Category Archives: Computers

Game review – Civilization II

Once upon a time I had all sorts of time for computer games.  Back in the 1990s I could easily while away a Sunday afternoon on a good video game as easily as others would on a baseball game or reading a good book.

One of my favorites was Civilization II (Civ II).  This turn based strategy game allowed players to build up a civilization from the stone age and take it to the space age.  A single player could be pitted against 7 computer opponents or multiple human players could take turns playing against each other.

The game made use of what was then cutting edge CD multimedia technology and had several videos that played during the course of the game to flesh out the game play.

Leonardo’s workshop.  One of the world wonders that give players a special advantage

A player would start with a small village and as time passed he could learn new technologies, build city improvements, plant farms, harvest resources, make money, equip armies, and conquer new territory.  The end of the game would be set for the year 2000 and the most advanced civilization with the most points would win.

Game scores were kept based on the population size, wealth, size of the area conquered and world wonders that were built.

With variable geography and random events during the game (such as earthquakes or barbarian invasions), the experience was ever-changing and endlessly challenging.  For me the real attraction was to compete against myself and try out new strategies and tactics to try to build up my civilization.

Although newer versions of Civilization have come out in the last 20 years I still think of Civ II as the best in the series.  The added multimedia material added so much to the game play and the computer Artificial Intelligence (AI) was one of the first that was not as predictable as most computer AI’s had been up to that time.

If you like strategic games and want to find a game that will challenge you intellectually I would highly recommend any of the Civilization games.

The perils of technology

I was at a convention recently and the organizers had come out with a downloadable application (app) for people to use in lieu of paper programs.  For the most part the app was a huge success.  The organizers were able to update the information as events required and people got to where they wanted to be.

One slight hitch was that a couple of panels at the convention kept getting switched from room to room or were postponed.  So people had to keep an eye on those panels and some people wound up going to the wrong rooms at the wrong time either cause their app had not updated or they were relying on old information.

A fairly benign glitch to be sure but then again some technological glitches can be more serious.  In other news a car, supposed to be able to avoid collisions, hit several reporters that were there to witness the unveiling.  The car maker claimed that the car was not fitted with pedestrian detection capabilities.  Even though a human was at the wheel he did not brake for the pedestrians because the car did not detect them.

Something fundamentally disturbing about that.  A human operator relying more on the car sensors than his own eyes and not braking.  But I think this is indicative of a trend that I see more and more around me.  People seem to have this innate trust in technology.

We tend to see something new and assume that it is intrinsically good or perfect.  Technology is neither good nor bad, it just is.  What we do with it once it is in our hands gives it context.  Maybe it’s just middle-aged me talking and maybe my parents felt the same way about “new” technologies when I was young.  Maybe it’s been the same story since the beginning of time but I don’t think so.

I think the trend has accelerated in the last ten years.  People, particularly younger people, tend to rely more and more on their technology and less and less on their own judgment and wits.  Hopefully the trend is an aberration and can be reversed.

I would hate to see the day come when we believe more in machines than we do in mankind.


[Author’s note:  This is a reprint of a popular internet post from the 1990’s.  The Author is anonymous and most probably lost to history.  It involves game play in a MUD (multi user dungeon).  MUDs allowed you to play against other people on the then primitive internet.  Back before the web you could play online games but you had to use your imagination.  All gameplay was text-based.  This is where I got my first taste of playing online against other computer users.  This is what a trip to Denny’s might look like if it happened in a MUD]


You have entered Denny’s.
You say, ‘Hail Denny’s hostess’
Denny’s hostess says ‘Hello, Tom. Welcome to Denny’s. [Smoking] or [non-smoking]?’
You say, ‘non-smoking’
You say, ‘I would like non-smoking please’
You say, ‘what about non-smoking’
Denny’s hostess says ‘Right this way, please.’
You are out of food and drink.
Corey shouts, ‘has anyone seen the waiter?’
Gary shouts, ‘no and ive been camping him for a half hour’
You are out of food and drink.
Ester shouts, ‘I see him’
Corey shouts, ‘dont kill him, i still have to do the order quest’
You are hungry.
You are thirsty.
You are out of food and drink.
You say, ‘Hail Denny’s waiter’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Hello, Tom. You look like you could use some [coffee]’
You say, ‘Yes I’ll have some coffee’
You say, ‘what about coffee’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Ah, excellent! We have [regular] and [decaf].’
You say, ‘I will have some decaf’
You say, ‘what about decaf’
You say, ‘what about decaffeinated coffee’
Denny’s waiter says ‘I expected nothing less of you. Here, take this.’
You gain experience!
Your faction standing with Juan Valdez got better
You drink your coffee.
You were hit by non-melee for 39 dmg
YOU are burning!
You shout, ‘Ow hehe this coffee’s hot’
Karen shouts, ‘Haha u sux0r’
You are hungry.
You are out of food.
Annoying kid says ‘Pikachuuuuuu’
Annoying kid tries to hit YOU, but misses!
Annoying kid tries to hit YOU, but misses!
Annoying kid hits YOU for 3 points of damage.
Auto-attack on.
You hit Annoying kid for 17 points of damage.
You hit Annoying kid for 22 points of damage.
You have slain Annoying kid!
Your faction standing with Disciplineless Mothers got worse
Your faction standing with Denny’s Customers got better
Your faction standing with The World at Large got better
Annoying kid’s corpse0 says ‘My mother will avenge my death!’
You receive 3 copper as your split.
You are hungry.
You are out of food.
Disciplineless mother says ‘Your actions and history are a personal affront to all I stand for.’
Disciplineless mother begins casting a spell.
Disciplineless mother pet is enveloped in flames.
Off-duty police officer says ‘Hey! No pets in the building!’
Disciplineless mother pet hits YOU for 18 points of damage.
Off-duty police officer hits Disciplineless mother for 287 points of damage.
Off-duty police officer hits Disciplineless mother for 234 points of damage.
Off-duty police officer kicks Disciplineless mother for 27 points of damage.
Disciplineless mother is slain by Off-duty police officer!
Disciplineless mother pet hits YOU for 12 points of damage.
Off-duty police officer hits Disciplineless mother pet for 262 points of damage.
Off-duty police officer was burned.
Disciplineless mother pet is slain by Off-duty police officer!
Off-duty police officer says ‘Let this be a lesson, that none can withstand the wrath of the San Diego Department of Public Safety.’
You are hungry.
You are out of food.
You say, ‘Hail Denny’s waiter’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Can I get you some more [coffee]?’
You say, ‘No, I want to place my order’
You say, ‘Can I place my order?’
You say, ‘Let me place my order ******!’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Ah, would you like to try our [Grand Slam Breakfast]?’
You say, ‘I will have the grand slam breakfast’
Denny’s waiter says ‘How would you like your [eggs]?’
You say, ‘scrambled’
You say, ‘I would like them scrambled’
You say, ‘what about eggs’
Denny’s waiter says ‘You can have [scrambled eggs] or [fried eggs].’
You say, ‘I will have scrambled eggs’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Excellent, would you like anything to drink? Some [orange juice], perhaps?’
You say, ‘I will have orange juice’
You say, ‘what about orange juice’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Our orange juice is fresh squeezed from concentrate.’
You say, ‘give me orange juice’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Okay, I’ll be right back with your orange juice.’
You gain experience!
You are hungry.
You are out of food.
Gordon shouts, ‘Attention, your bacon is now raw, because fully-cooked bacon lacks the inherent risks associated with our Vision of Bacon.’
Lawrence shouts, ‘Wait a minute, this bacon hasn’t been cooked for months’
Gordon shouts, ‘Uhh… yes it has.’
Robert shouts, ‘You kidding? We’ve been complaining about this stuff being raw for ages’
Gordon shouts, ‘Uh, whatever.’
Gordon shouts, ‘Oh.’
Gordon shouts, ‘uh…. I’ve just been informed that the bacon has been raw for several months now, but we were unable to determine this until we fixed a bug with the pancakes, which were previously large enough to obscure the bacon.’
Gordon shouts, ‘… Oh, yeah, we nerfed your pancakes too.’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Here is your breakfast, Tom.’
You gain experience!
Your faction standing with Denny’s Customers got worse
Scrambled eggs looks at you threateningly – what would you like your tombstone to say?
You taste your eggs.
You are chilled to the bone.
You shout, ‘oh man my eggs are cold’
Robert shouts, ‘petition a manager then’
You petition, ‘my scrambled eggs are cold’
Kevin shouts, ‘Ack train to restroom!!!’
Thom says, ‘Lynn, I still can’t believe you can eat this stuff’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Here is your breakfast, Lynn.’
Lynn begins to cast a spell.
Lynn is protected from poison.
Lynn says, ‘I always come prepared’
You shout, ‘Man, where’s the manager’
Karen shouts, ‘Haha u pteitond a managr u sux0r’
George tells you, ‘Greetings, Tom, I am George, the Denny’s manager. How can I assist you?’
You tell George, ‘my scrambled eggs are cold’
George tells you, ‘I will be with you as soon as possible, please stay patient’
You sip your coffee.
A cool breeze slips through your mind.
George says, ‘Greetings, Tom. Are your eggs still cold?’
You say, ‘yes’
George begins to cast a spell.
Scrambled eggs burst into flame.
George says, ‘Take care’
Michelle says, ‘Ack, I don’t feel so well’
Michelle begins to cast a spell.
Alka-Seltzer staggers.
Michelle staggers.
Michelle beams a smile at Alka-Seltzer.
Michelle says, ‘Ahhh, I feel much better now…’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Here, let me clear that away for you.’
You say, ‘Hey, wait, that’s my food, I’m not done yet….’
You shout, ‘Hey, this waiter took my food’
Corey shouts, ‘Yep, they do that sometimes if you let your food sit there’
You say, ‘Hail Denny’s waiter’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Hello there, Tom, how can I help you?’
You say, ‘Check please’
Denny’s waiter says ‘Okay, here you go.’
You gain experience!
You say, ‘Hail Denny’s cashier’
Denny’s cashier says ‘Hello there, would you like to pay your [check]?’
You say, ‘Yes I want to pay my check’
You say, ‘what about my check’
Denny’s cashier says ‘You must give me the check before I can reveal more to you.’
Denny’s cashier says ‘Ah, excellent! Would you like to know your [total]?’
You gain experience!
Your faction standing with Denny’s Cashiers got better
You say, ‘what is my total’
Denny’s cashier says ‘Your total is 6 gold, 7 silver, 9 copper. Will you be paying with a [MasterCard]?’
You say, ‘yes I will use a mastercard’
Denny’s cashier says ‘Unfortunately your MasterCard is over-limit. Would you prefer to pay with [cash]?’
Your faction standing with MasterCard got worse
Your faction standing with Cheesy-*** High-Interest-Rate Credit Card Companies got better
You say, ‘yes I will pay with cash’
Denny’s cashier says ‘Your total is 6 gold, 7 silver, 9 copper then.’
You gain experience!
You receive 2 silver.
You receive 1 copper.
Denny’s waiter says ‘You have stiffed me on my tip for the last time!’
Denny’s waiter crushes YOU for 217 points of damage!
Denny’s waiter crushes YOU for 204 points of damage!
Denny’s waiter hits YOU for 226 points of damage!
Denny’s waiter tries to hit YOU, but misses!
Denny’s waiter bashes YOU for 74 points of damage!
You are stunned.
Denny’s waiter crushes YOU for 189 points of damage!
You are bleeding to death!
Denny’s waiter crushes YOU for 221 points of damage!
You have been slain by Denny’s waiter!
You are no longer stunned.
You have entered Verant.
You shout, ‘Can I get a SOW? My corpse is all the way over in Denny’s’
Karen shouts, ‘Haha u sux0r’

Does SPAM still work?

I’ve been online now for over a quarter century.  I was there when the vote was taken to allow commercial traffic onto the internet.  I even remember some of the early and primitive websites that first popped up and nowadays would hardly qualify as a website.

All through this time I had email accounts and for a good portion of that time I’ve had to deal with SPAM.  That unwanted and now largely ignored mass communication method made possible by the ability of the internet to send “free” and “unlimited” numbers of electronic mail messages to recipients all around the world.

This form of advertising is now on the decline but still serious and pervasive enough to bother a great number of people all around the world.  Most countries now have anti-spamming legislation which makes this type of communication increasingly the purview of criminals seeking to infect the computers of unwary people with malware or peddling illegal items.

I should say however that some countries do still allow spam and that some forms of emails that are annoying may be thought of as spam even though they are not technically spam.  It is this category that I want to discuss.

Why do business people, rational people I’m sure, think that this shotgun approach to advertising will work?  Sending out untargeted, unwanted, and somewhat random emails out into a general population that most certainly did not ask for this sort of attention is prone to incur the wrath of the recipient.  So why do it?

I think it is fairly clear that the general population has gained a level of technical sophistication in the last decade.  Certainly the terms: virus, spam, and scam, are not unknown to most people.  I have to imagine that most people will react negatively to the arrival of such emails to their inbox.  So with that thought in mind, is it really a worthwhile exercise to engage in this practice anymore?

I mean at best most people will do what I do, which is ignore these emails completely.  Those people who are really annoyed may take hostile action such as tracking down those responsible and reporting those responsible to their internet providers.

Further in the last few years online advertising has embraced social media and grown in sophistication that allows advertisers to more selectively target their message to the “right” audience.

So with so much going against it and with much better ways to spend their advertising dollars, why do people still persist in this practice?

The new experts

I was part of the last generation to rely exclusively on libraries and books for research.  Back in college I would do reports looking up books and theses on an old computer catalog (or sometimes on paper catalogs) and then hunt them down on the various floors of Evans Library.

Evans became like a second home to me.  if I wasn’t in class or at home that’s where I could usually be found.  Despite the fact that the library staff was constantly replacing books I would always seem to end up looking for that one book that was never where it was supposed to be.  If I found the book I would then be hunched over a copier making copies of the relevant pages and scribbling down bibliographical notes for reports that I would later laboriously type out on an actual typewriter.  After college I didn’t need to do all that much research but the local library was always around if I needed to.

New information sources were becoming available.  Computer disc sets such as Encarta were vying to replace the venerable old Encyclopaedia Britannica as a repository of knowledge.  Truthfully, the couple of times I tried the “free” trials of products like Encarta, I wasn’t impressed.  The articles were usually short little blurbs and never really gave in-depth details or references.  They were very impressive to look at with colorful pictures and even videos but short on hard facts and references.

With the rise of the web a floodgate of information opened up to the general public.  Hypertext linking and search engines simplified the tasks of research.  You could enter some vague terms into a search engine and be transported to a website where people were talking about whatever you wanted.  Sometimes it was a website full of experts, sometimes a website of full of amateurs.  Some educators wrote articles expressing concern about the quality of research that kids did for reports using the internet.

The biggest culprit in educator’s minds was Wikipedia.  Started as an online collaborative effort to provide an online encyclopedia to anyone about anything, Wikipedia allowed any person to come in and enter and edit articles without regard to their qualifications.  This set off a panic in the educational community as they saw what they regarded as amateurs expressing opinions on matters that should be best left to properly qualified and degreed experts.  They urged kids not to eschew the traditional library and return to books as the one and only source of knowledge.

In truth there was some cause for concern in the early days.  Some contributors wrote articles based off pure opinion and conjecture.  Sometimes online vandals would come in and wreck pages just for fun.  Some groups would blank out pages for political or other reasons.

Wikipedia as any organization went through several trial and error periods until it finally began a more comprehensive and meticulous editing process.  Articles are no longer left up to single individuals and roving editors patrol the entries constantly to monitor the quality of the articles.

In addition entries now provide (almost demand) references to source materials be included in the articles for readers to do their own follow-up research.

The error rate has dropped significantly and several studies now show it to be on par with more traditional encyclopedias.

So does this mean the death of the traditional brick and mortar library and the printed word as the repository of expert research?  Possibly, but not for a generation or two.

Books have built up a type of cultural inertia in the minds of the general public.  Until the last few decades it has been a major undertaking to publish books.  The thinking was that if the publishers were willing to invest so many resources into a hardbound book then they must be very confident in the accuracy of the contents.

Nowadays wood pulp and ink are cheap and the major component of book costs is transporting them from the printers to the point of sale and paying the authors.

This perception that books are the only trustworthy source of knowledge is changing and more and more people are turning to online sources of information as dependable fonts of data.  I would hazard to guess that within 100 years that the only books that you could buy would be presentation pieces bound in leather and custom-made to order.

Could this trend to store information online only be dangerous?  Very much so!  I don’t have to touch upon Orwell’s “memory hole” or the great Chinese firewall to point out how information can be erased or restricted from a culture’s collective mind.  I think most people are aware of this.

However we have to be more cognizant of the fact that knowledge is power and that therefore those that can control or steer the distribution of that power are themselves powerful.  We must be ever vigilant that information is not tampered with, manipulated, fettered, or restricted to a privileged few and that it can be accessed by all in its purest and raw form.

At least for now that knowledge has a safe place to rest on the pages of the printed book.

the meaning of junk

My "electronic junk" closet.

My “electronic junk” closet.

Inspired to action by a recent post I read.  I decided to haul off and take a turn cleaning out some of the detritus out of my life.  I decided to tackle the electronic junk closet.  If you’ve ever lived with one or are a computer person then you know what this is.  That closet crammed with stuff that any other sane person would label as junk but a computerphile knows is more precious than gold.

So I start tossing stuff but inevitably though I begin going through things and reminiscing.

  • Where did I get this?
  • How did I use that?
  • Why did I put this away and why was I saving that?

Mostly it’s old power cables from computers you no longer own, digital cameras that are laughable now, USB cables, Cat 5 cables, power cables for other devices that are totally unmarked. An old printer with dried out printer cartridges, A CRT monitor that must weigh at least 30 pounds.

Most of it goes into a box that will go to goodwill.

The problem area are the hard drives.  I have this ridiculous fear about my data going out there into the world uncontrolled.  I have long since wiped the memories of these drives and transferred the important things to newer bigger drives.

But, even after erasing, a hard drive’s data can be resurrected.  I know it’s silly but these have to stay.  My plan is to save several of these together and hire a shredding company to crush and destroy these one day.

The closet is pretty clean now but I can already tell that I will have plenty of stuff in here by this time next year.  Technology keeps moving on and I will most certainly be discarding some old devices and adding to my hard drive collection by this time next year.