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Thirst for Victory (My Thoughts on Team Fortress 2)

The thirst for victory and glory can become almost a compulsive neurotic thing.  It seizes the victim in a death grip and causes him to try over and over again to attain that elusive prize.  In the same way as the brain can become addicted to alcohol or sugar or adrenaline, for those teased by the merest taste of victory, the desire for more becomes a craving difficult to appease.  It is what drives us to compete in sports, in races, in contests of all sorts – most of which only recognize between 1 and 3 winners, and many of the most popular of which recognize but one.  What causes people to even try if the odds are stacked against them?  It’s that thirst, that craving that becomes a life-long pursuit.

I’ve noticed this neurotic desire to win in my life.  When I play board or card games with family and friends, it isn’t just about the time spent together, but the possibility that I will win the game that pulls me to the kitchen table to play.  And it doesn’t matter how many times I lost, only that the future has not yet been written that matters.  It stuns me how often I lose though.  Even when playing one-on-one (where my odds of winning are good) I seem to lose a lot.  But I suspect it is just my mind recording only my losses that makes it feel that way – statistically, I should win about half the time (assuming the games we play are 100% chance-based relying on no skill).

TF2 Mann vs Machine Mission Complete

TF2 Mann vs Machine Mission Complete

But no greater example of this neurotic lust for victory exists in my mind than the playing of competitive video games.  I’ve been playing some form of “capture the flag” in computer games since the “Quake Team Fortress” multiplayer mod was released for the computer game Quake.  First developed for Quake, this style of gameplay has been adapted by countless development teams for all sorts of games in the last 15 years, seeing action in Unreal Tournament, Wheel of Time, Goldeneye 007, and many others I can’t remember.  But no one has perfected the gameplay and innovated off of it more than Valve Software.  Their Team Fortress 2 (TF2) game has created tens of thousands of glory addicts around the world simply by allowing them to win occasionally.

Without asking a single dollar from users and without giving them anything tangible in return, TF2 has developed a rabid fan base of individuals who month after month keep coming back for more – more punishment, more disappointment, and more long waits while their fellow players goof around during setup time without ever hitting F4.  The fact that any individual is practically guaranteed to win the game occasionally just for showing up enough times and doing something (useful or not) is what draws us all back to it.  That sweet sweet taste of victory drives us on.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’m blown up by a grenade, shredded by a hail of bullets, pinholed by a sniper rifle, or broiled by a flamethrower I keep coming back.  Oh I’ll leave after a certain threshold of abuse is reached, but in an amazingly short amount of time my brain recovers and begins thinking again that I’m nearly invincible, that I’ve developed new skills that will surely clinch the prize this time, and that victory is all but inescapable.  Still, reality bites.  I’ve seen these screens all too many times:

Wave Failed - Again

Wave Failed – Again

My Weapon - all that is left of me.

My Weapon – all that is left of me.

TF2 Wave Failed Screen

Team Abandons The Fight

You get a big “Mission Failed” over the middle of your screen.  In addition, the announcer (a menacing older female voice) yells “YOU FAILED!!” in a very fatalistic, apocalyptic way, surviving players lose their weapons and put their hands over their faces (in shame), and the enemy gets to run around shooting them to death.  Then the wave is rebooted back to the beginning for those who wish to do so to try again.

I think it is this stark utter defeat – communicated to the player in so many ways – that makes the victory so sweet and the pursuit of victory so addicting.  The range of emotions I go through while playing TF2 is amazing.  There is the typical “agony of defeat,” emotion.  This can be a personal small defeat such as being killed by a sniper once, to a heart-crushing domination type of defeat where a certain target keeps killing me over and over again (oh the fury!).  Or it could be a team-wide defeat.  I’ve seen these plenty of times where the entire team loses once, twice, then loses its focus, then finally its nerve; and players abandon the fight (the server you all are playing on) altogether.  Then I’m left holding my wrench and wondering what just happened (hint: we were all soundly defeated!)  Then there’s the heart-pounding adrenaline of hiding behind enemy lines and coming at them from the rear guns blazing, the zen calm of mowing down wave after wave of enemies with my sentry gun (very therapeutic), and the feeling of camaraderie I feel toward my teammates when we win (let’s ignore the fact they are all random strangers from around the world).  I either leave the game feeling immortal or fuming – rarely anything in-between.

Are we all just crazy?  Why do we keep coming back for more punishment like this?  I honestly do think we are a bit nuts, but it is reaching that final goal that sweet sweet beautiful victory that drives us on.  I know that’s what does it for me.  Still, at some point we gotta admit our (ten thousand) failures and move on.  Eventually I get to a point where I realize how complete and utterly wasteful my time playing it is.  When I’m no longer even having fun (much less winning) it’s time to quit.  Is it for good?  Probably not.  I’ve “uninstalled” Team Fortress 2 a number of times, but somehow I get roped back into it again and again – oh the devious minds behind these games.  Sometimes I think they know me better than I know myself.

Mission Complete Screen

Mission Complete Screen


The Devil Is Captured and Put in Prison

Miguel Angel Travino Morales - AP

Miguel Angel Travino Morales – AP

An amazing event has occurred in US-Mexican efforts to curb violence in northern Mexico – Miguel Angel Treviño Morales was finally captured in Nuevo Laredo by Mexican Marines, Monday morning near the US border while driving with two lieutenants, marking a “major blow to a crime gang with tentacles deep within the United States.” (Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers, July 16, 2013)

Tim Johnson, working for a newspaper syndicate, might not have been able to give voice to what we’re all thinking, but I have no such reservations – THE DEVIL WAS CAPTURED AND PUT IN PRISON THIS WEEK! Surely if Satan wanted to live within the body of a man it would be Morales. His gang, the Zetas (literally, “The Zs”) has terrorized Mexico for years using beheadings, mass killings, and brutal tactics to expand their empire and push out rival gangs from areas they want to control. Their modus operandi included extortion, kidnapping, migrant smuggling and trafficking in cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine. To say they had a profound affect on crime in the US and Mexico is to put it very mildly. Out of Mexico’s 31 states, The Zees “control” 11, whatever that means.

To lead a group like that takes a man even more evil, vile, and debase than the group itself; and that man was Morales. “A stocky man, Trevino has a reputation for grotesque savagery, even stuffing his enemies into drums and burning them alive or disemboweling them.” (Johnson) This preferred tactic of his was called the “guiso” or stew. The Zees “authored some of the worst atrocities of Mexico’s drug war, leaving hundreds of bodies beheaded on roadsides or hanging from bridges, earning a reputation as perhaps the most terrifying of the country’s numerous ruthless cartels.” (CBS News Daily Blotter, July 16, 2013) In the northern Mexican town of San Fernando, 193 bodies of migrants captured on their way into the US were found buried in a mass grave, killed by the Zees for various reasons that included refusal to carry drugs into the US.

During his brief leadership of the Zees, hundreds of pounds of drugs, money, and weapons flowed through the Mexican border every week. While that is unlikely to be disrupted for long (other cartels are vying to control Nuevo Laredo even now), at least it has been disrupted for a time. Meanwhile, Morales has been charged with murder, torture, kidnapping, and other crimes. It gives Northern Mexico a brief respite – the devil has been removed and incarcerated. I for one hope he rots there.

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Windows 8… in Hebrew?

So I decided that Windows 8 is not for me yet. I purchased the pro upgrade pack preorder for $69 and installed it on my PC (after creating a snapshot of my win 7 OS using Macrium Reflect). It’s a great way to experiment with different OSes, although creating a snapshot of a 80GB partition does take about 45 minutes – even on a direct USB 3.0 external 7200 rpm hard drive.

As I expected, the new OS was bewildering – the start button was completely gone! I couldn’t find a lot of things at first. But soon it became apparent that things were just moved around and hidden. I soon found that the Windows key was expanded and functions as a direct access to the start screen. Mousing over to the right edge is awkward. Trying to find specific programs is ridiculously cumbersome – some programs, if not pinned to the start screen’s main menu – could be several screen-scrolls to the right.

Overall it just seemed as if Microsoft is trying almost too hard to innovate. They have had the start menu for over 15 years and have been refining it that whole time – to the point I think it had become about as useful and streamlined as humanly possible. The bloated huge start screen is overkill. It’s hard to use, not easy to access, and it’s just not simple.

On top of that, Windows gadgets, which I have become dependent on, are no longer supported and I could not find an alternative on the internet in 2 hours of searching. Icons in the task bar were usually incorrect (e.g., Exploer icon for Photoshop). Lastly, I never could find an easy way to shut down my PC; and putting it to sleep has become broken since installing 8 – if I try, it shuts down and turns instantly back on.

As a final laugh at what seems to be a rushed product launch, when I registered for my free copy of Windows Media Center at I was sent the following product key in Hebrew text:

I ended up restoring my Windows 7 snapshop with Macrium Reflect (after backing up my install of Windows 8) after 3 days with Windows 8. Perhaps I’m not ready for it yet, or perhaps it’s not ready for me. I think both are true 🙂

More Sad Pumpkin!

Sad pumpkin is even sadder, if that can be imagined. I think he’s even getting a big angry at being left on that bird bath pedestal for so long. A couple days ago we held a memorial in his honor to mark his imminent passing… ๏̯͡๏

Sad Pumpkin - 6 days after carving

Sad Pumpkin – 6 days after carving

Windows NTFS Compression Before & After

Windows’ NTFS file system is getting a bit long in the tooth.  Developed jointly with IBM until they parted ways with MS to create their OS/2 operating system back in the late 1980s, it was used for even early versions of Windows, though I don’t recall being aware of it until Windows XP.  A useful feature of NTFS, though, is its ability to compress files, folders, and even your entire hard drive to free up disk space when you’re running low.  Back in the days of 20GB hard drives (and smaller) it proved quite useful, and I can honestly say that when I recently purchased a 3TB backup hard drive, I never thought I’d need to compress it.  But when it started filling up with backup data I decided to see just how far NTFS compression would go.

The Seagate Barracuda 3TB 7200 rpm drive on a USB 3.0 connection required around 1 1/2 days to complete the operation and you can see the results for yourself: 7GB saved and 72GB freed up.  Not sure how that works, but there it is.  I’m inclined to ignore the”used space” figure and go with the other 🙂

Before Compression

After Compression

Sad Pumpkin

While on our way to vacation in Virginia, we stopped off at a side-of-the-road pumpkin stand and purchased some “heirloom” pumpkins for about $10/each. Little did we realize that one of them was rotten. Luckily for me we placed it bottom-up in the car, but when we brought it inside and placed it in the reverse orientation on the counter, it began to leak yellow fluid all over the place! So I dug out most of the insides and, on a lark, my wife carved a sad face in it. But when we looked at it, we realized it looked extremely sad!

So we’ve taken photographs of it for you to cry over. I hope your heart is touched as ours were.

Hot hot hot! It’s hot in the southeast!

In a nod to the strange weather we’ve been seeing across the United States during the early part of this summer, it was 95 degrees and raining today. If you zoom in you can clearly see the digital thermometer display showing 95 deg F and, strangely, just 58% humidity. But it takes the thing a while to sync up to its surroundings or to register changes in temperature and humidity.Hot Rain!

Yet one more reason to pay attention while driving

In case you needed another warning to pay attention while driving, this morning ABC News showed the following photos of a woman who slammed into the rear of a vehicle hauling wooden poles.  Incredibly, she was not seriously injured in the accident, apparently due to a split-second jerk of the wheel.

Spammers are weird

Today I began getting a bunch of bounced email notices from my web host with some strange content.  They all followed the same format as such:

Subject: <Term of Endearment>! <verb> <famous person’s> <article of intimate clothing>
where Term of Endearment was somthing like “Baby Doll” or “Object of my affection”
verb was “gain” or “take,” etc.
One of over a dozen subject titles was “True Love! Grab Brooke Shields used clothes..”
The body of the email would invariably contain something to this effect:
Last week I participated in the at annual nude run 2011:
<spoof url pointing to an online Canadian pharmaceuticals dealer>
This was so much fun and I met a bunch of nude chicks who love to swing together!
Loveling, want to join?
Please, let me know then, you sexy cheeks!
Sandy Kennedy

Seriously, what are these people thinking??  Spammers are just plain weird.

Google Is The New Hotness In Cheap Airline Ticket Searches

pst!…. have you noticed the latest in airline ticket search engines?  If you go to your nearest internet browser and find a google search box of any sort, type in “[airport departure designation] to [airport destination designation]”  An example of this would be “CLT to LAX” (Charlotte International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport)

And that is it!  Give it a try and then be amazed.  Let’s take a look…

Google Airline Search

Google Airline Search

Take note of the 3 icons circled in red. The first pulls down a small map of a generic flight path from your origin to your destination. The second, below it, expands a vertical calendar to the right. The last opens up a most interesting interactive graph through which you can drill down into the data interactively by specifying flight duration vs price – you can have a very short, expensive flight (if available) or a long, cheap flight, or something in between. As you drag the sliders, the data below is updated on the fly without needing a page refresh.

Actually getting the flight you want is a bit more complicated:

1. Click on a ticket/price you like

Choose departure flight

Choose departure flight

2. Choose a return flight (this part was not obvious to me)

Choose return flight

Choose return flight

3. Click “Book”

Click to book your flight

Click to book your flight

4. Try again if you get this message

Try again if you get this message

Try again if you get this message

There are even more options in the left side panel to play around with.

If you need to find a flight, you could do worse than this search engine, but you’d have a hard time doing better.