I just got a notification saying some dude in China logged into my LJ. I've never set foot in China, so I've changed the password so he can't log back in. If you see any spam or anything weird anywhere, it wasn't me. Let me know and I'll remove it.

Stupid chairs, stupid websites

Here's why not to buy anything from overstock.com, as presented verbatim by me and one of their customer disservice reps.

Johnson: Hi, my name is Johnson. How may I help you?
Visitor: I want to write a review of a chair I purchased from you a year ago but it says I'd already written a review.
Visitor: However, none of the 25 reviews for this chair are mine.
Johnson: Let me check on that and I'll help you further.
Johnson: Did you try writing the review on this item before?
Visitor: I don't remember.
Johnson: If you had submitted a review on this item before, you'll not be able to write it. However not all the reviews will be posted on our site.
Johnson: Only a limited number of reviews will be posted.
Johnson: As I have not heard from you for a while, I’ll remain available for another minute for further help.
Visitor: So I have no way of knowing if I'd already written a review, no way of knowing what was wrong with the one I'd written if I had, and no way of revising it and trying again?
Visitor: Your company is doing an excellent job of ensuring I will not be a repeat customer
Johnson: I'm really sorry.
Visitor: Goodbye.

Oh yeah, the reason I wanted to write the review is my chair (which I already hated) just broke, after not having had it for even a year. Considering I'm in the middle of moving a big website, namely sonicsatam.com, to a new host, I must say the timing couldn't have been much worse.

Art supplies are expensive

I recently bought some Caran d'Ache Neocolor II artist crayons (or "wax pastels" if you insist on the terminology that appears on the case). I bought them because I saw a demonstration video that showed several different techniques, demonstrating their versatility. (Among them was using it as a watercolor paint; they're water-soluble.) Well, that's great, except the paper I have warps too easily and I don't want to spend all the time and effort it takes to prepare the paper so that it doesn't do that. It's still usable if I'm extra careful to use just a liiiittle bit of water, but that's both difficult and limiting. The only alternative is to get watercolor paper, and that's expensive. More on that in a sec.

The other technique that sold me on it is how easily the color spread and blended with a tortillon or blending stump. Or, at least, that's how it was in the demo video. When I tried it, it didn't spread much at all. So I asked what kind of paper was used and they told me. I looked it up -- a certain brand of sanded paper. And it was... $2.50 a sheet! A sheet that isn't even large enough (9x12"; I want 11x17"). Yeesh!

How in God's name are artists supposed to afford these things? Sure, you can make money by selling your work, but first you have to learn, and paying $2.50 per failed painting (on top of the up-front $1+ per crayon cost) does not sound very economical.

Perhaps there's still a way to get similar results with my (comparatively) cheap Bristol paper, like dipping the tortillon in something first, but ugh...

Failures in capitalism

Microsoft Windows has a bug and they do not care.

What the bug is is unimportant, but I'll explain it anyway. I find the US-International keyboard layout quite handy for handling works with accents and the like. Well, in Windows 7, I am unable to assign a keyboard shortcut to this keyboard layout. I can assign keyboard shortcuts to other layouts like Japanese and US English, but not US-International. It pretends to assign it, but it doesn't work, and soon it drops all pretense of having assigned it -- it will say "(None)" for the keyboard shortcut. This is very annoying; I don't want to use the mouse just to change layouts, especially since I'm often mid-sentence when I switch.

However... because the number of people affected by this issue is tiny (fewer than 1% of their users, surely), the impact of this bug on their sales is going to be approximately $0. That means the effort they'll want to spend fixing it will be $0. They don't even want to hear about it. There's no way to report a bug to Microsoft except to call them up on the phone and pay a fee just to report a bug, which they might refund if they decide it's an actual bug. (Of course, since the ball is in their court at that point, there's pretty much nothing keeping them from saying "not a bug" even if it is one.) And because the ability to type in more than one language isn't exactly a feature advertised on the box or anywhere else, you can't nail them for false advertising. I never had this problem in Windows XP, and you don't expect software upgrades to make your life worse, but there it is, and there's nothing that can be done about it.

I didn't spend $200 on Windows with the expectation that it would be broken. But here I am with broken software, no obvious way to fix it, and no way to even complain. Switch to Linux? Hardly an appropriate solution. Even boycotting MS would be entirely ineffective because so few people have or would care about this particular issue. People only bother to boycott stuff if they have a personal interest in it, after all.

And this, my friends, is a failure in capitalism. The system is fundamentally flawed. I'll admit I'm conflating "capitalism" and "free market economics" to some extent, but I don't really care. What I do care about is that the system is not doing what it was designed to do. The system was designed to encourage the betterment of our lives through market forces such as competition, and to only introduce regulations when companies cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Well, there must not be enough regulations, because MS cannot be bothered to provide stuff that works. This is a problem with many companies, in fact: they don't want to provide proper customer support because it is not to their advantage to do so. Well, I don't care if it's to your advantage or not. I want stuff I paid hard-earned money for to work properly. Is it too much to ask?

I hate the world sometimes.

L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is one of the stupidest goddamn games I've ever had the displeasure of playing. I got it (including DLC) for less than $10 on Steam and I still feel ripped off. Sure, it's pretty enough, and the facial animation technology is pretty damn good. For instance, the lip synch is always spot on, unlike other games (such as Telltale's) with much less voice acting and yet much spottier lip-synching. This is one of the first games I've seen where the lip synch is 100% convincing. The problem is, when the story is bad, none of that crap matters.

Let's talk game mechanics. Control is fine, most of the time (I have moments where Cole gets a bit stuck and no buttons seem to do anything, but these moments are rare and don't last long). Driving, fistfights, shootouts... I can't complain about 'em. But this is a detective game, and in a good mystery, a detective's primary job is to gather evidence, figure out the clues, find the suspect, and charge him (supposing you don't have to kill him instead). Probably with a bit of interrogation thrown in.

And here we start to have problems. The cases don't really require a lot of player involvement. It's like a magnet pulls you to the solution no matter what you do, and your actions only change how hard the magnet's pulling. You'll get there eventually; you can't really fail (and any scenarios that do fail just give you an opportunity to try again right before you failed). That means there's no pressure, quite unlike what you'd feel if you were in a real murder mystery. There's also not a lot of thinking involved. You can pretty much not pay attention to the case at all and still come out on top. That's not exactly characteristic of a detective story, is it?

So that leaves the plot. And boy oh boy, are there problems here...

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Somehow I doubt I'm going to continue playing this pieceashit. I'll go play something that has respect for the player.

Duke Nukem Forever actually a decent game

So I recently built a new compy, the first one I've built myself. Aside from installing the RAM wrong (I was pushing the locking clip with my finger instead of letting it lock itself) and having to take the compy to the shop to find out why the machine wasn't POSTing, it went without a hitch. So, naturally, I'm trying out all the new games I can play with it that I couldn't play well (or at all) on my old machine, like Ghostbusters, L.A. Noire, and the subject of this post: Duke Nukem Forever.

I'm over halfway through the game and I sort of don't understand why this game was panned so hard. It is certainly not the second worst game of 2011 as Yahtzee put it. If it is, then 2011 must have been a fantastic year for gaming. A year where even the second-worst game is decent! We should be so lucky.

Now, I'm glad I didn't shell out $60 or however much the initial asking price was for it, but that goes for everything I play, so this game is hardly unusual in that regard. I usually wait until a game is $10 or so before I buy it unless I'm really interested in it. (In this case got it for $8 including all DLC, and that feels about right for me.) I'm also glad I didn't wait 15 years for it, and I think this long delay has a lot to do with the perception of the game. I never played Duke Nukem 3D until last year or so, and I was very unimpressed with it. It's not just that it's old; Doom is even older and plays much better in my opinion. Perhaps I'd have loved Duke3D if I had played it back when I was too young to be playing it, but as it happens, I hadn't. Most likely if Broussard had kept his trap shut and never mentioned the game until it was well and truly on its way to release, and if nobody had heard about it until the playable demo at PAX, it would actually have been well received.

Sure, the humor is often juvenile -- as it always has been. Yes, you can pick a turd up out of a toilet and throw it. So what? The people complaining about this seem to have overlooked a simple alternative: don't do it. Nobody's forcing you to. If you find it objectionable, what were you doing looking in a toilet and grabbing a turd in the first place?

And yes, Duke Nukem is a sexist, chauvinist pig. What else is new? I hardly believe the way Duke treats women is the way they should be treated, and I don't think a silly game is going to change that.

People complain about the regenerating health. Some even claim that it's un-Duke-like. I do not understand this complaint. Yeah, hiding until your health regenerates may seem cowardly. You know what else is cowardly? Fleeing the scene in search of health kits. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore.

The two-weapon limitation, while perhaps a bit strange in a Duke game, is not a problem. Oh no, I have to use my brain and figure out whether I want to keep my nearly depleted Devastator or exchange it for a machine gun! Come on. It makes for more interesting gameplay and I don't think it hurts the game in the least. Besides, what fun is it to wield the most powerful weapon in the game if you always have it available to you?

Bottom line: while I'm hardly in love with the game, I actually like Duke Nukem Forever more than Duke Nukem 3D.

Freedom of speech

TV Tropes has banned every page with "rape" in the title. This gets rid of rape-related pages such as RapeAsBackstory, RapeAsComedy, RapeIsLove — not to mention non-rape-related pages such as TheRapeOfTheLock. Oops.

I think it has to do with advertisers; the pages were scaring them off. This, I think, is a huge problem. Rape has been a storytelling element for as long as there have been stories to tell. Hence, discussion of it is very relevant to the site's purpose even if the subject is unsavory. On the other hand, you can sort of understand where the advertisers are coming from. I say "sort of" because, honestly, do these pages pose any threat to them? Are people going to say "I'm not going to buy that product, I saw that ad on a page that had to do with rape"? But no matter; advertisers do have the right to decide what pages they do and don't want their ads to appear on, however good or bad their reasons may be.

But, at the same time, it is very bad to have corporations essentially telling you what you can and can't talk about. Today it's talk about rape; tomorrow it could be something else. A site like TV Tropes needs ads to survive; a donation-based model might not be realistic, because the site is too big to be cheap but too small to get donations pouring in like Wikipedia does. So freedom of speech loses out.

I wish I had a solution to this situation, but I don't.



TaxACT makes your taxes easy!...to fuck up.

It turns out the last two years in a row I accidentally declared my personal income as my household income on a state form two years in a row. This explains the tax credits I got in those years (small as they are), so most likely I'll have to pay those back, and probably more on top of that. At least it's only my state taxes and not federal taxes that I've screwed up.

Listen, I'm aware I should carefully read everything asked of me. However, they still made it very easy to get wrong, particularly when you consider the poor taxpayer is probably very tired of answering questions at this point (most of which don't remotely apply to me, like questions about agricultural income/expenses or something) and so a word or two is easily glossed over. If only they'd put the words "household income" in bold, which would have taken them about two seconds, the phrase would have caught my eye and they'd have saved me from making a potentially expensive mistake. And if I were filling out the form myself instead of letting this stupid software do it for me, I'd probably never have made the mistake in the first place — partly because the instructions are more obvious, and partly because filling out the actual forms is less mind-numbing than using the software.

Between this, their numerous annoying e-mails throughout the year (how often do they think I pay taxes?!), their deceptive advertising (do your federal and state taxes free! ...until it's time to file them, then we'll charge you $20 on top of your taxes), and the tedium of answering a barrage of questions irrelevant to me that probably take as long as filling out a form anyway, this is probably the last year I use TaxACT. In fact the only reason I'm going to be using them this year is I've already paid the fee. Grumble...