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Sometimes I love the CLI.

At work today, I had someone ask me to run a script for them.  Now, this script is usually run automagically via cron, but the information is needed on the xth business day of every month, rather than just the xth day.  This has been a periodic thorn in my side ever since I wrote the script quite some time ago.

But recently the linux server our cron jobs run on mysteriously allowed me to run the at command.  This is kind of like an ad-hoc cron.  You tell it when you want to do something, and it does it at that time.

So I asked the business user who is the point person for this kind of stuff how business days were determined, and then I wrote a script to figure them out.  I tossed them into at after passing the dates through a regex, wrapping the command I wanted around them.

Only I did it wrong.  My logic was messed up, and now I had like 120 at entries and only one atrm command to remove them.  I did not despair, however.  Instead, I did this:

atq | awk ‘{ print $1; }’ | xargs atrm

And then atq was empty.  atq displays a job number and then some other information.  Piping this information into awk allows me to extract and print that first value, and passing it to xargs allows me to use it as a parameter in a command.  This little snippet is like me going through the list one by one and typing in atrm 106; atrm 104; […].

I get this great feeling of elation when I’m able to do away with a bunch of manual work with a nice, tight solution.

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I’ve been gradually refining my hiking/backpacking gear selections.  For the past 15 years, I’ve been hiking in the legendary Italian Vasque Sundowners.  Last year I replaced the insoles after pounding the heck out of my feet doing a 3-day section of VT’s Long Trail.  On most summer hikes I’ve taken to wearing my old Tevas (not sure which model it is), and occasionally barefoot.  I’ve got a set of Vibram FiveFingers that has seen minimal usage due to the fit (though I’m going to try them without the Ininji socks this year).

I’ve usually worn my GoLite Wizard shell when I go hiking, but I find I dislike the hand things and rarely use the integrated balaclava.  I also dislike the watch port because it ends of fogging up and I rarely wear a watch anyway.

My backpack has seen more significant variation: first I had a huge Vortex 5800, then moderated that down to a ULA Circuit (which I still consider to be a good pack).  I’ve been swayed to try the Aarn Mountain Magic (about the same capacity as the Circuit) going forward, however.  I have yet to take it out.

A few years ago I purchased a Hennessy Asym backpacking hammock, which in turn prompted me to purchase a Seaside Hammocks Double Jewel for my bedroom (which I have been sleeping in every night for about half a year now).  I ended up replacing the tarp on the Hennessy with a MadCat tarp, since the coverage on the stock one was pretty weak.  I find I dislike the fact that the bugnet can’t be removed and getting in and out of the hammock through the bottom slit is kind of a pain, which is only exacerbated when you use an underquilt.

So I ended up getting some new gear:

  • Golite Wizard ==> Marmot PreCip: Smaller, lighter, without the fuss.  I considered getting something like an eVent Packa, but I hear that doesn’t work well with the Aarn.  Plus I wanted something suitable for everyday wear as well.
  • ULA Circuit ==> Aarn Mountain Magic: “Weight is nothing more than the force gravity exerts on your body” — John Peterson, paraphrased.  The reason to lower weight is to have a more pleasurable time hiking, and this design gives you that and allows you to carry more weight for less exertion with greater comfort.  I’m not talking about going overboard, but at the end of the day oz for oz this is a better, more agile design.
  • Hennessy Hammock ==> Warbonnet Blackbird 1.0 double: Another recent untested purchase.  Has innovative footbox for a better lay, integrated hanging storage, unzippable noseeum mesh, and a double fabric design that allows you to put a CCF pad in between the two layers so you can’t slip off it at night (this design also allows you to add dry leaves as an ad-hoc form of insulation).
  • Vasque Sundowners ==> Innov-8 RocLite 312 GTX: Lighter trail runner with DWR.  The Sundowners are listed at 1531g, whereas the RocLites are 624.  Shoe weight is supposed to be 5x more important than pack weight, so this should save me the equivalent of 10 lbs pack weight (in terms of energy consumption).
  • Big Agnes synthetic ==> Big Agnes Zirkel SL down sleeping bag: better compressibility and features.
  • Wal-mart CCF ==> JRB Nest: Better performance, comfort, and packability.  I use it when at home on my bedroom hammock, as well.
  • Old Leki trekking poles ==> New Leki trekking poles: The wrist straps on my old poles were kind of a hassle.
  • Camelbak MULE ==> Osprey Talon 11: Daypack.  Nice hip-belt pockets, integrated trekking pole bindings, good overall design.

I’m looking forward to going on more more moderate weekend excursions this year, perhaps some slightly more extended (long weekend) trips.  Ideally I’d like to get together with other hammockers so we can stop where-ever rather than having to plan to make it to a shelter.

Another piece of pseudo-gear I’m interested in getting is the ScottVest Men’s Lightweight Vest.  I like my SEV Revolution for it’s integrated headphone cable routing system, but size large is honestly a little too big for me to wear by itself.  Last summer I ended up wearing it and kind of overheating due to wanting to have those headphones.  A lighter, smaller vest would be a great asset to me in warmer weather.  Plus it’d be easy to wear under another coat.  I’m waiting for a sale on this one, though.  If one doesn’t come by the time I’ll really want to use it, then I’ll end up picking it up at normal price.

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The Blade Itself

I recently finished listening to Joe Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself“, book one of The First Law series.  These are (oddly enough) under $10 at Audible.com, though the run for over 20 hours and are quality productions.  This is actually less than a single Audible credit, so I suppose I ended up spending $30 on this series.  Normally audiobooks at Audible cost about $11/credit (and one credit usually equals one book).

It started off kind of slow, with an oddly brutal cast of characters: a somewhat reformed 9-fingered killer hounded by his reputation, a once-celebrated duelist now physically broken by torture and come to be a torturer himself, and a young nobleman enjoying the privileges of rank and birth, along with their obligations.  These are spun together in a web of political intrigue and the beginning of a grand war.

It picks up though, and has an enjoyable set of secondary characters (in addition to some pseudo-POV characters not mentioned).  It was also one of the more quotable books I’ve read, approaching GRRM’s ASOIAF series.

Like most narrators, Steve Pacey takes a little time to warm up to, but once you do you find him enjoyable.  His pacing, emotives, and character voices are solid.

Glass no Kamen

I really enjoyed Skip Beat!, and Glass Mask was supposed to be similar so I gave it a shot.  The animation style struck me as similar to Maria-sama ga Miteru, and the story itself did bear a number of similarities to Skip Beat!.

While enjoyable, the show sometimes hit that melodramatic high that shoujo titles are occasionally known for (though it was certainly no Hana Yori Dango).  It featured an arc-driven storyline with no filler.

I liked how the rivalry between Maya and Ayumi turned into a mutual friendship.  The real weak point in this title is it’s ending: totally and completely rushed.  It felt like they were just trying to tie up loose ends instead of presenting a satisfying and well-paced conclusion.  At the end of the day, I gave it an 8/10: enjoyable, worth watching, but not reaching into greatness or having rewatch value.  Skip Beat! does it better.

Mars Daybreak

I’m not done with this one yet, but I’ve found it surprisingly enjoyable.  I really like the cast of characters, and the unique underwater mecha concept.

The story takes place on Mars in the future.  The planet has been terraformed and is covered with water and ice.  City-ships exist, having a city-state status on the planet.  There’s a political tension between Earth and the Mars colonists that feeds directly into the storyline.

The show reminds me a bit of Eureka Seven, mixed with some Cowboy Beebop and a bit of Saturday Morning Cartoon action.

The animation is clearly BONES, and they’re one of my favorite studios.

I really like the “dolphin in a human exoskeleton” character.  Like all dolphins, he looks cute, friendly, and harmless, but his character is the most aggressive and wanton of the bunch.

Aarn Mountain Magic Bodypack

When I first got it into my head that I wanted to go backpacking, I picked up a Vortex 5800: an absolutely bomber, huge backpack weighing 7lbs from a cottage manufacturer.  Then I went backpacking with it a couple of times and found that bigger ain’t always better.

After reading up on the benefits of light weight backpacking, I was persuaded to give it a shot.  “Would you rather have an more enjoyable time on the trail, or a more enjoyable time in camp?” was the question that got me.  Obviously, I’d rather have a more enjoyable time on the trail.  So I did my research and picked up a ULA Circuit. Not only did that shave 5lbs off of my base weight, but since it was smaller it encouraged me to pack less and pack smarter.

At some point after that I ran across these packs from Aarn.  The idea here is that rather than having to “hump it”, you balance the weight of the pack so that you can walk upright rather than perpetually hunched over.  In a traditional backpack, once you get enough weight back there you have to start hunching forward to maintain a standing center of gravity.  These packs purportedly make it so your center of gravity doesn’t get out of whack and you can walk upright, which allows you to be more mobile and less exhausted at the end of the day.

I just got the pack recently and haven’t taken it out.  I’m still figuring out how to adjust it and what goes where.  I’m migrating my stuff out of my Circuit into it.  They both have around the same volume.  The Circuit’s main body is 2400ci, while the Mountain Magic has a 2257ci main body volume.  One of the things I like about the Circuit is it’s hip belt pockets, which make it very easy to get out your camera or a snack.  This benefit is amplified with the Mountain Magic, where you have two great big pouches right in front of you.  Aarn even makes special pouches for cameras, which is pretty sweet if you’re an SLR enthusiast.

One of the things I like about the MM’s front pouches is that they’re asymmetrical.  The left hand side one has two large mesh pockets for snacks and water bottles and the like.  The right hand one has a longer, thinner mesh pocket on the side which I’ve put knife, compass, and bandanna in.

A common criticism of the Aarn packs is that they’re complex.  There are a myriad of straps with strange connections in strange places.  Familiarizing yourself with these will take some experimentation , but before too long I don’t doubt it will become second nature.

I’m also making the move from hose-driven water bladders (like Camelbaks) to water bottles.  The ultralight community advocates this due to weight saving, but the impetus here is due to the design of the Aarn pack: more dense items to the front in the smaller front packs.  Water definitely qualifies there.  And you don’t need a 3 foot hose for it.  Your water bottle is easily accessible.  I have one of the original Platupus water bladders (the precursor to Camelbak water bladder + hose solutions) that I thought about using, but a little research turned up a newer model with a bite-valve cap!  The best of both worlds =)

Now that I’m using water bottles, I may move to a UV water purification method.  This should save some weight and bulk, and be more convenient to use than my Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter.

Aside from that…

I jumped on to a patch of black ice while walking to work a few days ago and found myself on my back with a bruised elbow.  That still kind of hurts.

I cleaned my computer console, removing and reattaching all the wires and dusting back there.  Nearly all of my USB connections are going into my 8-port hub now.

I went snowshoeing with my new Kahtoola Mountain 24s.  These allow you to snowshoe when you need to, and have front Microspikes for when you don’t.  It’s really easy to detach/attach the two, and the shoe portion (seen here) is firmly attached.  While Microspikes may rule to roost in terms of strait ice performance, when in mixed terrain (or just snowshoeing) I’ll be leaving the Microspikes behind.

I think I may head up to NH this weekend, now that I’ve found out it’s a 3-day weekend.  My brother got my parents a TV computer for Christmas, but it was a little shy on RAM and video power.  I got my parents a supplemental video card for it, but installing it is beyond them.  I’ve also got some old RAM waiting in the wings for it.  Plus my mom’s PSU fan is super loud, so I think I’ll give them one of my PSUs for her desk computer.  I actually have an older barebones kind of sitting around that may serve as a good upgrade for them, though I think it may be sans GPU, and I believe my mother’s existing video card in there is AGP rather than PCI-E.  I should have a PCI-E nVidia 7900 somewhere, I think…  I do have another motherboard with integrated video, but it doesn’t support 32nm processors, which my Intel 5200 uses.

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Last night I got together with Alan and Andrew for our every-other-Tuesday board game night.  When they arrived, I mentioned to Alan that I’d played Rift over the weekend (since he’s a WoW addict) and this sparked a 4 hour long conversation about MMORPGs.

I found out that WoW (by far the largest MMO ever to have existed) is very much a gear grind.  That sucks.  In fact, that mechanic is a”keep them playing, keep them paying” mechanic.

I also found out that WoW has 40 minute long grouping queues.  Suck x2.  This is, of course, symptomatic of building your game around the “holy trinity” of tank, healing, dps.  While it’s definitely viable, eventually world balance is created in such a way that (a) it’s the only viable option and/or (b) everyone can solo.

Questing also came up.  I reiterated the problems I had with questing in general: click on an npc, don’t even read the explanatory text, kill what you need to kill, return for reward.  It gives a direction to the game (which can be good), but it also gives XP, which is bad, and I’ll tell you why: it creates a game of soloists.

One of the problems Alan mentioned was that max level characters didn’t have a clue in WoW.  They’re “still learning” how to group.  Still learning how to really use their characters.  In EQ, grouping was essentially mandatory unless you could kite, root/nuke, had a strong pet, or could charm.  In most of those cases you often spent most of your time in regen downtime.  In this present generation of MMOs, since questing is the most xp efficient way to advance, people quest.  And since you can only do a quest once, and quests open at certain levels or have other prerequisites, not everyone has the quest.  And since you don’t absolutely need anyone else to fulfill the conditions of the quest (kill 10 rats), you don’t even try to find a group to adventure with.  You’re playing a solo game in a persistent online world, but without any real human interaction aside from the dubious quality conversation found on open chat channels.

I’m coming to think more and more than Guild Wars 2 will be just what the doctor ordered.  Quests are created to provide flavor and direction, but as you can see there are downsides to their implementation.  GW2 has a dynamic even system designed to replace quests, and a storyline system intended to provide flavor.  It dispenses with the dps/tank/healer paradigm in favor of a damage/support/control paradigm.  Now dps == damage, but the other two are distinctly different.  Obviously any game like this is going to require DAMAGE.  But there isn’t even a dedicated healing class.

Getting back to our conversation yesterday, we also spoke about such diverse matters as: Diablo II expansion rune rarity, Blizzard and Bioware being top developers, Dwarf Fortress salt water irrigation, FPS game altering bugs that made the games better, strafe-looking, Leroy Jenkins and “more dots” (wherein my new bluetooth portable speakers were employed), and the weight of power supplies being an indicator of their quality.

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So I played Rift this weekend. It’s enjoyable for what it is, and it’s innovative within it’s paradigm.

I liked the Rifts system. At any given time there are usually *some* rifts open somewhere. Sometimes an all-on assault happens from one of the planes and you have mobs from all over the map just marchine to (and through) major towns. Places you sell off in; places you train in; places you spawn might spawn in. Opening up the (M)ap, you can see the location of the parties, their plane affiliation (death, life, guardian, etc), and possibly their level and/or named mobs. If you get near enough to one of these roving bands, an ad-hoc quest will pop up and give you directions on how to kill it. You can close the rifts as well by dealing with the problem at the source.

Of course, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do so alone. This is where their innovative public grouping system comes in. It’s more like a “public defensive raid” system, since oftentimes, even in beta, there were 10-20 people involved in sealing a rift. It is possible to clear one by yourself, sometimes.

The class sytem in Rift is pretty cool too. You choose one of 4 base classes (warrior, rogue, cleric, mage), and within that archtype you get to choose 3 sub-classes for your character. None of these classes is weighted more than another. In fact, you can respec your point distribution within them on the cheap at your trainers, so you can freely experiment and change how you want to play. Not only that, but you can also gain a second role as well, allowing you to keep a configuration for grouping seperate and easily switchable from your solo configuration. You can do this up to 4 times, though while the first one costs 30 gold, the second costs over 3 plat (my character never had more than 2.5p at level 17).

It’s definitely a “running game”. There’s no quick travel on the maps, though you can get mounts that increase your run speed.

The questing system is definitely a dual-edged sword. On one hand it allows you to level more quickly than aimlessly killing mobs, provides you will currency and item rewards, and gives you a direction. On the other hand, because it’s more effecient than grouping up and killing stuff, people tend to quest by themselves instead of grouping up. This makes it more of a solo game than I’ve experienced in the past.

Healeritis is definitely in effect when in dungeon-land, too. If you’re up against any kind of serious challenge in a small group, you’re going to want a healer or you’re going to get eaten (at least, that’s what my first dungeon experience was like). Our tank couldn’t stand up against a single mob 2 levels above him in the dungeon, even with my geomancer heals (a decent heal, but on a 10 second timer). He just got chewed up and spit out before the mob was even at 80%. And this was a roamer near the start of the instanced dungeon!

A lot of people in game were comparing it to WoW. “This game stole from WoW!” was a consistent refrain on the open channels. It was, of course, retorted all the way back to MUDs. It’s the evolution of a genre, with innovation sprinkled in. The game world is more persistent because of the effects of the rifts.

Death was nothing. No real loss; just a bit of coin, a little inconvenience. You spawn back up at the nearest shrine, and have to pay the piper (I mean “healer”) after a certain number of deaths. Once I got blown off the edge of a cliff fighting a rift, and died. Trying to get my corpse, I couldn’t get back up to the top, so I just drown myself (which took a while) rather than try and find my way back (I’d been down there before in previous explorations and wasn’t inclined to do it again). I’d say there are only two death penalties that make any sense: item loss, and experience loss. It’s a mistake to give any way to soften those blows if your game gives them, because then you have people begging for/demanding a rez. Dying in Rift is not a risky proposition. I suppose you *can* thank WoW for that. The death penalty in Guild Wars is kind of a happy middle ground: % power loss until you retreat from the instance, which will slowly regenerate (and stack, should you die again).

Lots of people had pets. I think there’s a class in each archtype (except perhaps warrior?) that has one. My dom/chloro/warlock didn’t have a pet. I was able to solo fairly effectively as each of those classes (though my dom was 1/3 chloro, and not maxed dom). As a Dominator I never had mana problems. Warlock and Chloromancer did have issues with running out of mana.

I suppose at this point I’m not really interested in a “must have healer” game. I’ve played a healer in DAoC and GW, and you mostly spend your time looking at those little green bars. That’s your game: filling up those bars. No situational awareness like CC, no real regard for what’s around you: just filling up those bars. It’s not a bad minigame, and you’re certainly appreciated/required, and you can allow a group to do things (especially if you’re skilled) that they would have no chance of doing otherwise. So you get some appreciation factor as well.

There was a main questline for the Defiant faction, but it wasn’t like what you’d find in Guild Wars or DDO Online. No cutscenes, spoken word, or driven story. More like a golden-colored questline you’re free to just click-through on and do whatever “kill or collect” quest they set you about. Speaking of collections, they have sparkling items on the ground similar to what you’d find in EQ2. You pick them up and can put them in some kind of collection, which you’ll get some kind of subsequent benefit from once it’s complete. No control over what you get though: what’s the point? Completely driven by luck of the draw.

I wasn’t walking into Rift with any expectations (I thought it looked cool and heard some cool things about it, so I signed up for the beta and got an email), so I’m not disappointed in it. No hopes dashed or anything. I’m still looking forward to Guild Wars 2 and Firefall though; both of those seem to have promise.

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Here are the suggestions I made on the beta forum after my time in game:

  • “fill your inventory drops”: get rid of any item that doesn’t have a legitimate purpose other than to sell it off. This just makes you go back to town to deal with the administration of your character rather than enjoying play. Perhaps this could be controlled via a player-level preference flag (it strikes me now that some of these may be used for crafting).
  • training skills: this is a simple money sink. I was out adventuring, feeling like my character was underpowered. I went back to town (finally) and trained my skills and now I’m more on par. Why should I have to do that? It’s another money sink. Decrease mob coin drops or GP quest rewards if you need to balance the economy. Reduce character administration.
  • mounts: as any hiker knows, the speed of your group is the pace of the slowest member. If you’re travelling as a “real” group to combat rifts or simply adventure, if one player is without a mount they get left far behind. Having mounts with different speeds exacerbates this problem. Allow mounts to hold 2 players via a “climb on” command; this should help in 80% of the cases, at least.
  • Quick travel: I’m ambivalent on this one. I can see the benefits of no quick travel when rift invasions are up. I was expecting a guild-wars-esq instant travel to known locations. I think a happy medium here would be something similar to EQ2’s Griffin system, where you have to get to the nearest station and that would bring you where you want to go (any town or dungeon location on the map); the griffin would then depart, conceptually towards the nearest griffin launch point.
  • LFG system: needs to be implemented. I’m sure it’s been discussed before. Flag by level, role (tank, backup healer, primary healer, melee dps, etc) on both sides.
  • Respec/etc: When buying your second role slot, allow a new class to be selected/obtained at that time. When I did mine, I found my Dom/Chlo/Warlock had access to the fire mage class (which honestly could not nuke hard enough to solo well at 17 full spec), but I liked that idea. Let me choose if you’re going to give me an extra class to play with (which I liked).
  • Regen: buying potions to increase resting regen is another admin/money sink. Simply allow a character to sit to give a %bonus to regen.

Instance hirelings

One of the gripes I had about dungeons was the necessity of a healer. I had a pickup group disband because we couldn’t find a healer for the dungeon.

At the start of each dungeon, allow a single, level appropriate hireling to be acquired for free. This member would be AI controlled, added to the group, take it’s share of XP and coin loot. Dedicated healers, nukers, and tanks would be available.

Questing

Allow players to flag themselves as Questing. A player thus flagged would be open to group invitations by other players who have the same active quests on their screen. Facilitate a quick-match system in the LFG screen to pair players. Allow players to visibly see these matches when another player is within view. Right click on target portrait to “join/invite group” > for quest > active quest list. Sends party invite/add request to player with quest info added. eg: Thufir wants to join your group for the [Quest Name] quest. Accept? [Y/n]

Allow group leader to query party quest info, automatching on Questing party members that share the same quest. Suggest based on active quest, proximity, level. Select to send /party message linking quest. Players can click on quest to make active on their screens. Possible voting interface.

Rift combat rewards
Increase drop rate of quality, level appropriate, random gear. While rift combat is cool, the benefit simply isn’t there. Adding class-appropriate item drops as rift quest rewards will increase participation going forward. Make these better than standard quest rewards. Generate items better than current equipment: reduce the gamble, tweak the drop rate. Let people know by participating in rift combat they’ll have a chance to get something they can actually use.

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Well, it looks like Tumblr can’t make it through my work’s firewall anymore (probably due to the occasional pr0n that pops up there), so for convenience sake I’ll use this now.

I liked being able to use Markdown (was that it?) at Tumblr for posts.  I also liked the idea of being able to create different types of posts, but in reality I only used it for texts.  I also liked the ability to like a post there and have an open list of the items that I liked.  Their “reblog” functionality is a good meme system.

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