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Internet Communities Making Revolutionary Changes

I’ve recently discovered an interesting phenomenon creeping up on then net. Well, political grassroots movements are not new to the internet at all. Every organization out there has a website, some using technology with varying levels of effectiveness. Politicians are using the net to communicate their platforms. Online communities have been around for a long time, from the early days of Usenet, to web bulletin boards, and now Web 2.0 sites like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. One impressive grassroots Youtube movement in particular has caught my eye as a movement that has stood out with a rather amazing and recent success story.

A couple of months ago, I watched an interesting vlog on Youtube from AtheneWins. As an ex-WoW player, I’ve watched Athene videos before, particularly for their humor. The rather large following that Athene videos have created apparently lead to a spin-off by the amateur film makers of the AtheneWins videos, I Power. I Power’s focus was self-improvement, and, more to the point of this article, politics. I Power has taken a particular stance on supporting Net Neutrality in Europe.

I had known about Net Neutrality before, but this was the first that I heard about it being considered in European Parliament. As a US citizen, I suddenly became increasingly interested in Net Neutrality. If laws could be passed in Europe that allow ISP’s or governments to restrict what their users can view on the internet, why couldn’t it happen in the US?

Inspiration happened when I Power posted an “emergency” video on on Youtube that encouraged Europeans to contact their Parliament, and support Net Neutrality. The video got 40,000 hits. As a skeptical, somewhat apathetic American, I had to wonder just how this would affect the European Parliament’s decision on whether or not to allow ISP’s to control the content of the internet as it’s delivered to their customers.

A few days later, I Power posted this follow up video announcing a victory in protecting Net Neutrality. Apparently, European Parliament members received so many letters, emails, and phone calls, that they realized just how important Net Neutrality is to the internet as we know it today, and refused to allow ISP’s the ability to control what content their users could view. I couldn’t believe it!

This is a very real example of how online communities are making their voices heard, and making a difference. You always hear about how the “world is being changed by technology”, and the “internet is a huge part of change”. From politicians using Youtube and Twitter to spread their campaign message, to the leaked Iran protests videos (which Iran’s government has tried to suppress by blocking direct access to Youtube), these are more than just buzz words. The success of I Power stands out as one of the most impressive examples of how every day people can use technology to make their voices heard, and when voices are heard by politicians (in democratic countries), change can become a reality.

A Windows SSH Client with Tabs

I’ve decided to upload my SSH client code, written in C# for Windows, to Sourceforge. This is very unfinished, buggy, and probably not well written. There is no installer yet. I need to update the telnet code since the library I am using (and had to hack to include some basic telnet negotiation code) has been updated. I am not sure how much of the telnet code I need to change, but the library looks like it has been improved quite a bit. The site manager portion of the code is also very unfinished, and I would like to finish that as well before making an installer for this program.

Here’s the code

iPhone with Exchange and Google Calendar

I finally broke down and got myself an iPhone. I must say that my initial reaction to the phone was partial excitement, and partial disappointment. You see, I’ve never owned a Smart Phone before. I had high expectations for these devices. I knew there were limitations, such as only being able to run one app at a time on iPhones, and no Flash Player. However, I was still willing to give this device a try.

One of the things that aggravated me was the lack of information on how to set up two separate Calendars on the iPhone. Apparently, the iPhone can only recently do this. I finally found the technical information I was looking for on how the iPhone Calendar/Mail apps actually work on Stephen Foskett’s Blog.

You see, I, like many, use Exchange Server 2008 for work, but I also needed a separate personal Calendar, particularly for reminding me about personal appointments. I had a Google account that would be perfect for this if I could get it to sync onto my iPhone. Google now has an ActiveSync application, which will sync your Google email, Contacts, and Calendar. However, there was one problem. If you read Foskett’s blog, you’ll learn that you can only have one ActiveSync (Exchange) account on your iPhone at a time. Now, the iPhone can easily add multiple Mailboxes without a problem. I added my Gmail account as a new email account on my iPhone, along with my existing Exchange account, and both accounts were kept separate. However, this only added my Google email, and not my Google Calendar.

As of now, I am still left without a solution to this.

Well, there is a solution, but it involves jailbreaking your iPhone using “redsn0w” for 3G and 3GS iPhones. After this is accomplished, an application called NemusSync can be installed using Cydia that will create a second, separate Calendar on your iPhone. You then launch the NemusSync app, and manually sync your Google Calendar. Too bad this isn’t built into the iPhone!

Message to Mythic

Below is a post I made on the VN boards in regards to what players want in regards to keeps in Warhammer Online:

Everyone knows that there is currently no incentive to defend a keep or BO right now, other than trying to cap a zone. However, capping a zone is such an involved, and seemingly random thing that this currently does not qualify as an incentive in my opinion. People play this game to RvR, but they also play the game to advance and experience the end game. Put simply, advancement is made by capping zones. The oRvR experience and the VP system are deeply interconnected within the player experience, and I think that this interconnectness needs to be exploited by Mythic to produce a potentially awesome gaming experience.

We need incentive to defend keeps, and I think that incentive should be focused on the VP system. Such a solution could also solve another problem with Warhammer: the VP system currently does not appeal to players. This system in its current, seemingly obscure and random form, is just not tangible to us. Right now, the only realistic way to cap a zone is to win scenarios. When enough VP’s are accumulated from winning scenarios, we quickly take the keeps and hope we have enough VP’s to cap when we are done. This “rush” to take keeps in a zone does not create keep defense. There is also currently no reason to defend a keep unless you are really close to capping a zone from winning scenarios. So, Mythic should shift the focus from scenario wins, to success in oRvR to solve both problems in one blow. The system of static VP’s from keeps and maybe BO’s has to go.

Here are a couple of ideas that could be applied, perhaps with some modifications (the VP system is very complex, and I am far from understanding its complexities). Neither of the two ideas are original, but within this context they could work to help make this game really great:

Idea #1: If a keep is captured by a realm, and/or possibly only when claimed by a guild, it will slowly trickle in VP’s for that realm. When a keep is taken back by the enemy realm, those VP’s are lost, including the accumulated VP’s (or maybe VP decay would take care of this, but only after a certain amount of time has passed.). So, if a realm can hold a zone for a reasonable time length (maybe 2 days for example), then it should have a higher chance of capping the zone, depending on how well the realm is doing in scenarios. Winning scenarios would still be a factor, but less of one.

Idea #2: Instead of Idea #1, capturing all of the keeps and/or BO’s could result in VP decay being halted. Currently, VP decay is set in place to balance against a sweep of (perhaps lucky) scenario wins, which is good in theory, but from experience it can also be very demoralizing when you’ve worked with your entire realm to cap a zone, and there just aren’t enough quick, back-to-back scenario wins to do it. Perhaps the VP decay system itself needs to be redone, but in the meantime this idea would give a realm incentive to defend taken keeps/BO’s if defending will help cap the zone.

These are not the only ideas that could work. The important thing that I would like to communicate to Mythic as a player who loves this game, but wants it to improve is that they should use the inherited interest of players to cap a zone and advance the game, to increase keep defense and game play in oRvR. This is what the player base wants, and I think Mythic could easily give it to us. Being successful in oRvR should lead to being successful in pushing or defending zones.

Thank you,
BB

Naming Computers and LANDesk OSD

LANDesk puts out a technical paper on how to accomplish Hardware Independent Imaging with its Management Suite.  If you don’t know what HII is, basically it is the process of creating a single image or imaging task that will work regardless of your hardware.  LANDesk’s tools plus Sysprep create a very easy to maintain HII imaging solution.  However, I wanted to add a little piece of of my own to this mix.

We have a newly implemented naming convention here at CSN.  This was very thoroughly thought out by many people, but more or less the naming convention identifies a computer’s location, and its asset tag number.  With the documentation on HII that LANDesk provides, a computer must be named properly in the LANDesk database, or named after the imaging task has finished.  Since our computers move from one location to another quite often, and renaming computers in the LANDesk database is not easy, I created a way for technicians to name the computer before the imaging process begins.  Once named, the computer images, and reboots into Sysprep where it joins the domain and installs all of its device drivers.  Wonderful!

Now, if you are not familiar with LANDesk, a lot of this won’t make sense.  Basically, LANDesk OSD scripts are a text file which you can alter to your liking much like any other scripting method.  Now, to get started with adding dynamic renaming to the script, I enter the following command into the LANDesk OSD script in the part just before the imaging command is executed:

REMEXEC259=sdclient /f /o /dest="X:\ldclient\pcname.vbs" /p="http://server/PC_Rename/pcname.vbs", STATUS

SDCLIENT.EXE is the swiss army knife utility of LANDesk.  It does lots of stuff.  Here it just copies a file from an HTTP share onto the WinPE environment.  I then add another line right underneath the one I just created that will execute the pcname.vbs script that was just copied from a server:

REMEXEC260=cscript x:\ldclient\pcname.vbs

So, let’s take a look at the contents of the pcname.vbs file.  Keep in mind that I do have a programming educational background, but I’ve never done any vbscripting before this, so the script may not be the most elegant vbscript around:

Dim objShell
Dim getName
Dim objFSO
Dim f


Set objShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
getName = InputBox("What is the computer's name? Press Cancel to rename and rejoin the Domain later.")


set objFSO = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
set f = objFSO.CreateTextFile("x:\\LDClient\\insertname.bat", 2)
If getName <> "" Then
f.WriteLine("tokreplw c:\sysprep\sysprep.inf COMPUTERNAME=" & getName)
Else
f.WriteLine("tokreplw C:\sysprep\sysprep.inf COMPUTERNAME=%Computer - Device Name%")
End If
f.close

So, for a rough explanation of this vbscript.  First, an input box is called, which prompts the technician to input the computer’s name.  Whatever the user enters is returned to the variable “getName”.  A batch file is created that will get executed by the LANDesk OSD script later, “insertname.bat”.  If the user enters something, then the batch file is created with a single tokreplw command containing the text as an argument to the tokrepw command.  If the user does not enter anything, or presses cancel, then the batch file gets created with the original naming command that LANDesk put into the script originally.  I’ll go into tokreplw in a later post.

I mentioned that LANDesk creates its own naming command. Let me expand on that. By default, LANDesk attempts to find the name of the computer in the LANDesk database and name the computer for us.  The line that LANDesk puts into the OSD script when you initially create the OSD task in the LANDesk Management Suite Console looks like this (note that when you create a LANDesk OSD script, you do not see the actual text of the script. Instead, the LANDesk administrator uses a GUI wizard to create the OSD script. The OSD script can be opened in a text editor by selecting the OSD task and selecting “Advanced Edit”):

REMEXEC29=tokreplw C:\sysprep\sysprep.inf COMPUTERNAME=%Computer - Device Name%

Looks very similar to the contents of our batch file, doesn’t it?  We simply remove the command for REMEXEC29, and replace it with the execution of our batch file:

REMEXEC29=cmd /c x:\ldclient\insertname.bat

Instead of the computer getting the name that LANDesk thinks it should have, the technician can specify the name that the computer actually needs to have.  Since our computers move around a lot, their names change a lot.  This is convenient for our environment.

Well, that is all for now.  If I get a moment or two, I will try to pump out a post about the mysterious tokrepw program. 🙂

IT Gets You Down Sometimes, But It Comes With the Job

Just because one’s job location moves to a less busy, smaller location, doesn’t mean that life is simple.  Take today for example.  I started the day off with a high school teacher who couldn’t connect her digital camera via firewire to her student’s computers.  Easy fix, right?  Unfortunately not.  I worked on this for two hours before the teacher had to lock up the cameras for the day.  No drivers for the firewire cards, and no drivers for the camera available.  Just some bad software that doesn’t appear to work.  I have to go back tomorrow afternoon to work on this one.  Next, I take my lunch, then we have a mandatory meeting where a bunch of “new rules” are put into place.  This happens whenever the higher ups hear about anything that happens in the real world.  I don’t blame my manager for any of these “new rules”, it just comes with the job.

Then I attempt to contact three or four customers to close out some easy work tickets.  But its already passed 4:00, and apparently no one stays until 5:00.  So I can’t get a hold of these people, and these easy tickets continue sitting in my queue.  Ok, moving on.  I have a very nice CAD instructor, with some influence and a reputation, whose CAD installation isn’t quite perfect.  He likes things perfect.  But he is a nice guy, so I’m not stressing this one.  It just sucks that CAD doesn’t seem to work on any image I find, and so I’ll have to spend two days rebuilding it.  Oh yeah, and he mentions that he wants CAD, Solid Works, Revit, and the rest of the boys installed on his office computer (along with the latest and greatest Visual Studio 2008).  So, we’ll just bump this up to a four day project.  Not a biggy, comes with the job.

So, I go about the rest of my night, while it is quiet and slow, trying to learn how to build software packages with Symatnec’s Wise Package Package Builder.  Great looking piece of software compared to the trash package builder that LANDesk sold us.  I’m getting a lot of pressure from our management to build a package deployment solution for labs and classrooms, and move away from our Ghost imaging solution.  If I want tools that work, its up to me to research them, evaluate them, and argue that the money we’re spending admist state-wide budget cuts is worth it.  God, do I hope its worth it.

Oh, but I forgot, the boss just told me that I have to unstinall Everdream’s EDMS on every computer in our network as soon as possible.  Its been out there for a couple of years, and no one has used it.  Suddenly, this is an urgent project.  Mind you, there is no documentation on this stuff.  The isntaller doesn’t work with the /uninstall switch, and there is no other install media or MSI available for me.  No one is still around who knows anything about it except the smart guy that moved into Server Services (then again, I think he is the only one that knew anything about it from the beginning).  So, I email him and call it good for now.

Back to Wise.  While building a package for Firefox, using some great video tutorials from AppDeploy.com, I get interupted by lab assistants who are new and can’t fix the buggiest software that has has ever been spawned (GenevaLogic’s Vision), only to find out that by the time I get up from my desk, walk over to the classroom, and ask the instructor if she needs any help with this bastard of a software program, that no, she didn’t need any help.

I peacefully go back to my desk and continue working on building my first Wise MSI package, which doesn’t work.  I guess I shouldn’t have multitasked and built those last few Kiosk OSD scripts in LANDesk while also building this software package.  The damned thing does not capture the Firefox profile in the Application Data folder which I manually copied to the Default User’s profile.  By the time I fiddle with this and try a few far reaches only to find that my technique has no logical reasoning behind it, my head is pounding and my stomach is wrenching from old coffee at the school cafe. I spend the rest of my night, all fifteen minutes, making sure that the kids (I mean lab assistants) are not burning candles on the front desk, or pissing off that afore mentioned CAD instructor with over zealous yet inexperienced technical assistance.  I gather my things, and with my frustration-caused throbbing headache, head home only to sleep and come back the next day.

All in all, IT work isn’t that bad, as long as you have an outlet, and you can succeeed every now and then.  Politics, customers, technology that doesn’t work worth a shit, are all made up for when you get to be a part of something larger, or at least work on something interesting.  I mentioned that I am responsible for creating a new system of doing things at our college.  This is frustrating at times, like tonight when things don’t work, but when they do work I go home feeling like I’ve done the world some good (or at least my community).  There is a kind of rush about figuring things out, and making IT work.  Maybe tomorrow I will make some IT work, and feel good about what I’ve accomplished.  Sometimes, this also comes with the job.

Warhammer Online: First Impressions of the Beta

I’ve finally been invited to the CE Beta of Warhammer Online. I’ve played for about a total of three hours within the last two days. As a big fan of Mythic’s previous game, Dark Age of Camelot, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. I must say that I am impressed so far with Mythic’s new game, War, but I do have my worries.

First, a little background on my gaming style and experience. I played DAoC for a good three or four years, off and on. I quit around two years ago or so. The PvE in that game was really horrid to me, but the RvR (Realm versus Realm, an in depth form of Player versus Player) in DAoC was the most fun I have ever had in an MMORPG. During the last year I played, I enjoyed the end game “elite” 8v8 RvR. This experience was as much of a rush, if not more of a rush, than any FPS game that I have every played (I’ve played a lot of those too).

Hoewever, DAoC is an old game. It has been around since October 10, 2001. I’ve been playing it since 2002 when the first expansion, Shouded Isle came out. After three to four years of the game, it was time for me to try something else. I tried WoW, Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars, Age of Conan, etc. The list goes on. Not a single one of these games ever stood up to the adrenaline rush that I got from DAoC. When Mythic announced Warhammer Online in 2005, I was excited that they would finally produce another game. I have been following it ever since.

Now, onto my first impressions so far. I won’t go into a lot of technical detail, and I’m not going to nick pick about little things that I don’t like. You can read plenty of that on other forums dedicated to Warhammer Online. The Beta is still under NDA as of this writing, so I can’t talk a lot about details anwyay!

My very first impression upon logging in was that the complaints about Warhammer’s graphics are juvenile complaints, and unfounded. The graphics are not as complex or realistic as Age of Conan, but they are not as bad as a lot of the leaked videos from closed beta. I mean, think about it. Why would Mythic spend a lot of time implementing the graphics of their game for the closed beta. It would be a waste of time. Instead, they focused on the mechanics, and the larger picture during their early closed beta. Because of that they were able to make some large changes to the game based on the beta community’s feedback. For example, the beta community complained that the RvR instances were too beneficial compared to the open battlefields. The open battlefields were more fun, and were the reason people loved RvR in DAoC. Mythic listened to the beta community, and changed the rules of the game to emphasize open battlefields more so than they had originally planned. Good for Mythic.

The game is actually quite fun early on. Leveling up is very easy, perhaps to easy, at least in the early stages. The game is very intuitively designed, and you don’t feel like you are fighting the game for control of your character (bumping into invisible walls, slow response time, stuff that you get used to in Age of Conan). There are bugs, of course (this is still beta), but the game runs smooth overall.

To me, the graphics look more like Lord of the Rings than they do World of Warcraft, which the game has been compared to constantly. The colors are bright and contrasted, which I think is where people draw the similarity to WoW. Overall though, the game feels nothing like WoW to play. It doesn’t feel like LOTRO either though. The game has its own unique feel.

I haven’t been able to do too much RvR yet. The instanced battlegrounds start really early. I was able to play one of the maps two or three times. It was fun, but I could tell that it would get boring after a few too many hours of doing the same instance (or even multiple instances). Just like any instanced PvP game like Guild Wars, AoC, or WoW, instanced PvP is never very fun for long. I’ve been aching to try the open field RvR. I went in once, got killed a few times by slightly higher level enemies, and decided that I needed to level up and get some gear so that I could kill some of these jerks. Back to the PvE (which isn’t necessary; you can get good gear from RvR too. I just hate not being able to kill someone that didn’t have much life left because I can’t hit them!)

The Public Quests, which you can read about on blogs and news releases, are really ground breaking as far as PvE in MMORPG’s. Even as a solo player, it makes you feel like you are a part of a larger world, truly an MMO experience. In fact, the game’s atmosphere and storyline just feels rich, even though I know nothing about the Warhammer IP. Compared to Age of Conan, War’s theme is incredibly immersing, even if you are not a fan of the table top game.

The only worry is that the game is too fun early on. AoC was very fun early on, and it had no soul to it all. Just like Las Vegas, all glitz and glamor, and no substance. I fear that War may not have enough content to keep the game interesting. Of course, I have not gotten very far in the game, so I don’t know. I am only up to Teir 1. Still, I can’t help wonder if the game will fail to offer substantial depth over the long haul. There are only 40 levels, and it didn’t seem difficult to get from 1 to 7 in a couple of hours. Leveling isn’t everything, but if it is too easy, people reach end game too quickly. Perhaps Mythic wants this because their end game is awesome. That is my hope, but I am not naive enough to believe that will be the case. Yet.

If you are into MMORPG’s, and you are looking for a good game, or you have heard that War is not worth trying because it “is WoW 2.0”, don’t believe the rumor mill and give it a shot when it releases. I will update this probably when the game is released. In the meantime, hope you get into the beta!