to care about poor pregnant women, but are actually nothing more than groups set up specifically to scare women away from having an abortion (every street in Texas has one of these billboards) this video exists merely obfuscate the truth of science and prop up the dying embers of religion in a scientific age. 
No, the reason I hate this video, the presence of this video in my search results, is that I specifically went looking for "Cosmos Carl Sagan". I didn't want to get false results for Neil Degrasse Tyson's new show (not that I don't love it too) what I wanted was to see the purchasing options for Carl Sagan's PBS program.  Instead of finding a good offering for the real program, I'm offered this schlock in its place. 
I missed Cosmos when it was originally broadcast because the backwater of Kansas that I grew up in didn't have access to public television.  We had churches on nearly every street corner, but only one tiny library.  Cable was a new invention.  By weird coincidence the cable company took over the Kingdom Hall across the street from my home in that small town, which was a great relief to us since the Jehovah's Witnesses stopped at our house every time they went canvassing. While we couldn't afford to buy cable services, at least we were no longer disturbed by people who wanted to pass on their twisted message of god on a nearly daily basis. No computers, no internet.  Only country radio and two fuzzy TV channels we could pick up with an aerial.   
I'm reasonably certain that the idyllic setting I'm describing is something that the liars who created & marketed this program on Amazon including the keywords "Cosmos Carl Sagan" would greatly prefer over the current ability to find accurate information regarding the natural universe and what we really know about it.  That they would give up not only blu-rays and Amazon, the current technological marvels of cell phones, electric cars, wind turbines, etc; all of science, medicine and progress. Give it all up and go live in caves clad only in the skins of animals that they had to kill themselves, if only they could be assured that their bronze-age god was real. 
To them I say "go find your cave and give up your comfortable cotton clothing. Hand over your cell phones and your comfortable air conditioned houses. You do not deserve to benefit from the achievements of science, since you hold it in so little regard." Either that, or pull this offering from the marketplace and apologize to the memory of Carl Sagan for ever creating it in the first place, much less placing it on Amazon falsely linked to his name. 
I really want to know.  Why is this program included in my search results?  Why is the Creation museum allowed to key their products with the name "Carl Sagan"?  This is disturbing, like finding homeopathic cures, and cigarettes in my pharmacy. Oh wait, that happens too.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Revolution Already in Progress; Now Go Vote!

I have a confession to make; several of them actually, and not all of them will occur here.  I used to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out on the forums of Dan Carlin's website (newly renovated) largely because I tended to agree with his political arguments and loved his history show. Since I first signed on those forums I've abandoned them several times because of various hostile posters, only to be drawn back again because of some inane argument presented in of his Common Sense podcasts.

The latest Common Sense (titled Kickstarting the Revolution) is a nice illustration of why I have stopped spending time arguing with devotees of Carlin's on his website, and why I contemplate abandoning his political podcast altogether.  Starting from the false attribution to Churchill which he repeats and is debunked on Churchill's website like so;
"If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart.  If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain." There is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University makes this comment: "Surely Churchill can't have used the words attributed to him. He'd been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35!  And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?"
Never mind that I personally can disassemble the assertion by simply observing that I have never been an ideologue, and it is not solely the realm of the young as he insists when he brings up that misquote (ideologues making up the bulk of liberalism in his argument) since there are any number of hidebound hoary old ideologues out there insisting that their ideology must be followed, and that make up the bulk of the Conservative wing of the Republican party. 

But that's just where he starts to go off the rails.
I don't think a lot of you have perhaps considered that we are a month away from the 2016 election kickoff, and I know what you are thinking because I always think the same thing; already?!?  Yeah, the midterm elections are a month away.  If you've got some fancy-schmancy wise interesting outside the box idea for impacting the 2016 Presidential elections for all our good, you need to start it now.
No Dan, that isn't what I'm thinking. What I'm thinking is that you (and the vast majority of the electorate apparently) are once again mistaking authority for ability.  Attributing to the President more power than he actually has, and holding him accountable for actions beyond the powers of his office (on the one hand) and expecting the next President will be able to exercise powers he doesn't have in order to fix things which aren't under his control in the office of President (on the other) What this podcast represents, at the end of another long and winding hour and a half, is one more episode chalked up in support of the dictator theme; the false dream that electing the one right person will fix things, skipping over the very obvious fact that what is important right here and right now is that people go vote in the midterms.

The lackadaisical way that US Americans approach the obligation to participate in government both highlights the need for a requirement that people participate in their government; while at the same time reinforcing the observation that we get the government we deserve.

This reliance on the President, this common belief that this one person can fix the ills of an increasingly complex system inhabited by hundreds of millions of people who are all going about their merry way living their own lives, is the worst kind of naivete.  Couple that with the blind insistence that the calcifying remnants of the two party system are no different from each other, in the face of the popular takeover of the Republican party by the Religious Right in the form of the Tea Party, evidence that the revolution that you agitate for is already occurring, has been occurring since 2008...

...Well, it boggles the mind, the lack of understanding of the system itself that these views now represent.  I'm more than a little mortified.  The reference link for this podcast points toward Lawrence Lessig's site. I agitated for Dan to interview Prof. Lessig for ages on the show, and now that he's done that and promotes him, he links the Prof. to the completely dysfunctional idea that 2016 is somehow more important than the day to day operations of party machinery, or the impending disaster that will be handing the Senate over to the hidebound Republicans if only their Ebola-fearing voter base goes out and votes this month.

That isn't how the world really works. Yes, the individual can matter, does matter.  Yes, authority grants a certain amount of power, but that power is limited by design and by the reality of there only being so much one person can do.

The fallacy here, as I so often come up against, is the externalizing of purpose. The false idea that your purpose in life can be satisfied by some external agent, can be defined by someone else than yourself.  That voting actually does something aside from (as I've alluded to many times) seal the deal that you make when you set out to support a candidate or a position and then work to see the goal come to pass.

You have to decide what is important, you have to do the work to see it successful.  You cannot simply go vote and expect others to carry your goals forward with them while you deal with things you deem are more important.  They will do what they think is important.  Either you accept that their goals are at variance with yours, or you don't and are never (and will never be) satisfied with any outcome no matter how much better it may make your actual conditions in life.

...in that vein, the Democratic party and the Republican party are simply tools to be used, just like any other social structure.  They are no more and no less good or evil (or monolithic) than the individuals who work in those groups to advance the goals they set for themselves.

So go vote this month! But not just vote, go scope out your local party, see how the sausage is made in the hands of the people who currently hold power; and if you want wild ideas about how the internet can fix the problems of aging structures in or government, maybe you should take a look at this;



Pia Mancini and her colleagues want to upgrade democracy in Argentina and beyond. Through their open-source mobile platform they want to bring citizens inside the legislative process, and run candidates who will listen to what they say.

If we want to get away from the kind of world that Noam Chomsky outlined in Manufacturing Consentor the kind of world where the wealthy buy the votes of or representatives as described by Professor Lessig in Republic, Lost; How Money Corrupts Congress - and a Plan to Stop It then we should listen to people like Pia Mancini, or dedicate ourselves to one of the many groups who are working daily to modify the system so that is is more responsive to the voting population of the US.

The Wolf-pac - We must reverse Citizens United, Restore our Democracy, and Save the Republic. Join the Fight for Free and Fair Elections in America! That has had success in at least one state house.

Move to Amend - which has been trying to get legislation through congress; and not having much luck at it.

Lessig's own Rootstrikers.org - which is the third iteration of his groups attempts to form a movement behind the ideas he has put forward again and again.

Or maybe even a group like Represent.us that is facing pushback on the local level in Tallahassee right now while trying to make inroads on the problem of corruption in or governments.

Governments.  Plural.  More than one.  Local, County, State & Federal; not just the President. So go vote, because that's all that is left to do right now with one short month left in this election cycle.  But don't allow yourself to sit back after voting and expect the problems to be solved, or (even worse) wait for a President to be elected who will fix the problems we face, that will do so in a way that you approve of (which is a pipe dream) go out and change the system by participating in it.  At least then you will have earned the right to bitch about how things turned out, rather than just pretending you have that right because you have a right to free speech.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

World of Warcraft; New & Improved?

Some of the new and improved character models can be viewed on our website. 
WoD Beta Notes 
 I hate that phrase.  Despise it with every fiber of my being.  It is a learned response, because every single time that I've heard that phrase there is no noticeable improvement.  Case in point, the new character models for classic characters in World of Warcraft.

I'm in the beta group, so let me just illustrate the changes for you.  This is my Dwarf female Keslingra as she currently looks.  Notice the shape of the face.  The set and shape of the eyes.  The hair has highlights of gold. There is a youthful hopefulness in this face, possibly joyful amusement somewhere behind those eyes.

Can you see what I'm talking about? Have that mental image in your head, even if it's not all there on the screen?

This is the beta model of the exact same character ported over to Warlords of Draenor. Please note the shape of the face.  The set of the eyes. This woman has been washing a bearded bastard's clothes for 30 years, and she's about to visit his snoring ass in the middle of the night and bury his waraxe in his head, so that she can get her first good night of sleep in longer than she can remember.

She's seated in the exact same chair in the exact same city in the game. Granted, the POV has been lowered, we are now looking dead on at the face, rather than from slightly above; but still, what the hell?  They have added a face button to the barbershop interface, but what about skin color? What about being able to change eye color separate from the face? (important now that the graphic resolution is finer) what if none of the faces emote anything other than bone weary boredom, tired resignation, or at best, fiery hatred?

Someone please explain to me how this face is an improvement over the face she had before?  I will be unable to play any of the characters I've ported over and checked, because every single one of them has been altered in a fashion similar to this, where the designers have taken liberty to alter shapes as they see fit, without having an understanding of what we the players were looking for when we selected the faces we had previously.

I started a thread over on the beta forums on this subject (the lifespan of my threads on WoW forums is generally charted in days, not weeks, just FYI) I understand that it's too late to alter character models now.  We're stuck with the improvements that aren't improving anything at this point, I get that.  Can we please, please, please for the love of the light, get a free Appearance Change for our characters?  So that I can justify at least purchasing the expansion pack this time around?

I mean, if I wanted to play tired, dirty, ugly characters, I'd still be playing Skyrim.



Just wanted to add a plug for this thread on the forums as well;

Draenei are still screaming over face 7's honker and short tails, trolls don't understand why they all look so freaking angry, gnomes are frightened their eyeballs are going to pop out of their sockets, female humans and dwarves are violently applying regenerous cream from Olay to their faces to get rid of all these lines, the human men are trying to shave their beards off, the male night elves aren't sure how their upper body is supported with their crazy small waist and wet noodle-like run. Orc women are looking for mascara and stealing the Olay cream from the human and dwarves, and the blood elves are all standing back cackling at the rest of the races with the goblins, pandas, and male worgens while the female worgens mourn the sorrows with the female tauren.
Guys, when there's a ton of people saying 'THAT'S NOT MY CHARACTER!' or numbers and numbers of topics on the same tweaks you can make to the models, it's time to respond to us. We're getting frustrated and worried at this point that you haven't listened to one snippet of our data on the models, and wasn't that the big selling point for this xpac?
He had me rolling with just those two paragraphs. There is a serious problem with the models in Warlords of Draenor.  The author is also correct that this was Blizzard's big selling point, the model updates were going to be unbelieveable (as in good) and what I've found is that they are indeed unbelieveable.  As in unbelievably bad. Bad enough that I have a hard time telling the April Fool's joke female Draenei from the one that is in the beta.

Monday, September 22, 2014

World of Warcraft; Brewfest!

I recently wrote a novella (so the wife says) about my 5 years playing World of Warcraft trying to complete a quest I set for myself.  However, there is (at least) one other thing I did forget to mention. Gameplay in the world is generally pretty predictable, except at certain times of the year when world events occur, or on the odd years when a patch is released.

The first year I played was the release of Wrath of the Lich King, and the world event for Hallow's End that year was marked by rolling hordes of zombies in all the cities, and mayhem that kept us lows (players who didn't have characters at max level. Level 70 at that time) from getting anything done.  A world event and a expansion pack release event rolled together, or so it felt at the time.

"What are those weird glowing crates for?"
I remember walking one of my 'toons into Ironforge and wondering where all the guards were, why was there smoke in the air...?  Suddenly, in the distance, movement in the smoke.  Players? No. Zombies! Every freaking NPC for the city had been turned into zombies by players who had been infected by the undead plague. It's funny now in retrospect, but I had things to do in the cities, unlike max level characters. I was quite annoyed at the time.  My toons took to sleeping in trees outside the cities until the the patch event had passed.

However, the first world event that took place in World of Warcraft after my subscription started was Brewfest; and Brewfest has remained my favorite event in the game ever since. When it spawned outside of Orgrimmar & Ironforge, I had no idea it was a temporary thing, or that this same event (like many others) would re-occur annually. I feel in love with it.

The reason for this goes something like...

There was a Jackalope over the bar in the local beer hall in the Kansas town I grew up in.  My dad used to love to tell stories about hunting Jackalopes; to which all his friends (who were in on the joke) would lovingly add details.  I can't speak for the other children, but I was fascinated by this cryptozoological problem.  I would go looking for Jackalopes while wandering the fields near my house.  Unsurprisingly I never did find one; not until I started playing around at Brewfest.  The purpose of Brewfest was to get your character blind drunk; or rather, the program responded (and still does, to some extent) to each beer you drank by making the screen images progressively fuzzier, distorting perspectives into tunnel vision.  Also, after you've drank about three strong drinks, invisible creatures started to appear.  Little horned rabbits with wings.  At first I thought I was seeing things.  I really did feel like I was drunk (still do, sometimes. I blame the Meniere's) and where did those creatures come from?

They were labeled Wild Wolpertinger in the game.  Researching the name, I discovered that Jackalopes and Wolpertingers are related; related by beer.  Wolpertingers are commonly found on display in taverns in the Bavarian region of Germany; and Jackalopes seem to be found in German settled areas of the American Southwest, also to be found in taverns there.  I had discovered a long drinking tradition, the telling of tall tales while indulging in the spirits at the local drinking hole. My father, whose mother was of German descent, was simply carrying on the tradition.

"Hey newb, did you know you can
dismiss your user interface by hitting CTRL-Z?"
The first year I played, you couldn't catch Wild Wolpertingers, but you could purchase a pet one with tickets  (and your pet is invisible to everyone but you.  Unless they are drunk) You can catch them now, just like you could when the event first started, but that year you couldn't.  I had to have one, so Tharthurm and I spent some quality hours working at Brewfest to get tickets for the Wolpertinger. Even took some tourist shots with the local guardsmen.

It was the event of Brewfest, combined with this whole new world to explore, that made me fall in love with the game.

It was after getting the pet (the pet that no one can see but me) and having it summoned pretty consistently for months, that I began to identify with the Wolpertinger; after all, it and I were the only consistent things across the various characters I played, and the other players couldn't see either of us. So I started using it as my avatar across many boards and platforms I post in, using the cryptozoological beast to represent me.  I commissioned a piece of art from an artist I know so that I wouldn't have to violate Blizzard's copyright to it's own game images.  Hers looks better than theirs, anyway.

That is where I am today. Represented on the internet by a cryptid that my dad used to tell great stories about, and that I rediscovered in a game I just happened to be playing because a friend asked for a favor.  If you play WoW and haven't taken time to get your What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been achievement, You are missing out on one of the more interesting parts of the game.  You should at least try Ram Racing.  Do it now, because Brewfest is here!



First the praise, now the criticism.  Three years ago the designers at Blizzard got lazy and they gave up offering new mugs (the in-game collectable for this event) and at the same time disabled a handy feature of the game for new players.  The old mugs were a useable item, and gave a buff which was useful in game.  Rather than scale the buff for new releases of the game, they simply replaced the real mugs with a magically refilling baby bottle that does nothing.  Bring back the mugs!  Bring back the buffs! (this is true of Hallow's End candy as well) Update the gear drops for mid-xp and end of xp events, for crying out loud! Make it desirable to do the events, so that people will do them.

The toons don't get blind drunk killing Dark Irons anymore.  I get it, we want to be sensitive to people who don't approve of drinking to excess, but it's a game for crying out loud. I still go around killing everything that moves in the game, and I don't feel the urge to do that in real life.  I also understand that players become ill watching the drunken graphics. Me too. It would be nice to be able to just kill the visual effect with an easily findable toggle when it gets to be too much.  But that is aside from the point of drinking beer and throwing mugs to down the Dark Irons.  What are we saving the kegs for anyway since they can't be used to refill mugs? See the first critique.

Finally, let's admit the game has changed. Pandaren should be top brewers, not Ogres. Ogres make some nasty strong drinks, but Pandaren have turned brewing into a lifestyle.  They should not be relegated to a booth in the corner quietly selling also items that have no bearing on the event itself. None of my Pandaren will even go to the event until they are properly represented as the best brewers on Azeroth.  Call it a protest.  The rest of them will be there, though.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Be Skeptical of the Skeptoid, Even

This bears mentioning, only because not mentioning it will leave me open to criticism.  I have (and will continue to) rely on Skeptoid.com for quick refutations of common folklore and mis-directed mass hysteria. I don't think I've mentioned the site too often on this blog, but I know my Facebook page and G+ are littered with references to the podcast.

I do that because Skeptoid is short; generally just over 10 minutes, or a few easy pages of reading. The site also includes references for those interested in diligence (more than I can say for most sites on the internet today) and the podcast features a regular corrections episode where the narrator eats crow in public (and I wish more podcasters were willing to do the same) which is good for the soul and keeps the podcaster honest with his listeners.

However, the narrator and de facto owner of Skeptoid Brian Dunning, has been convicted of wire fraud, and will be spending several months in prison and a few years on probation after that. As someone who has been fascinated with computers for as long as I have (My uncle made the first portable computer I ever heard of.  It was built into a Suburban and was so large you had to sit outside the vehicle and access it through the side doors)  the intrigues engaged in by hackers no longer surprise me.
[A]ccording to the superseding information, the wire fraud involved causing cookies to be installed on internet users’ computers without their knowledge. If, by chance, those users later visited eBay and bought something, then an entity owned by Brian (at least in part) would be treated by eBay as if the entity’s website had driven the customer to eBay by means of a direct referral. The entity owned (at least in part) by Brian would then get a commission from eBay, as if the entity’s website had actually been responsible for driving the user to eBay. In reality, the entity’s website would not have driven the customer to eBay, and thus eBay was defrauded. Thus, wire fraud.
The superseding information charged Brian with wire fraud, occurring between May 2006 and June 2007, and on April 15, 2013, Brian pled guilty to that charge. 
from THE SKEPTICAL ABYSS: A SKEPTICAL TRAGEDY h/t to Doubtful News
 It was a clever hack job, reading through it; and it netted him a rather large sum of money.  However, contrary to the assertions of another skeptic (who's opinion I generally respect and agree with) Brian did not defraud visitors to his websites, although his use of their computers to defraud eBay ranks right up there on my outrage meter with DDOS attacks and malware masquerading as legitimate software.

Brian stole from eBay, not his website visitors.  It would be a cold day in hell before I would trust software offered by him (or his affiliates) because of this, but the vitriol seems a little excessive;
Again, just to be clear: Dunning is a rich, convicted fraud who may soon be facing up to 20 years in prison (though more likely much less for a first offense). The very same skeptics who happily point out to Mormons that they idolize a fraud in Joseph Smith, and who tell believers of Sylvia Browne that she was convicted of fraud, are giving their money to a convicted fraud who actually used them in his criminal acts 
from skepchick.org
I get it, he defrauded eBay and now he's going to jail.  Ever heard of phone phreaks or any of the other long traditions of thumbing your nose at the man? eBay is just another cog in the machine from that perspective; a target to be milked if you can figure out how to trick them into giving you cash.  It is not, repeat not, stealing from poor shills who are desperate for any answers (even fake ones) to the problems they are faced with.

Not that I want to soft pedal what Brian Dunning has done.  I don't, and I don't expect anyone who engages in illegal activity for whatever reason to be treated any differently than any other lawbreaker. That doesn't change the veracity of the work contained in Skeptoid, which represents the effort of hundreds of people now, and the contributions of thousands.

Credit where credit is due, as well as blame.  Skeptoid represents Brian Dunning's best work, just as the conviction for wire fraud (hopefully) represents his worst.  It will be interesting to see what he has to say for himself after the dust settles and he can speak freely on the subject.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, not 9-11

My dad was born on September 11, 1938.  On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn't appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years.  We re-live the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.

Military adventurism continues almost unabated. Undaunted by the mess that we created in Iraq, we now propose to intervene in the area again.  We remain convinced that everything that happens around the world is somehow linked to us, that we have to weigh in on events, or that somehow the events were caused by us, as if the world only exists because we send our military out there to make sure it does.

My father did his time in the military.  I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve.  He didn't like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there.  As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. "You like taking orders?" he said.  I didn't, I replied. "Well, then you don't want to join the military." That was his thinking on the subject, as he related it to me.

Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday.  Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant.  It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that.  It is captured in the sentiment of Jim Wright's piece on Stonekettle Station (a re-post) when Jim mentions the generation that has grown up since the towers fell, never knowing the America that we all remember.  They only know the America we created in our fear after 9-11;
This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.
So in that sentiment I'd just like to reclaim today, and every September 11th after this one for my father.  Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.  I promise to spend more time thinking of you than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans.  Because really, why remember if we aren't going to learn anything from it?

To Grok in Fullness

 "You grok," Smith repeated firmly. "I am explain. I did not have the word. You grok. Anne groks. I grok. The grass under my feet groks in happy beauty. But I needed the word. The word is God."
Jubal shook his head to clear it. "Go ahead."
Mike pointed triumphantly at Jubal. "Thou art God!
 
-- Robert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land
I find it ironical that failure to communicate ideas (generally philosophical/religious ideas) always sends me scurrying back into the dusty cupboards of my mind, only to fall upon that phrase in the end.

I don't think most people read, even the ones who do.  I find that I don't actually read a lot of the things presented to me these days. I mean read as in; take the time to soak up the words.  Not just look at their surface, but really understand the meaning of the words as arranged on the page.  To grok them, as they exist.

The tons of text presented to us each day in today's world precludes us from spending time actually thinking about what the words mean, What we mean in the words.  So we skim.  We assume intent on the part of the writer, trust that the structure will lead a predictable direction, and skip to the ending to assure ourselves our assumptions were correct.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345472322/braipick-20
From: Mindset by Carol Dweck; h/t to Brian Pickings
Gone are the days laying on the floor in the sun-illumined dust, turning pages in earnest, breathlessly exploring the bounds of knowledge.  Now it's electronic pre-determinism and endless counter-attack against ideas we aren't even sure our opponents are supporting, but we think it's there in the text we didn't actually take time to read.

Listening to a book isn't reading it.  It is a valuable experience to be read to, I'm not knocking that.  I have read whole series of books to my children, some of them more than once. A good reader can add himself to the work, making it more than it was when written. But then it isn't the work as the writer intended it; just as the movie isn't the written word, either.

You cannot grok the intent of the writer through headphones, listening while you are doing something else.  Suddenly the reader seems to be editorializing on your ability to fold towels, the words interwoven with the task you were performing, the two inextricably interwoven in your memory.  When you try to recall the subject, suddenly you feel like doing laundry or walking the dog. Why does thinking about that lecture bring up images from a video game?

To understand the meaning of the words, you have to read the words in the form they were written in, to get a feel for each individual character and it's placement in the word, the word in the sentence, the sentence in the paragraph, because that is how the idea came to the writer in the first place.

That is how you Grok.  But don't expect me to agree with you, the writer, just because I understand you.  That is a whole different set of problems.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

World of Warcraft; Long Quest Completed

Back on September 2, 2008 a good friend of mine asked a favor of me.  Really, it was probably the only favor he ever asked of me, and to me it seemed like such a small thing, I didn't see any reason why I couldn't help him.  He'd been playing World of Warcraft for a few years at that point, and he was having trouble getting groups together to complete content; not to mention that they were giving away mounts for recruiting friends, and they were really sweet Zhevras.

I had played Blizzard games many times over the years (I would have said I preferred the Real Time Strategy games if you asked me) I liked playing head to head with family, a pastime (and a blog article I've been working on) that went back years.  Diablo II was a favorite in the house and when World of Warcraft was announced at the end of Warcraft III I hoped it would be something like that game in execution. The cheapskate that I am refused to even entertain the idea of paying for a game on a monthly basis, so I dismissed it as a possibility even if it was something I might like.

Cheers! The shearing commences.
A few years later, and a lot more time on my hands spent indoors fighting the symptoms of Meniere's, made the idea of spending a few dollars a month for game access seemed like a bargain.  I'd be doing my friend a favor and I had already asked him to shave my head earlier that year as a symbol of support for his going through chemotherapy again.  A request to join him in a game I secretly wanted to play anyway was easy in comparison.

So we started playing. Almost from the beginning I got off on the wrong foot in the game.  I had no idea that the two factions could not talk to each other or play together. I created Horde toons (a Tauren Warrior & Undead Warlock) on a server he was playing as Alliance (in fact, he only played Alliance) so he had to make new toons to play with me.  My daughter only wanted to play Night Elves (her favorite race from WC3) and she had already created a toon on another server that I just had to join her in playing. Being fond of Rogues from Diablo, I created a NElf Rogue (female, of course.  All rogues are female) to play alongside her druid.  I quickly created a whole slew of NElf characters with the intention of playing all classes as NElf, only to discover that not all classes could be played in all races. That lead to the Gnome mage Brenelbur and his evil warlock twin, but that was when the plan got out of control.

I hatched a scheme to level one toon (character) of each class, and I would do this for both factions, with a genuine attempt to play all races and both sexes for each race with at least one toon.  When I mapped this all out, there were nine classes, which Blizzard expanded to ten with Wrath of the Lich King and eleven with Mists of Pandaria.  There were also fewer races, with Worgen and Goblins being added as playable races in Cataclysm (DraeneiBlood Elves having been added in Burning Crusade, along with Alliance Shaman and Horde Paladins. I started playing at the end of this expansion of the game) so I had to skip a few race/sex combinations.  This was made easier on the alliance side, because I saw no need to play humans in a fantasy game.  I could play that in real life by turning off the computer.

When I started this quest, this scheme of mine, I really thought it would be no sweat to complete.  A few months playing, and all done.  Then the new classes and races were added, and the levels increased, and I began to wonder if I had even been sane when I came up with this crazy idea.

With the announcement of the release of Warlords of Draenor this November, I knew the time to finish this quest of mine was now or never. Ten more levels on Twenty-two toons would probably be more than I was interested in doing, and I really didn't want to fail. So, earlier today I finally leveled my twenty-second toon to endgame, level ninety.   A late birthday present for myself, and a nice way to close out the favor I started for a dear friend who logged off a few years after we started playing.  I'd like to offer a heartfelt thanks to Bear, wherever he is, for making me take up this silly game. I think it has kept me sane, if this is sanity.



One of the things that has improved over the years I've played this game has been the website. The last time I tried to do a toons & servers update, I had to clip photos from screenshots for each toon.  This version may be more boring to read, because I won't be adding photos for all twenty-two toons, but it will be significantly easier to write. The links for each name will lead to the stat page for each of my toons. Better than clipped art, it is proof that the toon exists and represents an example of how it is set up, and what it looks like currently.

My main Horde toons are still on Terenas, although the server is really a backwater in the game and it limits my ability to play content that is limited to the home server.  Blizzard has been working to combine servers and content, so this might not be a problem much longer. Of course, I could just level new toons on other servers, and that process technically has already begun. However, these are the eleven I count as main Horde;
Blood Knight Trasmog Set

  • Olaventa - Orc Shaman (Herbalism, Inscriptionfrom the lowly also-ran who started out as a male with a different name, this toon has graduated into becoming my raider.  Shaman are excellent healers, and when your secondary talent is Elemental (not as much DPS as enhancement, but respectable) you can essentially use the same gear to level as damage & healing and not feel that you are letting anyone down by doing so. Olaventa as a character had a serious crush on Thrall when he was warchief of the horde.  She's not forgiven him yet for leaving us with Garrosh as a leader. My scribes both wanted the Loremaster title, so they each completed every quest for their faction up to Mists of Pandaria. This toon has also completed all the quests for that Expansion, making her the most played, most experienced toon that I have. 
  • Uroga - Orc Hunter (Skinning, Leatherworking) Both my hunters I play just for fun. I collect pets with them, and not much else, although their professions are part of my overall scheme to explore different class/prof combinations.
  • Rakudaga - Troll Druid (Herbalism, Alchemy) I deleted the character I started with this name and created a new one of the same name (the name fit a Troll better anyway) for the new racial combination of Troll/Druid that was offered in Cataclysm. Druids are my second favorite class after shaman these days, and some of the best tanks in the game.  Still, I don't tank with them, I take the same minimalist tack with them as with other classes, combining balance and restoration which allows me to double up gear for leveling.  I used to hate male Trolls in game until Mists of Pandaria and Vol'Jin. Now I'm starting to like them.
  • Rasmuerta - Troll Deathknight (Mining, Blacksmithing) I've had a problem motivating myself to play Deathknights after Wrath of the Lich King. I mean, what is their motivation, as characters? "OK, life (or death) goals achieved, now what?" Still, they remain one of my favorite classes, and the only class I'm comfortable tanking with. 
  • Tanath - Blood Elf Mage (Mining, Jewelcrafting) My only Blood Elf. I just couldn't get into the story behind the Blood Elves. They remain my least favorite race in the game, weirdly. They are amongst the most frequently played by other players.  Mage is one of my favorite classes, but this mage doesn't get played very often.  Just enough to get her to level 90.
  • Creavishop - Undead Warlock (Tailoring, Enchanting) The third toon I ever made, and still my secondary raider for this server, because he is my enchanter and I'm always looking for materials for his work. Warlocks are liberating to play.  Demon summoners and associated with evil in the lore for the game, they remain essential for any well-rounded raid group. Still making containers for all the toons on the server, and not getting enough gold for his work as far as he is concerned.  His plans to take over the world are taking longer than he thought.
  • EugennahUndead Rogue (Mining, EngineeringRogues, which were amongst my most looked-forward-to classes to play, have not turned out to be one of my favorite classes.  Now that locks have been removed from regular game play (no more keyring) their essential role in-game has been left behind. Pick-pocketing isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be, with more and more NPC's in game reporting back as having no pockets to pick. Bummer. Eugennah hates her bony elbows and knees, and doesn't like Undercity at all. She took over Engineering from Uroga so I could see how that might assist a Rogue in play. Her survivability in encounters seems better than Eieloris, my other Rogue.
  • Raspallia - Tauren Paladin (BlacksmithingJewelcrafting) This toon was created as an experiment testing out the benefits of combining creation professions and their extra-beneficial perks. I also discovered the joy of PvP healing as a Holy Paladin.  There really isn't a better class to play as healer in a PvP situation, and survivability for this paladin is much better than the other Paladin who combines Blacksmithing and Mining.  Those perks are rumored to be disappearing in the next expansion pack.
  • TharthurmTauren Priest (TailoringAlchemy) Tharthurm was the name of my first toon; but I really wanted my warriors for both factions to be small females, so the Tauren warrior was deleted, and I gave his name and look to the priest that I could make as a Tauren for the first time in Cataclysm. Tauren are my favorite race, in theory.  In practice I don't like the movements that Blizzard created for the models. I want to like and play them, here's hoping the improved modeling in Warlords will make that more pleasant. 
  • Rastarsha - Goblin Warrior (MiningEngineering) The addition of Goblins as a playable race created a quandary and a opportunity for me. I could finally actually have a Goblin engineer and could have a warrior on the horde side that would echo the stature of my alliance warrior. But I had to delete my first toon to do it, and I had to decide on either female or male, since I couldn't do both. Pigtails decided me, although you can't see them on this toon.  Goblins, like Gnomes, are amusing.  That is why you play them. 
  • Jainrasig - Pandaren Monk (SkinningLeatherworking) All my monks are Pandas, and all of them are named Jain. There was a Bodhisattva of a similar name, and what Firefly fan can resist naming a character Jayne? RAS is for me. I've looked forward to playing as a Panda since I first started playing World of Warcraft, having loved the heroic character that was available in WC3.  They took long enough to give them too us.  The Pandaren lore is some of best World of Warcraft, in my opinion.  I'm going to miss playing Mists of Pandaria come November. 
Muradin server was home for several years, even though I started out playing on Terenas. Because my family and friends were playing Alliance, my toons there were developed much faster than the Horde toons.  We found a welcoming guild on the server named "of the Emerald Dream" and were happy there until one of the raid healers took exception to my allowing my daughter to play the game while she was still drugged from having her wisdom teeth out (of all the things to pick a fight over) so we left and created our own guild, which I still run (on several servers, just not very successfully) even though I'm almost the only player left in the guild, now.  Frosty Wyrm Riders is max level (25) on Muradin, I just don't raid with that guild.
Eieloris' image looked
better than Tarashal's did.
  • TarashalNight Elf Druid (Herbalism, Alchemy) This is the toon I keep coming back to. I started out focused in Mists of Pandaria with my Horde toons, determined to level and raid first as Horde with my adopted guild there. Before the year was out I was no longer raiding with them although still in the guild, three different raid teams having formed and dissolved in the process. Raiding in Mists is far harder than any other expansion pack, and this has shown through in the rapid dissolution of formerly sound raiding teams that had lasted through Wrath and Cataclysm. Even the raiding guild that I was part of on this server lost several players we had relied on for years.  Because I had started out with a different guild and faction, this toon did not make it into the raiding group which is most advanced in the content for this expansion.  Still, he has the best gear of any of my toons, and has completed more of the content than any other toon except for Olaventa.
  • EielorisNight Elf Rogue (Skinning, Leatherworking) With her fondness for Dwarves, which she deems "Just the right height", Eieloris still has more 'backstory' than any of my other toons.  That only matters to me in the end; still, I really do enjoy playing this toon and would play her more if I hadn't discovered how much I like to PvP heal as a Paladin.
  • Rasputing - Draenei Paladin (Mining, Blacksmithing) Also the name of my Monk character in Diablo III, the wife named this toon when I created it, the first in a long line of RAS characters. I really didn't like Paladins at all until this expansion pack, and it was only when I took the Tauren Paladin into Battlegrounds that I discovered how much fun it was to PvP heal as one.  By that point I had leveled this toon to 90, and he had a hard time getting the gear he needed to match her in PvP. Now that they are almost equal, I really can see a benefit in combining creation professions as I did with her. I'll have to wait and see what Blizzard does with Professions in the next expansion.  Draenei are, in my opinion, the only good thing introduced in Burning Crusade; I tend to skip that entire area of the game when I level characters (easily achieved by taking up archeology at level 60) but the Draenei move the way the Tauren should move. 
  • Raslinda - Draenei Shaman (Mining, Jewelcrafting) I try to remind myself that the game is fantasy when presented with differences between the sexes like are present in the male and female Draenei. Split hooves vs. solid hooves?  Looks more feminine, only represents a million years or so of evolution. She does look good moving, and the action animations for the female Draenei are some of my favorites. 
  • Rasmortis - Worgen Deathknight (Jewelcrafting, Blacksmithing) Worgen represent the race I'm most ambivalent about. I like the animations, but I never understood why they had to be added to the Alliance, other than as a race to balance out adding Goblins to the Horde. Having said that, adding them gave me an excuse to change Mortis from human, so there went my only human character. I really do like the way he looks in his black PvP armor transmog. If I had more time, I'd play this class more often. 
  • HelliceWorgen Warlock (TailoringAlchemy) This is actually my second Worgen Warlock named Hellice. I leveled one to 85 for my son at the end of Cataclysm, and gave it to him as a present. I like the name, icy-damnation. Perfect for a warlock. This was the last toon to level to 90, because she had to start from one at the same time as my Pandas, and they were going to be leveled before she was.  Warlocks are just fun. That's all there is to it. Mind if I suck out your soul and use it as a weapon on you? Doesn't matter, she'll do it anyway.  Worgen are damned to start with, that is the nature of their affliction. Why not warlock as well?
  • Juverna - Dwarf Hunter (MiningEngineering) Named for Ireland; he, like my Horde hunter just collects pets.  I know, I know, they are great DPS machines in this version of the game.  I don't care, hunters are solitary. That is why their best friends are animals.
  • KeslingraDwarf Priest (Herbalism, Inscription) Just between you and me, this toon I specifically made to resemble the wife, giving her the red hair I know she really keeps hidden under the blonde; and I say that just because when she reads this she'll be furious and there's nothing I enjoy more than having her angry at me. This toon taught me the value of playing a priest, which I never expected to enjoy playing. Shadow Priest has finally turned into a DPS specification worthy of the designation, and priest healers are the strongest healers in the game.  Since she is also a scribe, that means I completely every quest with her for the Loremaster title just as I did with Olaventa.  Lots of experience playing this toon. She is the current guild master for Frosty Wyrm Riders
  • Brenelbur - Gnome Mage (Tailoring, Enchanting) This was my fifth toon created (after Tarashal) and I blame/credit him with starting me off on this crazy venture. He wanted to be a NElf and I resisted changing him to one after that race/class combo became available; but it was the frustration of not being able to make NElf mages that set me on the course of approaching the game the way I have. He is my secondary raider on Muradin (enchanting materials, yet again) and the character I play most often after the druid and shaman. Still love the Gnome laugh after all these years.  Joke all you want about Gnome punting; after taking this mage into battlegrounds recently, I have to say that mages have a ridiculous ability to keep other players frozen almost indefinitely. Try punting me when you are frozen in place, you big green monster. I'll just laugh and blink away.
  • RasmilliaGnome Warrior (Mining, Engineering) Watching making of documentaries for films that I'm a fan of, I hear comments like "it was my favorite scene, but it just didn't make it to the cut" a lot. This toon started out as a male named for one of my favorite SF characters. But he needed to be a she, and she had to have a different name. I should have just duped the name Rastarsha, but I stole Starsha from a guildmate and I didn't want to go flouncing around her server with her name tacked on to one of my toons; so millia for warrior (Milly for short) never mind that another guild mate now has a toon named Milly.  I think she'll understand.  I really, really wanted her to have the pink pigtails.  That was a must; that and dual wielding two-handed weapons. I admit it, I am easily amused.
  • Jainrasig - Pandaren Monk (SkinningLeatherworking) Yeah, same class/profession combination as my other Monk,  breaking my changing pattern. I really hadn't expected to have an eleventh class to have to deal with. When it came down to brass tacks, they both needed to make their own leveling gear, so they both ended up as skinning leatherworkers. The daily quest that is available to Monks makes leveling much faster.  The Monk class itself is quite different from the other classes.  I can't say I know what I think of it yet; which is too bad, because it will be different soon.  Classes always change with each expansion. 
I will really miss Pandaria, even though I haven't enjoyed raiding through it very much. Chen Stormstout was my go to hero for Warcraft III.  If I could hire him in a map, he was on my team. His quests in the Valley of the Four Winds are essential for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the lore of Warcraft.  Unfortunately they have taken out the additional quests relating to him that were part of intermediate expansion content; but that is why it is important to play through the game as it is offered, and not as it exists as preserved as part of future content. I do wonder how they will include Garrosh in quest lines that used to rely on him, since he will no longer be the warchief of the horde after this expansion.  A good portion of those quests will have to be truncated, or they will simply be left alone to stick out like sore thumbs calling attention to content that should have been updated but was not.

It has been a fun five plus years playing the game so far. I have been invited to the beta for Warlords of Draenor and have done some minor fiddling with it so far.  I really wanted to hit this milestone before allowing myself to be diverted, though. Quest completed. On to the next one.

Tarashal taking his ease in travel form on the Timeless Isle