Sunday, February 10, 2013

The advertising on the 360 is so obtrusive that I've decided to disconnect it from the internet unless I'm doing something that absolutely requires a connection.

A couple of weeks ago I turned on my Xbox 360 for the first time in well over a year. After it was done updating, I was floored by the sheer amount of advertising in every nook and cranny of the 360's interface.

You see, I'm cautiously optimistic about advertising. I don't watch TV, and I use Adblock, so when I'm advertised at, it's on my terms. When I visit Amazon, I expect to be advertised to. When I open the Steam store, I expect to be advertised to. And this has previously been my experience for consoles. I'm advertised to when I visit the PSN store on my PS3 or Vita or the eShop on my 3DS or the Google Play Store on my cell phone. And I even appreciate this advertising. I'm told about new products I might be interested in when I'm ready to be told about them.

Yes, hold your horses. I know. There's a tiny little ticker on the upper right of the PS3 menu that I ignore. And my Vita notifies me when the LiveArea for the store has updated. These are unobtrusive. These I can ignore.

I am unable to ignore advertising on the Xbox. Microsoft does not respect my boundaries. You are advertised at on almost every screen of the 360 interface. It has been placed to be wherever my eye rests in an idle moment. I could not stop being advertised at, until I pulled the plug.

I also posted this on Reddit. Feel free to leave me a comment here with your thoughts, or on Reddit if you prefer a more public venue.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

tmux: awesome yet frustrating

So tmux is pretty awesome. You can split a terminal into several windows, and then you can subdivide each window into panes. (A terminology that I rather like.) Here's my config file (~/.tmux.conf):

bind k kill-session

new -s theusual -n tehusual
split-window htop
setw main-pane-width 55
select-layout -t 0 main-vertical
selectp -t 0

And yeah, that didn't work the first time. There are some things about tmux configuration that are... non-obvious. Let's run through the config, and then I'll detail my issues and what I did to fix them. In the following, I'll be using Emacs notation (i.e. C-x means Ctrl+x, M-x means Alt+x, et cetera.)

bind k kill-session

This one's easy. This binds the tmux kill-session command to C-b k, so that I can exit tmux easily without having to close each pane individually.

new -s theusual -n tehusual

This creates a new session, which is the parent object of windows. That is, one session can have several windows which can in turn have several panes. This session is called "theusual," and it creates a window inside the new session called "tehusual." It was unclear from the documentation whether sessions and windows share a namespace, so I thought it best to differentiate the two.

This is also where I ran into my first problem. Try as I might, tmux would not launch into my new session. Instead, it would create a default session first and put theusual in the background, thus squeezing a couple extra keystrokes out of me in the process.

After an hour of frantic googling, the solution turned out to be to not run "tmux" but instead run "tmux attach". The latter instructs tmux to not create a default session, and instead attach itself to an already running session, the one that had just been created by running .tmux.conf. (Fun fact! You can detach tmux instead of quitting entirely with C-b d.)

split-window htop

The next three instructions cause tehusual to be split twice so that it now contains three panes: the original pane which is split in twain and then split again. Note that panes are zero-indexed. So pane 0 contains a bash prompt (the default command,) pane 1 contains htop (a rather nice top replacement,) and pane 2 is placed into clock mode.

Here's where I ran into the second and third problems. At first, no panes were being created at all! I was stuck with just one big pane. After a while, I discovered that I did not actually have htop installed. A quick visit to fixed that, but it leads us to an important point. tmux fails silently if the command passed to split-window fails. Silent failure is always a bad design choice, but here again it rears its ugly head.

The last two lines had originally been one: "split-window 'tmux clock-mode'". Well, tmux didn't like that. The solution seemed to be to run split-window on a line by itself, and then switch the newly created pane, which apparently has focus, into clock-mode.

setw main-pane-width 55
select-layout -t 0 main-vertical
selectp -t 0

The last three lines ended up being the least trouble.

Let's do the second line first. A window can be given various layouts which automatically reposition panes. I chose "main-vertical," which rearranges panes into one main pane and one or more baby panes. The "-t 0" option simply specifies window 0 (aka tehusual).

Going backwards, the first line sets a window option that specifies the main pane in the main-vertical layout should be 55 in width; a number I arrived at after experimentation.

Finally, the last line selects pane 0 as the pane having focus. Fun facts! You can switch pane focus with C-b o and rotate panes with C-b C-o. That is, the contents of pane 1 go to pane 0, the contents of pane 2 go to pane 1, and the contents of pane 0 go to pane 2. It's a nice quick way to give htop more real estate when I need to fiddle with it.

And there you have it. The icing on the cake was to add " [[ $TERM != "screen" ]] && tmux attach && exit" to my .bashrc file. This checks to see if my current terminal is already tmux (tmux terminals identify themselves as screen, presumably for interoperability with GNU screen.) Then it executes "tmux attach" and then exits.

And yes, I know it's silly to run konsole now, but I haven't gotten around to configuring xterm.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ready Player One - A Review

I just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. RPO is a book that has exactly two things going for it. A heaping tablespoon of 80s nostalgia and promise. Regarding the former, I can only barely remember the 80s (for which I daily thank an assortment of deities,) so it does not apply. Regarding the latter, I am greatly anticipating Cline's second book. But his first one is as standard fare as it gets. Minor spoilers ahead!

The setting is cyberpunk. Classic cyberpunk. The world sucks, evil corporations rule everything, and the populace frolics in a fantastic virtual world. Enter OASIS, every MMO you ever want to play. It is so immersive and pervasive that it has become synonymous with "internet." Non-gamers can stick to the delights it offers in non-PVP zones, while gamers can go to any of the thousands of gamer-oriented worlds, themed however you like. Fantasy worlds. Cyberpunk worlds. Western worlds. You name it, OASIS has it.

Enter James Halliday, the reclusive, eccentric multibillionaire creator of OASIS who dies in the second paragraph. After his death, his video will is released. Turns out he hid an easter egg worth his entire fortune somewhere in OASIS. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of egg hunters (gunters) spend years trying to find Halliday's egg. Enter Wade Watts, the book's disadvantaged teenage protagonist, and his OASIS friends.

Halliday's (and the author's) great love was 80s geekery. Dungeons and Dragons, video games, mecha anime, cult classic movies, et cetera. Various allusions to everything from Atari 2600 games to Rush in his video point the way to the egg. In this, Cline's knowledge and love of 80s geekery shines through, from bits of Pac-Man trivia to D&D adventure modules. It shines brightly and focuses into an amplified beam of coherent light, piercing readers' eyeballs and making them cry, "Ow! My suspension of disbelief!" It often feels like the book is an outlet for Cline's hobbies. A way to get the entire world to admire his knowledge of the decade's best subculture. The book is littered with bits of trivia that just don't belong, scenes that break the sweet, sweet illusion of fiction.

Neither the plot nor the characters do much to elevate the book beyond "compendium of trivia." The characters are archetypal, and the plot is extraordinarily predictable. In fact, I would call it nothing more than the ultimate adolescent male geek fantasy. Our teenage male protagonist saves the (virtual) world, becomes filthy rich, and gets the cute/shy/geeky girl. And all by playing video games, listening to Rush, and watching Monty Python films. Every geek dude having spent sufficient lonely Friday nights playing video games alone in his room has already envisioned the entire plot of the book. Or at least I have. Often. Before crying myself to sleep.

All in all, I give the book three out of five Awesome Book Merit Points. It's not a bad book exactly, but it contains no surprises, and its greatest strength (80s trivia) frequently turns into one of its weaknesses. It's certainly worth a read if you're jonesing for some 80s nostalgia. Or, like me, you're just a video game history buff. Otherwise, I would skip it and wait for his next book.

Incidentally, I think Cline is a very promising novelist. With a little restraint and direction, his obvious enthusiasm for awesome stuff could be channeled into something truly great.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Point-of-Sale with Bitcoins

I've been thinking a lot about Bitcoins lately. For those of you who are too lazy to click links, Bitcoins are a brand new cryptocurrency. They're backed by some heavy-duty economic theory and secured by modern cryptography. They're entirely digital and decentralized. You don't need any banks or anything to transfer Bitcoins from one person to another, just one of their unique Bitcoin addresses and a handful of IP packets. The last I checked, 1 BTC = $0.84 USD.

So I got to thinking about issues that might occur in the event that Bitcoins catch on. First, they'll need some fancy symbol that you can type with shift and 4. I recommend a B with lines through it.

Secondly, there needs to be a convenient way for Bitcoins to be used out in meatspace. There needs to be a quick, point-of-sale-type way to transfer Bitcoins from one entity to another. I have a couple of thoughts for this.

The obvious solution is smartphones. Anyone with a smartphone running a Bitcoin client could, for example, scan a QR code for the Bitcoin address of an establishment at the register and transfer money that way.

The second thought would be if everyone carried their Bitcoin wallets around on a thumb drive, encrypted with a PIN number or some such. Then a cashier could transfer the money on a computer behind the counter, or, even better, a dedicated PIN-pad-esque device.

Anyway, just a couple of thoughts about Bitcoins in the real world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gnome 3.0 and KDE4's netbook interface

There's been some kerfluffle over GNOME 3 removing minimize and maximize buttons. Here's my two cents!

I've been using KDE4's lovely netbook interface fairly extensively for a couple of months now, and I've grown to love it. Although minimize and maximize both still exist, at least, their importance is greatly diminished. All windows are maximized by default, and minimization is accomplished with smart hiding. I.e., if I click the activity with which I launch applications in the activity switcher in the panel, all windows get hidden.

This is only annoying (and easily remedied at that) once in a blue moon, when I'm trying to drag and drop between applications. Otherwise, it makes sense and is exactly what I want. One application has all of my focus at a time, which is exactly what I do on other desktop environments anyway. Everything else is just an alt+tab away.

I believe this is a tentative step in the right direction, but Gnome is going about it all wrong. Features in flux shouldn't be removed for removal's sake (which is what seems to have happened,) but de-emphasized by other smart design chioces.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best of 2010!

It's that time of year! Here's a list of everything awesome in 2010.

Yotsuba&! volumes 7 and 8. Yotsuba&!, by Kiyohiko Azuma of Azumanga Daioh fame, is about a little girl Yotsuba, her daddy, her neighbors, and various other characters all getting into misadventures. Rather like AzuDai, it's all about the characters. Azuma is uncannily good at character writing: they're all fantastic and they all work unbelievably well together. And it's so goddamn happy. You can't feel so down that a volume of Yotsuba&! won't help; it's a psychological impossibility. Do yourself a favor. Brave the pimply teenagers at your local book depot's manga section long enough to pick up a copy of Yotsuba&! volume one. If it's not one of the best things you've ever read, you can punch me in the face.

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour was going to be my runner up, It was easily the weakest in the series. Nice, satisfying ending, though.

By far my favorite album of 2010 was sadnes' Fill My Head. Go on, click the link! It's a free (Creative Commons, even) download. Chiptuney goodness, good vocals, competent guitar work, and an absolutely mindblowing closing track.

Runners up are LehtMoJoe's Spaghetti Western and A_Rival's 8-bit Pimp. Go ahead, click those links too. You can listen to both those entire albums freely courtesy of the awesome folks at Magnatune. The former was a solid spaz-hop album and would be right at home in, say, a Jet Grind Radio game. The latter was hilarious, brilliant, catchy chiphop.

Gaming is always tricky, because there's just so many awesome games. I've broken it down by system, omitting any systems I don't play or didn't have any significant releases. Of course, this is limited to games I actually played, and I'm sure you'll notice a lot of rather high-profile games are omitted.

Blazblue: Continuum Shift. Kinda a slow year for the PS3. My favorite game was a tweak/sequel of a 2009 game. Then again, there are several awesome-looking PS3 games I just didn't get to (namely, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Bayonetta, and Atelier Rorona.) My runner up for the PS3 was the fantasticly awesome and hilarious downloadable game Costume Quest. The gameplay wasn't anything amazing, but snappy dialogue and a fun concept made up for it. "You remind me of my parents, from whom I am BITTERLY ASTRANGED! *attacks*"

Ys 7. The newest installment of a classic and awesome action RPG series, what's not to love? Plus, an absolutely awesome soundtrack and a really great collector's edition. My runner up was Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, which came in second only because it's a remake. I have a soft spot for the Lunar series, and SSH was a very worthy remake. Sure, the new voice actors were a bit difficult to get used to, and the game was stupidly easy. But it's still Lunar, and the redone music was worth the price of admission alone. I'll bee arr bee, I need to go light a candle on my altar to Noriyuki Iwadare.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. I really like Megaten games. The creepy settings, the high difficulty level, the customizability through demon fusion, even the story sometimes. The story of SMT:SJ wasn't fantastic, but it had everything else that makes a great Megaten game. The biggest surprise was the soundtrack. It didn't sound a bit like Shoji Meguro's previous work, but it was really great anyway. My runner up was Dragon Quest IX, which I really expected to be first. It was just...not everything I was expecting. It was too easy, and DQ players are too sparse in the US to take advantage of the multiplayer, which was by far the biggest draw of the game. (I wanted Megaman Zero Collection to be the runner up, but I just can't do that with a compilation of older, if still completely awesome, games.)

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor. Fun, awesome, amazing, and nonsensical. It was hardcore without being all in-your-face about it. It was maddeningly difficult without being impossible. It was pretty much the perfect Treasure game, which is the best praise I can give it. My runner up was Kirby's Epic Yarn. I'll be honest, I enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy 2 more, but I appreciate Kirby's Epic Yarn more. It's a console Kirby game (rare enough) that tried something new and pulled it off. For this category, I have a second runner up: Cave Story. A Metroid-esque explore-y platformer with an awesome story, and even more awesome pixel art and chiptunerific music.

PC (Proprietary)
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. An RPG from the other side of the counter. The day-by-day formula is just as addicting as in Harvest Moon or the later Persona games, the dungeon crawling is solid, and I love the concept. The music was catchy, and the characters were hilarious. It was a game that I found very hard to put down. My runner up is Runman Race Around the World. (Go ahead, click! It's a free download!) Yeah, I know, it's technically a 2009 release. But I find that I don't care. It's just that good. A fun, cheerful little platformer. The MSPaint aesthetic is actually really great, and I enjoyed the public domain tunes more than I should have. (Yes, I played Super Meat Boy. Yeah, I enjoyed Runman that much more. Doesn't help that the unpatched PC version of SMB left a bad taste in my mouth.)

PC (Open Source/Free Software)
Frogatto and Friends. Wow, I have been blown away. The bar for open source game quality has been set higher. It's an open-world platformer/adventure game starring a frog. Just go download it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It had it's problems. A lot of them, actually. It stuck to the books, well, pretty poorly, all things considered. And yet I loved it. It managed to capture the feel of the books, which is something I didn't think possible. Very worth the watch. The runner up is Toy Story 3 for being a solid Pixar movie. I think my biggest gripe was that Pixar seems to be trying to make every movie a little bit of a tear-jerker, to the point where one can see it coming. Didn't make the ending any less bittersweet.

The Tatami Galaxy. (Or, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei.) It was one of those rare gems not quite like anything else, in any way, be it style or content. (Incidentally, ignore the official summary. I think the flunky who wrote it watched maybe 15 minutes of the first episode. Here's a better one.)It is based on a novel, and it is about a college student who is looking for that rose-colored campus life and a raven-haired maiden to spend it with. At the beginning of every episode, he is a freshman joining a university organization. By the end of each episode, two years have passed, things are not the way he wanted, and he goes back in time to change his mind. Only, he's never more than subconsciously aware that he has gone back in time at all. Very good watch, and the whole thing is watchable, streaming legally, via the link provided above.

Runner up: Sora no Woto. (Or, Sound of the Skies.) A retro-post-apocalyptic slice-of-life series about the most useless division in the entire army. It's World War...IV? Far from the front lines, there is a rather ceremonial division that still manages to be impacted by the horrors of war. It starts out cutesy, has some truly beautiful moments, and then ends rather abruptly. One of my favorite parts about the show was there's a lot of little things to notice. Things the characters say offhand that completely change your perception of the setting. It's worth a watch, and, like before, the whole show can be seen for free (legally!) at the above link.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So, for most of my life on the internet, I've considered gamers to be "my people." No longer. I stopped reading Kotaku a while back because all of its posts and comments fell neatly into three categories: "Semi-relevant pop culture references masquerading as news," "Memes," and "Waaaah, other people don't understand us because they don't play video games!"

It suddenly occurred to me that every website dedicated to general gaming (that I've ever discovered) has become Kotaku. I am tired of seeing posts consisting of either nothing relevent or idiocy, with a comments thread full of worse. And this is coming from a guy who's been a Slashdot regular for at least a decade.

I am forced to realize that gamers in general aren't "my people" any more than anime fans in general are "my people." They're just a collection consisting mostly of idiots with whom I share a hobby.

My name is Zack Sarver, and I refuse to identify myself as a gamer. I'm just a guy on the internet who likes video games. (But if anyone happens to know of an awesome general gaming community, I'm all ears.)