Saturday, August 27, 2011

Comcast Free, all hail Frontier!

It was a painful victory when we first rid ourselves of Comcast Internet – while we welcomed the impressive new FTTP connection, it was hollow in that we had to continue to pay Comcast excessive rates for unreliable budget-grade TV service. But finally, we said a very unemotional goodbye to Comcast, and welcomed our new FiOS TV service.

It took some time to finally be rid of them. First, the lack of a “franchise agreement” (essentially a state-enforced TV monopoly) with the county blocked us from getting service. Once we were annexed into Kirkland, that was no longer an issue. But then, Frontier insisted that we get service from their close partner, DirecTV. To be fair, I’ve heard nothing but good things about DirecTV, but large trees to the South of our home makes that a non-starter. Finally, in a victory for the Internet generation, I was able to reach a district manager through Twitter, who talked to the right people and got us scheduled for hook-up right away.

First impressions are incredible. Just a few of the improvements compared to Comcast:

  • Reliable signal. We’ve yet to see a single pixel out of place since we turned on the service. With Comcast, we’d lose half our channels for hours at a time almost every day. Their techs were never able to really correct the issue, plus the fact that they try to charge you service fees for the privilege.
  • High quality signal. The HD is HD, and even the SD (what little of it we use now, given our “extreme” package) is crystal clear. The Comcast SD channels - which, on our overpriced basic plan meant most of them – were brutally over-compressed. My TV isn’t that big – I shouldn’t have to tolerate compression artifacts.
  • Great DVR. Despite almost identical hardware, FiOS has great software on their devices, compared to the buggy crap software Comcast pushed on us. No longer am I playing the “rewind an hour because the DVR lost our place” game.
  • No jerking around on price. A fair fixed price for years at a time. None of this “introductory rate” scam, where the price skyrockets after a few months. While many people have observed that you can threaten to leave Comcast to get back on promo rates, I much prefer just paying a fair price consistently without any games.

Now, we have a wonderful bundle. Reliable 25/25 Mbps unlimited internet (yes, symmetric broadband and no data cap, I can feel the jealousy radiating from Canada already). Combined with the “Extreme” HD package – including a 24/7 HD NHL channel, a few movie channels, and more HD specialty channels than I know what to do with. All for less money than we ever paid Comcast.

Admittedly, I’m not much of a TV watcher anyways – Netflix covers most of my needs. But if I’m going to pay for TV, I expect to get the best, and Frontier really delivers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Spiral Knights

I fought Nomae so hard on it. No way was I playing some new online game, especially an MMORPG. But it was free, and I was bored enough to try it.

Spiral Knights is four-player Zelda. Imagine all the fun you had in A Link to the Past, but with friend! Sure, it’s the future, and there’s no Princesses, but you’re still running around with a sword, shield, bow gun, and bombs, hacking up the local monsters for fun and profit.

The freemium concept of SK is clever – you buy ‘energy’, which you use to play levels and for crafting. You naturally regenerate up to 100 energy a day, meaning you can play up to 10 levels without paying anything.

However, they are rather devious in how they latch onto your wallet. The first of three tiers of levels can be completed with gear purchased from vendors. Access to the second tier requires gear that can be crafted for less than the 100 energy you gain naturally a day. But the crafting energy costs shoot up dramatically, with the next gear upgrades requiring 200 energy each (and rising exponentially from there). Since you can only acquire 100 energy naturally, this mandates buying energy, right around the point where you’ve played enough to really build a taste for the game.

This additional energy can only enter the system through real money purchases, meaning you either have to pay real money yourself, or grind enough of the in-game currency to buy it from other players at market rates. Ultimately, you’re left with the choice of paying real money to progress as fast as your natural pace, or refusing to sink real money and being forced to alternate between skipping days of play and grinding money to build up the energy to craft to gear requirements.

So far, I’ve kept the purse-string closed. I’d have quit by now, but admittedly the multiplayer aspect drew me back in, and I’m still having fun.

Humble Indie Bundle

Recently picked up the Humble Indie Bundle #3. An interesting concept – five indie games, DRM-free, and you can pay as much or as little as you like, distributing your payment as you like between the five developers and two charities. Plus a bunch of free games – the entire Humble Indie Bundle 2 plus two “bonus” games.

I’m all for indie games, rejecting DRM, and even charities, but I’m not convinced that the bundle was a good idea. On one hand, some of the games have such critical acclaim that they never needed a bundle to bring them any more publicity (ie. Braid). While on the other hand, some of the games are worse than your average school Flash project.


  • Cogs. It’s slider puzzles.That’s it. But with so many interesting puzzle mechanics integrated (pipes and gears to name a few), that it can keep you going for hours. A professional-grade engine keeps the game polished.
  • Crayon Physics Deluxe. An enhancement to the iPhone classic – solve simple 2D physics puzzles by drawing any machines you want. So simple, yet so many possibilities.
  • Atom Zombie Smasher. One of the “bonus games”. The main gameplay is almost insultingly low-tech – rescuing 'people (yellow pixels) from zombies (purple pixels) in a top-down city view (rectangles). It’s not even all that well balanced. Yet it’s scarily addictive, and I’ve lost many nights to it already.


  • VVVVVV. Side-scrollers may be retro, but when your graphics makes the XNA example code look like high-tech, you’ve better have the world’s best gameplay to make up for it. This game does not. After about 5 seconds, you get bored of the single novel gameplay mechanic, about 10 seconds later the insane difficulty has you uninstalling.
  • Hammerflight. Way to take a really interesting 2D air combat gameplay mechanic, and wreck it by forcing a ridiculously bad story on you. Then repeating it every time you die (which is a lot).

Also, I find a bit of irony in the fact that I’m playing the HIB games, DRM-free, through Steam.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Personal Homepage

After the better part of a decade, I have finally replaced my old broken personal website and resume. It really was time – replacing a website designed for academic life. Also, making it actually render sensibly in a browser newer than IE6, without giant blobs of purple box model leaking all over the page..

While a mundane task, it was ultimately quite challenging. While in school, every project, class, hobby or thought seemed to deserve prominence. But now, nothing seems important enough to share. I ended up deleting most of my content, with nothing relevant to replace it. The same with the resume – after years in the industry, it’s hard to even remember what all those old awards and volunteer projects were about, let alone why anyone should care.

So now, the site is little more than a placeholder for links. Two meager pages of content, and a one-pager resume.