Tuesday, April 29, 2008, 04:42 PM ( 5 views ) - Posted by AdministratorIn case you haven't heard, last Thursday was the stable release of Ubuntu 8.04, known more affectionately as "Hardy Heron." I installed it over the weekend to replace 7.10, a.k.a. "Gutsy Gibbon," and am exceedingly happy. I thought it would be appropriate to review it in order to share my unbiased insight with my readers/Google robots.
Perhaps the first thing to notice about 8.04 is that it ships with Firefox 3, which has still not had a stable release. Despite this fact, it seems to work pretty well; indeed, it works way better than Firefox 2, which liked to play jokes on me and crash at inopportune times for no perceivable reason. Firefox 3 also "feels" lighter and faster, as they say, which is nice. Moreover, the Ubuntu system theme has been integrated into the browser. If Apple or Microsoft did this (actually I guess they do do this with Safari and Internet Explorer), it would be a plain case of fascist corporate branding. But since the Ubuntu theme is free and can be changed to whatever I want, I think it's nice to have greater consistency.
Another nice feature is a file-indexing application that actually works. Ubuntu 7.10 came with a utility called "Tracker," which was supposed to index the system and allow for fast searching. It was fast, but unfortunately, it missed a lot of files during its indexing and was consequently not a reliable means of finding stuff. In 8.04, Tracker appears to work all the time and does a nice job of locating stuff really fast.
Also useful is a plugin for Totem, the default video player, that makes it possible to search for videos on YouTube and watch them without having to use a web browser. This is great not only because it saves my time and bandwidth, but, more importantly, allows me to watch videos without being exposed to YouTube's advertisement-infested site or the comments of its users, who are so dumb that they make me sick, literally. Unfortunately, the plugin only works for YouTube, but it's a python script, so hopefully someone who knows about python can get around to subverting the protocols of other sites that host videos so that their content, as well, can be viewed free of the idiots and marketing in which it is invariably embedded.
Other useful new features include a convenient graphical interface to configure user permissions at a very granular level, as well as a nice utility for managing not only local passwords but also encryption keys for email, remote access and so on. Unless you're so ridiculous and paranoid that you're afraid to send email without an encrypted key, lest someone steal your identity, you probably have no need for most of this, but at least it's there if you want it.
Beyond these exciting new additions to Ubuntu, what made me happiest about the install was that every single thing just worked, as Steve Jobs likes to say. For the first time ever, I didn't have to fight with any wireless or video drivers to get things set up properly, and even the flash plugin for Firefox installed and works as it's supposed to. This is a huge improvement over earlier versions of Ubuntu.
In conclusion: Ubuntu 8.04 has lots of fun new features and is the most user-friendly Linux-based operating system ever. If you are using any other version of Linux, you should switch immediately unless you have a really good reason not to. Moreover, anyone using a proprietary operating system, without plans to install Hardy in the immediate future, should be incarcerated/not allowed to use a computer ever again.
Saturday, April 26, 2008, 02:37 AM ( 24 views ) - Posted by AdministratorI've played Cossacks a lot lately against real teenagers on the Internet, and it's been a humbling experience. I've only won one single time, which is distressing.
I think that my poor record is due to the fact that the way people play online now is apparently very different than it was in my day. When I was a teenager, there were no rules, partly because we were more hardcore, and partly because older versions of the game didn't allow you to enforce any gameplay regulations, so it was all on the honor system, and everyone knows how that goes. Now, almost every game is constrained by a long list of rules that sometimes make it a little fairer, but which mostly render everything more monotonous. For instance, hardly anyone allows you to use artillery anymore. How are you supposed to pretend you're fighting the War of the Spanish Succession if cannons are forbidden? Similarly, everyone throws a fit if you try to sit on the top of hills with your little army. There are some sketchy things that can be done from the top of hills that make the game unfair, but hills, when used appropriately, are an integral part of the game. Fighting on flat land all the time is not healthy for anyone.
Another serious problem is that no one gathers resources the way they were meant to be gathered anymore. When some guys in Ukraine wrote the game, they intended for gold, iron and coal to be accumulated by building mines and digging it up, even though I don't think this really happened that much in the seventeenth century, but who knows. It turns out, however, that it's a lot more efficient to instead collect huge amounts of stone, which is more abundant, and then sell it for other resources. The people online have discovered this fact, and consequently, gold, iron and coal mines have very little value after the first ten minutes of the game, which skews the gameplay tremendously. Instead of having to worry about defending mines and controlling a lot of mineral-rich territory, everyone can rely on stone, which exists all over the map, and not have to think strategically. This is really sad.
Finally, no one uses formations anymore. The whole selling-point of Cossacks back in 2001 was that it allowed you to arrange your little soldiers in real formations. These days, you just put everyone in a big group and march them towards the adversarial big group. For instance, here are some pictures of contemporary Cossacks battles:
As you can see, there are no formations, which is sad. Admittedly, there are a lot of problems with formations. For instance, most kinds of units capable of ranged attack will not fire while they're in formation; instead, they use bayonets, which are dumb in a lot of situations. I think this is some kind of bug, but it's still regrettable that no one wants to use formations anymore, because they look much more impressive than the scattered groups depicted above.
So to conclude, multiplayer Cossacks these days means no hills, no artillery, no strategically important mines and no formations. In other words, there's virtually no thinking anymore; whoever mines stone the fastest ends up winning. This is no way to treat early modern Europe.
In happier news, I was reading the other day about some game called "0 A.D." which, if it ever gets released, will probably change my life, and the lives of many other Linux-using history enthusiasts, forever. It's the first serious strategy game that I know of to be developed using OpenGL instead of Microsoft's nonsense APIs, which means that it will work natively and flawlessly on Linux. It's also going to be completely free and mostly open-source (the explanations for why it can't be entirely open-source, because of "security concerns," sound sketchy, but I guess you have to take what you can get when it comes to Linux games), as well as historically accurate, or so they say. Unfortunately, they apparently promised to release it almost a year ago, but in reality they still don't even have a playable alpha version. They do at least have pictures, so hopefully the whole project isn't just a joke. Let us hope.
Monday, April 21, 2008, 03:19 AM ( 5 views ) - Posted by AdministratorThis weekend I finished my thesis. If I had to pick a noun to characterize the experience of writing a thesis in the Cornell history department, it would be 'pretension.' I'm sick of even saying 'thesis,' because it makes you sound like you think you're more important than everyone else just because you wrote sixty pages about stuff that's marginally relevant to real life and that virtually no one cares about except you. So you tell your friends that you can't go out on Tuesday night because you have to work on your thesis, and you make away messages that say 'thesising,' which makes me sick, literally. I guess I need to get used to this kind of pretentious nonsense if I plan to become a successful academic, but it's still obnoxious.
What makes the Cornell history thesis process especially pretentious is that the department gives out different levels of 'honors' to reflect how celebrated each thesis is by the three people who, because it's their job, actually read it. So for the past thirty weeks, I've had to waste my time attending my history 'honors seminar' to listen to people ask questions that they already know the answers to just so that they can make the professor talk about the different levels of honors. I have better things to do with my time, like attend the classes in which I am enrolled that conflict with my history seminar, than listen to this nonsense. Is your life really going to be that much more meaningful to you because you 'get high honors' and are allowed to wear some special-color ribbon at graduation (another manifestation of pretension that I will address in due time)?
Anyway, that's all the negative stuff I have time to write tonight, because I need to start thinking about my 'dissertation.'
Saturday, April 12, 2008, 12:07 AM ( 10 views ) - Posted by AdministratorSome days I still miss Paris. I don't miss French people and their remarkable propensity for disorder and absurdity, but I miss the experience of being hardcore in order to survive with virtually no income.
For instance, I long to relive the days when survival meant eating generic-brand Nesquik, which has a high caloric content and costs very little money. It also tastes good and, in principle, provides some vitamins or something. For a few cents, you can have a whole meal, thanks to generic Nesquik. I also used to enjoy raw carrots and peanuts, which provide substance and possibly keep scurvy at bay. I don't have an excuse to eat like this anymore, because I now have jobs and make enough money to buy real food.
I also miss being hardcore and stealing people's Internet in order to avoid paying for my own. At the height of my WEP-cracking career in Paris, I used to be able to crack three or four networks an hour, which is a big adrenaline rush if you think like I do. These days, the poor old laptop that I used for attacking networks barely even turns on, and I've already cracked everything within range of my desktop computer, so I'm out of targets. Even worse, what used to be the great art of running aircrack to attack WEP-encrypted networks has now become pretty quotidian, thanks to scripts that allow any idiot with a Linux CD to crack networks just by selecting targets from a menu. Sometimes, you can even crack on Windows now if you have the right kind of wireless card, which is very scandalous indeed--you should at least be required to use Linux.
Speaking of my Paris laptop, I am nostalgic for Fedora Core 6. I think they're on Fedora 8 now, or maybe even 9, and in any case it doesn't matter because I switched to Ubuntu in the summer, along with 95% of everyone else who runs Linux. Ubuntu is a lot prettier and easier to use, but there is something to be said for Fedora Core 6 and the skills it took to keep it running, especially when I was all alone in Paris and couldn't depend on other people to help me when stuff broke.
Navigating the bureaucratic disaster of French libraries was really obnoxious at the time, but these days, I miss the sense of accomplishment that I used to get from successfully checking a book out of the library. At Cornell, you just walk in and charge it out. In Paris, you had to prove your identity with three dozen different cards just to get into the library, and if you even got that far, you'd still only have about a 10% chance of actually finding the book you wanted, getting someone to bring it down for you (since French librarians are too pretentious to let patrons take books off the shelves themselves) and manage to check it out, which most French libraries don't allow anyway.
Anyway, I think the conclusion is that in Paris I was hardcore and relied on myself. At Cornell, everything is already laid out for you; you just pay your $46,000 and don't have to think. It is nice that I can go to class here and not have to worry about everybody being on strike to protest the strenuous 35-hour work week, but I'm not sure this is worth the price of being self-reliant. Fortunately, I'll probably have to go back to France for a while at some point during my graduate-student career, so I can be a little hardcore again, although it won't be the same because I'll probably have more money and will be judged more harshly by others when I eat Nesquik or steal WEP keys as part of my scheme to be cheap and greedy.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008, 03:35 AM - Posted by AdministratorA week ago at midnight, tickets for Cornell's "Senior Week," which I'm told I earned, were supposed to go on sale. Instead, my Senior Week Chairs sent an email at 11pm indicating that, because they were incompetent, the sales would be delayed for six days while they figured out how to set up a server.
So last night at 12:01am, the tickets finally went on sale. Unfortunately for my Senior Week Chairs, this is what the ticket website looked like at 12:01am:
What a lot of incompetent idiots. You have six days past the originally scheduled date to get it together, and then your site crashes because you don't know how to write in Visual Basic and/or couldn't be bothered to actually test your code before putting it into production?
After a while, things got even worse, as the server stopped responding altogether:
These people should not be allowed to graduate, since they are such an embarrassment to the pretentious ideals that they so hypocritically espouse. I'm also mad that it took them almost an hour to finally give in and announce that the ticket sales would be once again postponed; if they'd had the competence to understand the breadth of their incompetence when the site first crashed, they might have made the decision earlier, so that I could have at least gone to bed instead of waiting around running wget on their website to see if it found anything besides error messages.
Also, my commentary would obviously not be complete if I didn't decry the appalling but unsurprising fact that my Senior Week Chairs tried hosting their ticket website on some garbage Windows server, since it was Microsoft Visual Basic that crashed. An apache server on Linux would most certainly not have crashed, especially since its code would probably have been written in a normal, clean, free language, instead of nonsense like Visual Basic, which is the programming language of choice for people whose intellect on a good day matches that of an eleven-year-old.
Finally, I realized just now that my Senior Week Chairs assert that the technical problems are the fault of a third-party company that they hired. I don't really believe them, since no company could exist for any length of time that has this many problems delivering a service. And even if the claim is true, its advocates are still idiots for choosing such a bad provider, and for failing to find a better solution a week ago when the ticket sales turned out to be a disaster the first time around.