Friday, August 29, 2008

Fixing WoW's BGs

How often does this happen?

You zone into a WoW BG and the first message you see is:
"Just let them win. It's faster Honor."

Or this:
"Everyone report Lolimafk as AFK!"
You check the Map and Lolimafk, and several other players, are still in the cave, even though AV started 5 minutes ago. The battle ends with your General being defeated and you look at the Map. Lolimafk, and several others, are still in the cave.

WAR is being touted as the next best thing in PvP/RvR, but already some people are not happy with its apparent bias towards team work. Combat in WAR is slower than in WoW. In WOW a Rogue pops out of Stealth, Ambushing you or Stunlocking you, and for several seconds you can do nothing, then you die. That doesn't happen in WAR. Combat lasts a lot longer (or appears to). Players cannot tie up an opponent and prevent them from not just moving but fighting back, until death do us part. In WAR, Combat lasts long enough that other players have a chance to react. Friends (& foes) have a chance to help out with Heals or damaging attacks of their own. Players in WAR need to work together if they want to succeed. In one on one encounters, you might take down your opponent, but just because you got the drop on him doesn't necessarily mean you'll be victorious.

What does this mean for WoW?

It means the people who enjoy PvP/RvR but who enjoy playing as a group are going to love WAR, meanwhile Lolimafk and his buddies are still AFKing in the caves in AV. The players who used to be out in the fields trying to win while cursing Lol under their breath? They're playing WAR. And the players with less Lols & AFKers on their team, they're more likely to win, because they're more likely to play as a team.

How can Blizzard encourage people to play as a Team?

By changing the way their BG rewards system works, by doing something that would be very unpopular, but it would only be unpopular with Lolimafk and a handful of other players.

Get rid of Honor. You don't need it. Or at least get rid of it as a PvP currency. The only PvP currency should be PvP Badges won from the BGs. And speaking of winning them...you need to win to win them.

Fuck the losers. Fuck the AFKers. If you don't play the BGs properly, if you just sit in the cave thinking you can AFK Honor Farm all evening, you've got another think coming.

Think you can just let your team lose because it's "faster honor". THERE IS NO HONOR!

If you want those really cool PvP Epics then you've got to work for them. There is no second place prize. Second place is just the first loser.

You can't AFK in the cave any more because it won't get you any Honor. Your Team won't win without your help, either, and if your Team doesn't win you won't get any Badges. If you're off by yourself doing your own thing (whether that's AFK or Fishing), you're not playing as part of the team, and if you're not part of the team, you've just decreased your team's chances of winning, which means you're less likely to get the Badges you need.

Would this work? I think it would. Would it be popular? I know it wouldn't. And that's why Blizzard won't do it.

But unless someone has a better idea, it's the best idea I know of to get rid of the AFK Honor Farmers and promote teamwork in the BGs. Sure, the AFK Honor Farmers will become AFK Badge Farmers, but Badges will take a lot longer to earn when your team keeps losing because you were AFK instead of helping out.

And finally, make the AFK Reporting system actually do something. Does anyone still believe reporting someone AFK works?

Change the AFK reporting system so if enough people report Lolimafk as AFK during a BG, it gives him an AFK debuff similar to the already existing /AFK Coward Debuff. You're an AFK Farmer, so no joining a BG queue for 15 minutes. And if Lol receives this AFK debuff enough times in a 24 hour period, it prevents him from signing up for any BG for 24 hours. And at the end of the week if Lol has received sufficient AFK debuffs, he cannot join any BG for 7 days, on any of his characters.

As I said, not popular. But AFK Honor Farmers aren't popular either, so what does it matter? We're not trying to make friends, we're trying to solve a problem, and the people who aren't likely to be happy with this solution are probably part of the problem. And if we get rid of them, we've solved the problem.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Wii Fit

Friday I stopped by Sears/K-Mart on the way home on the off-chance they'd just received a Wii Fit or two, but they hadn't. Not only did they have not have any in stock, but the girl said they'd received four units at release (late May), and that was it. Now I knew this thing was in high demand but I didn't realize just how limited its supply really was.

That night Liz and I went out for sushi. We stuffed ourselves, so Liz wanted to stop by Marshall's and do some shopping, to "walk off the full tummy". Next to the Marshall's is a Toys R Us, so I said I'd pop in while Liz parked the car, just on the off chance they had a Wii Fit in stock.

I found the Wii Fit display stand and lots of Wii Fit peripherals and accessories. Wii Fit Towels, Wii Fit Yoga Mats, Floor Mats, carrying cases. You name it, Nintendo had it...all except for the Wii Fit itself. I looked around. Mucho units of Guitar Hero for every console. Rock Band? Check! But no Wii Fit. Then the sales girl approached and asked if she could help me.

I smiled, assuming I already knew the answer, and said "I don't suppose you have any Wii Fits in stock?"

She smiled back and said, "Actually we do."

I stopped and stared. "Really?"

"We just got some in," she said.

I promptly called Liz and told her to bring the $20 Gift Card she had with her in the car.

"I'll be right there," she said, hanging up on me, and almost seconds later she was.

Thoughts of Marshall's and clothes shopping were thrown out the door.

We were getting a Wii Fit!

As we paid for it I asked the girl, "Is this the last one? Do you have any more?"

"Why do we want another one?" Liz asked me.

"Shh," I replied, "it wouldn't be polite to say in front of the sales girl that we planned to sell the second one on eBay."

Liz did not let me buy a second one :P

In the car I said to Liz, "Do you think Nathan wants one? I'm going to call him."

Nathan didn't want one. And we didn't go back and buy a second one, either.

So now, without further ado, I give you my review of Wii Fit.

* * * * *

THE WII FIT

Is it fun?
Yes, it is, and it has a few "Easter Eggs" as well. It's also rather rude. When you "register" your Mii at the Wii Fit Plaza, it asks for your height and age, then it calculates your BMI, which I disagree with. The BMI is archaic and fails to take into account that some people have a slender frame, while others, such as myself, are built rather solidly with broad chest & shoulders. But that's a problem with the BMI, not with the Wii Fit.

The Wii Fit then conducts its first Body Test where it measures your Center of Gravity (CoG) to determine if you stand with your weight more on one side of your body than the other. Most people probably do. You then play your first "mini game" of sorts where the Wii Fit asks you to shift your weight from one side of the Balance Board (BB) to the other, in varying increments. You're presented with two bars showing how much of your weight is being distributed to either side of your body, and a target line where you have to shift your weight to the left (but not all of it) to get the measurement bar to hit the target bar...and keep it there, for three seconds.

Easy enough the first time because the target bar is rather large, but the Wii Fit then repeats the test with you needing to shift your weight to the right, and now the target bar is smaller. Shift too much of your weight and you go past the target bar and need to shift your weight back a bit, but just a bit! Now hold it for three seconds...and...shift your weight back to the left, to hit an even smaller target bar. Do this five times in total, with the target bar getting smaller each time, and do so within 30 seconds.

(What I liked is that during almost every event there is a mini-map in the top right corner, which shows where your CoG is on the BB. This plays an important role in some of the mini-games.)

After the tests the Wii Fit adjusts your Mii avatar per the archaic BMI, and because I have a 27.9 BMI I'm on the heavier side of overweight, so my avatar got a substantial beer gut. Then because I failed the Balance Test I got told my balance is not so good and I probably trip over a lot when I walk.

Yeah. Thanks a lot. How much did I pay for this thing, only to be insulted by it?

I will admit that later, when Liz went through the same tests only to receive the same results and insult, it was a lot funnier :D

We each "played" on the Wii Fit for half an hour or so and I actually worked up a sweat, doing the Hula, running on the spot, then doing some Yoga and strength-building exercises.

Saturday we slept in and the Wii Fit stayed in its cubby (it fits quite neatly into one of the alcoves in our entertainment unit). We did some cleaning around the house, watched some TV, then I got ready for the Cub Scout camp that night.

Sunday when we returned home JE couldn't wait to fire up the Wii, so Liz showed him what to do, but when she logged in with her Mii she got insulted again. Sort of.

Too lazy to work out yesterday? it said.

Wow! Such impudence coming from a video game, even a $90 one. I can't recall if it said the same thing for me when I logged in, it probably did.

JE played the Wii Fit, a lot. Liz said that she'd been unable to adjust JE's height, so his Mii was about a foot & a half taller than he really is, which meant he was actually underweight. His Mii avatar was rather skinny when standing next to Liz and my own.

JE loved the running, and he scored pretty high on it, too. When I did it the first time I got about a 40% Burn Rate, JE scored in the 60s, I think because he managed to "run" at a more consistent rate than I did. During the "running" event your Mii chases his Trainer, and you can pass them if you "run" fast enough but then you get told off. I put "run" in quotation marks because if you just shake the Wiimote, your Mii still "runs", so you don't really need to run to make your on-screen avatar run around the Island. Yes, Island. Your Mii actually runs around an Island, which is kind of neat. The view is First Person so if your TV was at eye-level it would almost be like running around a cartoon island, complete with village, beach, rock tunnel, etc.

There were two Easter Eggs in the running event. The first was discovered by inappropriate use of the Wiimote, by which I meant we shook it, rapidly, which caused our Mii to run flat out for several seconds then fall flat on his face, complete with thud and grunt. It was amusing enough to do it several times, even if we did get told off for running too fast :P

The second Easter Egg was discovered by running fast enough to pass the Trainer at just the correct time. Now this could be construed a Spoiler so don't read this paragraph if you want to discover everything yourself...and there might not be much more to discover. By passing your Trainer just after a Dog passes him, you would stop auto-following your Trainer and begin Auto-following the Dog. By following the Dog you can visit/unlock other parts of the Island. If you run faster than the Dog when another Dog passes the first Dog, you start Auto-following the second Dog, and can take a different route yet again.

JE loved passing the Trainer and chasing the Dogs.

The Ski slalom was fun, but it wasn't really like real Skiing. For one the controls need to be reversed. If you know anything about real Skiing you know that to turn left, you shift your body weight to put more weight on your right foot, and vice versa. So if Wii Fit's Ski Slalom were like real Skiing, putting weight on your right foot would actually make you turn left, but it does not, it makes you turn right. This is a minor annoyance and can apparently be changed in the Setup, if you want to bother with that sort of thing. What was neat was that leaning forward shifts your weight forward and makes you go faster, and putting a lot of weight on one foot made the turn to that side really sharp, whereas just a little weight to one side made for a gradual turn. I'm sure if you practice enough with the Slalom you'll get the hang of it and belt out some really fast times. After a few runs I nailed every gate and recorded the fastest time, but I hadn't been going overly fast so my time was still in the 30-second range. While my time was listed as "professional" level I still only got two stars instead of the maximum possible four.

And what would Skiing be without the Ski Jump! When the gate opens make sure your weight is centered, and forward, and get down low! Using the Minimap get the CoG marker forward of center and onto the sweet spot for an extra burst of speed then at the end of the jump, stand up, quickly! Don't jump, just quickly stand up and your avatar will jump by himself. Now stay balanced for maximum flight time. After some fitful starts we all managed to get in some respectable jumps, but we discovered we had to use our own Avatars, which meant backing out to the Menu and the Wii Fit Plaza each time we wanted to switch over. If I tried to use JE's avatar, my extra weight was more than enough to "fool" the BB into thinking JE (who was supposed to be Skiing) had straightened up and 'jumped', so my avatar would jump way too early.

In the Ski Jump we discovered, not necessarily an Easter Egg, but amusing extras nonetheless. Failing to jump in time, or landing while off balance, causes your Mii to take a tumble and roll down the hill. Now a rolling stone may gather no moss, but a rolling Mii Ski Jumper does gather snow, and you end up with a comical snow ball with skis sticking out, rolling down the hill. Like forcing your Mii Runner to take a dive, this was also amusing enough to repeat a couple of times.

Does the Wii Fit have longetivity?
I would say Yes. When you just start "playing" you have a limited number of minigames/exercises to play, but as you accrue Time Played (& it does track how long you spend playing each day) you unlock more minigames. Some of the minigames take quite a bit to master, but are fun nonetheless, so you'll find yourself coming back to replay them and beat your highest score, which leads to unlocking new minigames which you may play as well, thus unlocking even more minigames.

Will it help me lose weight?
Are you going to cheat like you always do? When was the last time you went to the Gym? Still keeping the membership current though, right?

The Wii Fit is not a serious piece of exercise equipment like a treadmill, but it's a heck of a lot more fun to run through a cartoon village than stare at the wall of your bedroom for half an hour. And go to the gym? That means getting my gym bag together, and driving to the gym, then waiting for the elliptical machine or the treadmill (I can see your Timer, you know. I can tell you've been on that thing for an hour. Hey! Don't go hitting reset and starting over just because your 30 minutes are up! There's people waiting here, you know!) Or you could use that Stair Master thing in the corner that nobody seems to use, and after 5 minutes on it now you know why. (I can't feel my legs! How long have I been exercising? 5 minutes? That's it? No Fucking Way! The Timer must be broken! Uh oh. I think I'm going into cardiac arrest...or having an asthma attack, and I'm not asthmatic!)

What the Wii Fit will do is get you up and moving, and maybe even get your heart pumping a little more, and what it will also do is keep track of your progress, so you don't have to. Instead of sitting on the sofa for an hour, you're up and jumping around, you're doing windmills, twirling imaginary hula hoops, maybe even doing push ups. Any exercise, no matter how limited, is better than sitting on your arse all evening.

That's what the Wii Fit will do for you, and how often do you get to exercise naked? Can't do that at the gym now, can you? Actually I don't really use the Wii Fit naked...Liz makes me put socks on.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CANNONNNNN BAAAAALL!!!

When I was in High School we had four Houses that competed against each other (yes, just like Harry Potter :P) in the annual Athletics and Swimming competitions. Somehow (don't ask me, I don't know how) I was actually elected House Captain two years running. Actually I think I know how: because nobody else was stupid enough to accept the nomination.

Being House Captain meant I had to inspire the troops, so to speak, which really meant when people were asked if they wanted to run the 100m, or the 200m, or do the High Jump, the Shot Putt, the Discus, etc, and nobody was willing to volunteer, I had to do it. There were a few people who actually volunteered to compete in all of the events, but they were the athletic-types who were actually good at doing that sort of thing. Such as one of the 100m Sprinters who turned up with his Track Spikes, then made the starting official (one of the teachers) wait while he hammered down his starting blocks for when he Took His Mark! and Got Set!

During the Swimming competition when there was again a lack of volunteers, I was once more called on to take part in just about every swimming event, including the diving. My diving repertoire consisted of a pike (which I screwed up trying to do a full tuck), a back somersault, and a forward somersault. Lucky we only got three dives or I'd have been out of tricks. Actually I have one more dive in my stable but it wouldn't have scored very highly.

Bone, I agree, if I were on the Dive Team in the Olympics, and if I knew I was totally out of the running, I would absolutely consider doing a Cannonball, but with my own special twist that I call The Stomper. It starts out just like a Cannonball, but just before entry you straighten out and stomp the surface of the water as hard as you can. Apparently it creates a very loud splatting sound and generates a lot more splash than a standard Cannonball. It never seemed that impressive when my friends did it, then again, everyone else said nobody did The Stomper quite like me...credit probably goes to my big feet :P

So I did the Diving for my House and messed up with the Pike. I think I came fourth out of about 10 competitors. I also did the butterfly, breaststroke, freestyle, and backstroke events, as well as the backstroke leg of the 4x50 relay for my House. During either the Butterfly or Breaststroke both myself and several other competitors were DQ'd for kicking the wrong way, and I think only two swimmers had legitimate finishes. So I botched the diving, and the butterfly or breaststroke, but my unsung hero moment came during the 4x50 relay.

Just as we'd had a Ringer turn up at the Athletic competition with Track Spikes and Starting Blocks, we had a couple of Ringers at the Swimming competition, too. They looked impressive, in their Speedos with matching caps & goggles, and I had the honor of starting against one of them for the opening Backstroke leg of the 4x50 relay. We were neck and neck down the pool, until I gave it everything I had and pulled just a tiny bit ahead to tap the wall ahead of my opponent. I'm not saying I beat him decisively, but I hit the wall first and he hit it second, and he knew it.

Some of our greatest accomplishments in life receive no recognition, no ribbons or medals. We know what we've done, and sometimes that's enough.

"Someone beat me," said my opponent, as he clambered out of the pool. "Someone beat me! Who beat me?"
(Sometimes other people know what we've done, too.)

Amused by his shock and disbelief I remained quiet, and nobody else volunteered my name. If anything, everyone seemed puzzled that he was making such a big deal out of not hitting the wall first. It would be nice to think my opponent learned a lesson in humility, a lesson which he carries with him to this very day, one which has helped him achieve success in the rest of his life.

Never underestimate your opponent, even if he is wearing knee-length baggy, board shorts. He just might kick your arse ;)

DSL vs Cable

For several years our Cable TV provider has also been our ISP, and so we enjoyed the speedy internet access of Cable Modem Broadband, up until recently. Running online Speed Tests I was pretty happy with our morning download speed of 5Mb/s, but in the evening, when my neighbors started downloading porn or streaming music videos, that 5Mb/s could drop by up to 90%. The problem with Cable Modems is that your PC shares internet bandwidth not just with the other PCs in your house, but with that of your neighbors, so the more of you there are in your neighborhood using the same Cable Modem service at the same time, the slower that service becomes. Running Speed Tests in the evening would reveal not the lightning-fast 5Mb/s download speed of the AM, but a little old lady on her way to church slow rate of 500Kb/s.

When playing WoW I could have a 50ms latency in the morning (lower is better), and have over 1,000ms latency in the evening. I'd get horrible periods of lag where the action would pause for up to 10 seconds at a time, then everything would get crammed into one to two seconds. This wasn't too bad for my Hunter, Rogue and Druid, who would perform their basic Auto-Attack if left to their own devices (at least once combat was initiated), but for my Priest and Mage who require me to actually press buttons to cast their Spells, 10 seconds of lag can often spell Certain Death.

Cable Modems are great, if you're one of the few people in your neighborhood using them. Their 5Mb/s rate is three times faster than standard DSL, and almost twice as fast as premium DSL packages. Where DSL shines is in providing a dedicated pipeline for your Modem, and yours alone, and so this week we finally said goodbye to our Cable Modem service and subscribed to the inherently slower 1.5Mb/s DSL service of Yahoo! AT&T.

While the Cable Modem's 5Mb/s would be down to 3Mb/s (or slower) by the afternoon, and down to 500Kb/s (or 0.5Mb/s) in the evening, the 1.5Mb/s of DSL is 1.5Mb/s in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Last night I played WoW for a couple of hours, and except for a second or so of lag every now and then (which is not unusual), it was a very smooth experience. On occasion my latency was faster than it's ever been with the Cable Modem service (not sure how accurate it is, though) and at the worst of times it increased to just a little over 100+, which is nothing like the 1,000ms latency I'd experience with the Cable Modem when all of my neighbors would get online.

It's now that I recall AT&T's anti-Cable Modem ads, where neighbors were feuding over slow internet speeds, and I laughed that people would prefer the slower DSL over the much faster Cable Modem. Now I am one of those slower people, grateful for a dedicated, stable, reliable internet connection. Slow and steady wins the race :)

If I could afford it, I'd love to have the same connection as at my office.
Who needs Cable Modems when you can have Ludicrous Speed!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

But I do dream of work

We got back from San Francisco late last night, and when my alarm went off at 4:30 this morning I thought, "Bugger it, I'm staying home."

So I got up, emailed my boss that I was extending my vacation by one day, then went back to bed.

I began dreaming. I dreamed that I'd got up and gone to work. I really did.

I even dreamed that I laughingly told my boss he could disregard my email from that morning, seeing as I'd made it in after all. Of course that was when I woke up, and realized I'd only dreamed I'd gone to work.

And it's only right now that it occurs to me that perhaps I'd dreamed I'd emailed him as well. Phew. My Sent folder shows that part of my morning was real :)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I don't dream of WoW

One of today's WoW Insider articles asks readers to describe any WoW dreams they've had. For as much time as I've put into the game you'd think I would constantly dream about playing, especially as it's one of the last things I do (often for several hours) right before going to bed, but I don't recall ever having any dreams that featured WoW, and I'd know because I can remember my dreams.

So I've never dreamed about WoW (that I can recall) but I have dreamed about work before.

One of my strangest work-related dreams was related to a 3-week job I got shortly after returning to Australia in '97, where I was part of crew distributing Wheelie Bins.

In the morning we'd arrive at the storage yard and load up the back of the truck with Wheelie Bins. They came with lids on but no wheels, so they were able to be stacked on top of each other, much like giant, green plastic cups, and once the truck was loaded we'd set off to make our deliveries.

A couple of guys would start on the back of the truck and it was their job to assemble the Wheelie Bins. They'd take down down a Wheelie Bin from one of the stacks, grab a wheel one from one tub and an axle from another and snap them together. Then they'd slide the axle through the two plastic sockets on the base of the Wheelie Bin, grab another wheel and snap it onto the other end of the axle, and there you have it, a Wheelie Bin, which they'd toss off the back of the truck to the guys running along behind.

The runners' job was to catch the bin, run to a house and drop the bin off in the correct orientation (facing the street), then run back to the truck to catch another bin. Rinse & repeat. Following behind the runners was a guy with a handheld computer which had a database with every single address on our route. His job was to key in the ID number on the side of the bin with the corresponding address, as proof we'd made the delivery; he needed the bin facing the correct way so he could read the number at a glance and key it in to his computer while heading to the next house and Wheelie Bin.

As tough as it sounds, it was actually a fun job. There was only 5 or 6 of us on the crew, so there was no room for people who didn't get along or for people who didn't pull their weight. We got up early, we worked hard all day, and if someone called it quits the Foreman would go to his list and when we'd turn up at the yard the next morning there'd be a new face. This only actually happened twice during the 3-week job, which apparently was a record. The Foreman said it was not unusual to begin a job with one crew, and by the start of the second week have a completely different crew. We also set another record in that our 3-week job was actually a 4-week job, we just completed it with a week to spare. Possibly because we didn't have the turnover of other crews.

So there were two parts to the job. Assembling the Wheelie Bins on the back of the truck, and running behind the truck delivering the Wheelie Bins. As you ran along behind the truck, catching Wheelie Bin after Wheelie Bin, running from truck to house to truck again, the muscles in your legs would start to burn and you'd think, "I wish I was on the back of the truck."

The Foreman was pretty good at his job. He'd switch us up so everyone got a turn on the back of the truck, assembling the bins, and everyone took a turn running behind the truck, delivering the bins. We actually switched around several times each day, because when you were on the back of the truck assembling the bins, you were constantly bending over to get wheels & axles, then standing up to toss bins off the back of the truck, then getting a new bin and bending over to get more wheels & axles, then standing up again. All that bending over and straightening up took its toll, and your lower back started to really fucking hurt, and you'd look at the guys delivering the Wheelie Bins and you'd say to yourself, "I wish I was running along behind the truck."

This was just a 3-week job, and yet in that short three weeks I still managed to dream about work. When I told the Foreman I'd dreamed about making Wheelie Bins he said that wasn't unusual, at least one person on every one of his crews mentions dreaming about the job. I wasn't the only one on our crew, either.

Not only did I dream about making Wheelie Bins, I actually woke myself up reaching for an axle to put the wheels on the Wheelie Bin. I was actually glad I dreamed I was making the Wheelie Bins. I don't think my sleep would have been too restful if I'd dreamed I was running along behind the truck all night ;)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No words necessary

A little over a week ago, BRK made one of his uncommon non-WoW related Blog Posts. Unlike when he normally deviates from WoW-related posts, this one was not an Airman Howell story from his U.S.A.F. days.

I normally get my morning cup of coffee then browse to BRK's site to have a read and maybe a chuckle or two, but when his Blog loaded this morning there were no laughs forthcoming, not on this day.

Orion, watch out for little Thor, and make sure he doesn't reroll as a Paladin. (apologies to Crucifer)

BRK, and especially Mrs BRK, my prayers and thoughts are with you on this day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bad for business

I have a popular theory (popular with me ;) that shareholders, and Wall Street in general, are bad for business, because they take the focus of your company away from satisfying your customers and turn it towards satisfying your shareholders, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You're in business to make money, these people have given you their money to fund your business and so they expect to see a reasonable return on their investment, because it's your business but it's their money.

The problem with this, as I said, is that you focus too much on making your shareholders happy, and in doing so drive customers away. This same principle applies to all businesses, regardless of size or source of funding. The little corner store still needs to make money. Mom & Pop can't survive on the love of their customers alone, they need their customers' money, too. But if they charge their customers too much, they drive their customers away, and the increased profits they were hoping to see from raising their prices are outweighed by the reduced volume of sales. It's a fine line they tread.

The automotive industry suffers from this shortsightedness, as does its investors. Sales slump, revenues are down, shareholders are unhappy because they're not seeing the same ROI they've becomed used to, so what do the auto companies do? They need to increase profit so they cut costs by eliminating positions, by closing down plants, greatly reducing expenses and overheads. It's a Lose-Lose situation. By shutting down factories and eliminating workers they've decreased future production so next year, sales will be down and revenues will be down, so profits will be down, shareholders will be screaming (again), and they'll be forced to cut costs, again. Vicious cycle.

The cafeteria in my building used to be pretty good up until recently. About a month ago Casey, the Pasta Bar Chef, told me he was going on vacation for the next week, so his Pasta Bar would be shut down. We had several 'bars' in the cafeteria. There was a mexican bar where you could get anything from a burrito to a taco to a quesadilla. The Pasta bar, and next to it the pizza bar which made calzones to order. Then there was the Entree bar where you could get, on any given day, a quarter chicken and 2 sides, or roast turkey & 2 sides, or roast beef & 2 sides, you get the picture. There was the grill for burgers, and the sandwich section, which also did wraps, made-to-order, and the custom salad section, which did made-to-order salads.

A month ago Casey told me he'd be gone for a week, so that next week I ate Wraps from the sandwich section and ignored the empty pasta bar behind me. Two weeks ago I popped in to welcome Casey back and get my usual fettuccini dish, but when I walked in the place was empty, even for 11:30am. I walked over to the Pasta Bar and it was empty of fixings with no sign of Casey. The pizza and mexican sections were also shut down. I got a turkey wrap (again), took it to the cashier and asked her what was going on. Apparently the Manager decided they didn't have enough money to buy pizza, pasta & mexican food supplies, so they shut down half their operation.

This is akin to Ford or GM experiencing a shortfall in revenue, firing people and closing down plants.

With no money to buy the ingredients to stock the cafeteria, management cut costs by closing operations, thus limiting their customer's choices.

Now what do you think is going to happen?

People like me are going to go down there, as I did today, and when they see the place is empty and devoid of choices, instead of just making do, and getting a burger or a sandwich, they'll do as I did and vote with their feet. They'll take their money and go somewhere else.

The decision to cut costs by cutting production seriously impacts future revenue. And when you're not the only game in town people are going to take their business elsewhere.

When we first moved into this building the cafeteria was packed with people at lunchtime. The four registers were fully staffed and there were still lines of people waiting to pay. You had trouble finding empty seats in the dining area so people would bring their lunches back up to the breakroom. They must have made a lot of money during the first few months we moved into the building, then demand slowly petered off, people got sick of the same old food every day and went outside to see what else was there. Even if it was just the burger shack across the road, or the taco stand up the street, it was a different burger and a different taco. Despite this, if you went to the cafeteria at noon it was still very busy.

Then demand dropped right off, the cafeteria ran short of money, and instead of trying to work out how to make their customers happy and bring them back, they cut costs, they cut operations, they drove even more customers away. This cannot end well.

The lesson of the day is that even though you're in business to make money, if you only focus on making money you might blind yourself to the big picture; and that is that you cannot make money if you have no business.

About the same time as Casey told me he was going on vacation, people were outside handing out fliers trying to get one of the cafeteria's Chefs reinstated, after she was fired for allegedly being rude to customers. The flier claimed she was really fired for trying to organize her coworkers. As a government employee I can tell you that government employees are usually very pro-union, so if someone working in a cafeteria that services a government building is fired for being pro-union, many of the government employees who would normally eat at that cafeteria will stop eating there, out of support and solidarity (even if they're in different unions).

A decision to fire a worker for trying to organize your staff may seem like a good idea. If your staff are not organized and don't belong to a union, you can continue to pay them lower than industry standard wages. You can keep costs down and pass those savings on to your customers in lower prices, right? Yeah, like you're really going to do that. The money you save in not paying higher wages is going to go straight into your pocket.

So what happened here?

If the chef was fired for allegedly trying to organize her coworkers, the cafeteria was focused on one thing, the bottom line, keeping costs down and maximizing profits. When customers began protesting about her being fired, as I'm sure happened, management would have insisted that she was fired for being rude to customers, and they would have ignored those customers who said she was never rude to them. Then the money began to run out so management made the decision to cut costs and reduce the options available to their customers.

The bottom line is that management was focused on the bottom line instead of keeping their customers happy.

Perhaps the Chef did get fired for being rude to a couple of customers who felt compelled to complain to management. When hundreds of customers then complained about her being fired, who should management have listened to? One or two offended customers? Or hundreds of customers demanding she be rehired? Perhaps she was rude to one or two customers, but by listening to just a couple of customers and ignoring hundreds of others, the restaurant has signed its own death warrant.

I hope the new owners do a better job of taking care of their customers than the current owners.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Football vs Footy

After moving back to Australia last year, Mike250 has introduced his two little fellas to the noble sport of Aussie Rules aka Footy (which confusingly is a slang name for both the game and the ball).

This is just one of the things Americans and Australians have in common, we're both HUGE sports nuts; sports plays a big role in both cultures. What can we say, we love our sports. But while that is something we have in common, it's also a big difference between us.

Let's take a look at Football, both U.S. Football and Aussie Rules/Footy.

In most cases American kids won't start playing Football until they're in High School. They'll play Little League Baseball prior to that, and maybe throw the ol' pigskin around with Dad or their mates, brothers, etc, but in the U.S. Football usually begins in High School. In Australia it's not uncommon for the kids to kick the footy around at a very young age, but the Aussies also have programs to start the kids playing Footy at a much younger age than in the U.S.

In the U.S. when you start playing Football, as mentioned, you usually play for your school, and Leagues are set up where schools will play off against each other.

In Australia it's more like Little League in the U.S., where the team you play for is not affiliated with a school (although in some cases it may be), but instead often represents your home town. In Melbourne they will often set up "Little Leagues" with teams modeled after those in either the Victorian Football Association or the Australian Football League, just like when your 8-year old plays Baseball for the Dodgers.

By the time Aussie kids are old enough to where they would have only just started playing Football for their High School in the U.S., they've already been playing Footy in Australia for several years. At this point they may even move out of their "Little League" team and start playing for the Under 14s or Under 16s team for their home town. This is still a similar format to U.S. Football, where you have the High School team representing the town, playing league games against other towns' teams.

The big difference comes at 18 years of age, which is when most kids, in both countries, graduate High School and enter the work force or move on to College.

In the U.S., unless you're good enough to make the college team, your Football "career" is usually over at this point. You might play a game of touch at the park with your mates every couple of months or so, but you're probably never again going to play Football at anything remotely resembling a professional level.

In Australia when you turn 18 and go to college or enter the work force, your Football "career" is far from over. In fact it's only over if you want it to be. Many Australian towns host not just one Football team, but two, or even three, although they're actually all the same team.

For example, my hometown of Traralgon has the Maroons, and there's the Maroons Seniors made up not of the oldest players, but of the best players. These are the guys who could be playing in the VFA or AFL if they were just a little bit better, or perhaps they will be in a year or two when they get some experience under their belt. There's the Maroons B-grade team for the players taking a break from Seniors, or who maybe aren't quite good enough to make the cut. Then to really rub the salt in there's the C-grade: "No offense, mate, but you're not quite good enough to be a second rate footballer."

So in the U.S., if you don't get into a College Football team, that's pretty much it. In Australia, if you can keep up with the young bucks, you can keep playing Footy well into your 30s. If you stay in shape and don't get injured too badly, you can even play Footy for your home town when you're in your 40s. Of course you might be in the B-grade or C-grade squad, but there's still an option for you to pull on the boots and have a go.

This is the big difference between the two cultures. We both love our sports, but after turning 20 years old, while many Aussies are able to continue playing the sport they love, many Americans have no choice but to become the stereotypical Armchair/Watercooler Quarterback.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Engineers!!! Let's RIDE!!!

The buzz from the 'Net and WoWInsider is that at 80, Engineers can make motorbikes. Wrath's lvl 80 Mount does not fly or go faster, it allows you to carry passenger/s, ergo, the Engineers motorbike comes with a sidecar:


This is the Alliance version. Apparently the Horde version comes in Red! Oh, yeah!

Now I just need to get one of my Horde Toons to 70, then power level Engineering :P

I'm looking at this Bike, which carries passengers, and I'm thinking this could totally change WoW's BGs. Think Mounted Combat!!!

The following BG Ideas are pure speculations.

Pair up with someone and join the queue as a Group (pair) and assign a Driver and, by default, a Passenger.

In the vehicle-only BGs there is no Dismounting and all the Battles are unforgiving; you can only die one death, just like in the Arenas. When your vehicle is destroyed it's Game Over for you & your partner.

The Driver: As the Driver you have complete control of the vehicle. You're responsible for the safety of you and your passenger, who's just along for the ride. You can use spells and abilities, but using any spells/abilities with a Cast Time will make you lose control of the vehicle while the Spell is being Cast. Only by using Instant Cast spells can you remain in complete control of the vehicle.

The Passenger: You have absolutely no control over the vehicle. You're at the whim of your Driver. You are free to use/cast any Spells/Abilities, including those with Cast Timers, without penalty. Keep in mind that if you're targeting one vehicle but your Driver is focused on another, your Target may very well move out of Range of your spell before it's cast. Coordination between Driver and Passenger is crucial. As well as Spells & Abilities, you may also Melee or Auto-attack other vehicles if they're close enough. The Driver may also perform Melee attacks, and may do so without losing control of the vehicle.

The Vehicle: Spells and Attacks target & affect the Vehicle ONLY. They do not affect the Driver or Passenger, and thus Driver/Passenger Resilience or Spell/Magic Resists are irrelevant in vehicle-to-vehicle combat. The Armor and "Health" of the vehicle is the combined Armor and Health of the Driver and Passenger, plus a bonus for being a Vehicle. These are the only Character Stats that affect Vehicles.

Now let's look at the (imaginary) Battlegrounds.

The first Vehicle-specific BG is little more than a coliseum. An open (albeit enclosed) arena with a few obstacles here, some ramps and hills there, but mostly nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It's a very simple Arena-type BG with just one strategy: Kill or Be Killed. When vehicles are destroyed they explode, but will remain in the BG as a smoking wreck (potentially providing cover) until the battle is over.

The Driver and Passenger of the last remaining vehicle receives 100 Vehicle Points. Everyone (inc. the Winning Team) gets 10 points for each vehicle to which they did 51% or more damage, and 10 points for each vehicle on which they delivered the KB. VPs are just like Honor and Arena Points, and can only be used to purchase Vehicle-specific Trinkets, such as:
"Armor Plating - Equip: Increase Vehicle Armor by 25%."
or
"NO2 - Use: Increase Vehicle speed by 50% for 10 seconds (1 min cooldown). *WARNING - Vehicle steering is disabled during use!*"

Just as the current Arenas allow Teams of 2v2, 3v3, etc, the Vehicle Arenas also allow Teams to form up and battle each other. In Arena-type battles Victory VPs are divided among the winning team, so the members of a winning 2v2 would only get 50 VPs each, a 3v3 Team would get 33 VPs each, and a 4v4 would receive 25 VPs each. There would be no bonus VPs for Damage done and vehicle KBs.

As well as the Arena-type BGs, there would also be race tracks where Vehicles attempt to complete a designated number of laps while simultaneously destroying each other and attempting to avoid being destroyed. Collision detection between vehicles would exist during these races, thus destroyed vehicles coming to rest in the middle of the track would present obstacles to be avoided on future laps.

One track would be a typical Nascar oval track. The second would be a simple Indy Car street track. And the dastardly third would be a Figure of Eight where vehicles must avoid each other at the intersection in the middle of the track. Collision detection would make the Figure of Eight track very interesting indeed >:)

Even if Blizzard don't do any BGs like these, it will still be awesome to have motorbike mounts in WoW :)

Expect the price of the Mats needed to power level Engineering to skyrocket once the first motorbikes appear around Shattrath. I just hope they're not some insanely, hard-to-get PvP reward. If they're a 450 Engineering Recipe I'd be more than happy to spend 10,000 gold getting there :P

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Time is relative

We slept in this morning, and by slept in I mean until 9:30 when the in-laws rang & left a message (we didn't pick up coz they'd just woken us up), then they called again about 5 minutes later. Liz picked up but too late so she called them back and chewed them out, for calling back so soon. Seriously, they call our landline and hang up without leaving a message, then they call my cell phone, and hang up, then they call Liz's phone and hang up, then maybe they'll call the landline again. Just leave a freaking message and we'll call you back (when we're ready ;)

So it was after 2pm by the time we dropped the kids there. Sometimes I don't know why we had kids. They spent most of this week at the in-laws, we got them back yesterday, they spent the night with us, then we dumped them back on the in-laws again.

We hit the Post Office and did a bit of shopping and when we got home it was 6pm??? How did it get to 6pm so quick?

A few hours later Liz said she was bored, and hungry, so we headed out to catch a movie and have dinner...in that order. So it was that 11pm we found ourselves wondering where to have dinner, and ended up eating at "In 'n' Out". We were not the only ones at In 'n' Out. The place was actually very busy, but who takes their young children out for burgers at close to midnight?

The same people that take their kids shopping at Super Walmart at midnight, apparently.

Now our kids were spending the night with their grandparents, and were probably (hopefully) in bed a looong time ago, so we're okay to go shopping after midnight. But seriously, what kind of parents go shopping with their kids at midnight? It was not just one, single, isolated case; there were several families with young children out shopping past midnight.

The strangest though was not the young families out shopping, but the guy riding one of those motorized scooters with several items in the basket on front. He stopped beside me, held out his hand, and asked me for change.

Dude, if you don't have any money, just how the hell do you expect to pay for those items in the cart? Or is that why you're bumming money off people? Do you expect us to pay for your groceries?

How cool would that be? Getting complete strangers to pay for your groceries. You don't have to win a competition for a shopping spree; Just visit your local supermarket, load up your cart, then hit up your fellow shoppers for spare change. Pretty good idea, until you run into people, like me, who don't fall for your cunning plan. Now get out of here! Go find someone a little more gullible, I mean generous. Those two are interchangeable, right?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Who's in your Facebook?

What does it say about your school days when you're a fan of Facebook and finding old friends, but that you'd rather not look up your old classmates? Or if you do find them, that you'd rather not send them a Friend request.

Yeah, there's a handful of people that I still (sort of) keep in touch with from decades gone by, and there's probably a few others that I'd consider sending a Friend request if I found them, but when I think back on my school days, and think of my classmates of yesteryear, most of them can pretty much go fuck themselves.

It occurs to me that I'm letting my son down, perhaps, by not being the father to him that my father was to me. Then again, my son is growing up in a far different world than that in which I grew up.

I don't recall when or how it started but my father taught me how to fight from a very early age. We'd wrestle on the living room floor and I'd try my hardest to beat him. Picture a 6 y/old using all his strength against a grown man. I learned how to slip holds, apply arm bars and hammer locks, how to endure pain (& lack of oxygen) while working out an escape plan. That was one of the lessons my father taught me.

Later when I went to school I joined the kids on the playground in the mock battles that kids in schools in most countries around the world probably hold. Picture an 8 y/old well versed in wrestling, and used to using every last ounce of his strength in an effort to overcome a much larger, far stronger opponent, suddenly taking on kids his own size. In my naivety I had no idea that I was one of the toughest kids in school. If my school had had a wrestling team, I'd have probably kicked arse.

I had a blast wrestling with all of the other boys, but apparently they didn't have as much fun wrestling with me. I was devastated the day one of my friends stopped me from joining one of our battles, telling me I was too rough, that the other kids didn't want me to take part. Thinking back, I'm surprised I never seriously hurt anyone. I never actually became The Toughest Kid in School because while I love wrestling, I hate fighting. I'd talk my way out of most fights if I could, and if I couldn't, rather than fight back I'd just try to stop my opponent from hurting me.

I recall during one Physical Education (Gym) class we were playing a game of baseball. I was one of the basemen. One of the more athletic guys (who was considered one of the toughest kids in school) made a good hit and rounded the bases, stopping at mine. He then tried to be intimidating and shove me off the base. I resisted so he threw a mock punch at my face. I caught his fist and twisting it, applied a standing Arm Bar, then used that leverage to drive him face first (literally) into the ground. Then I let go.

He jumped up and called out to the P.E. Teacher, "Did you see that?"

The P.E. Teacher had seen it, as did probably everyone present, because he was umpiring the game and so watching the action very closely. So not only had our Teacher seen me drive this guy into the ground, he'd seen him shove me first, then throw a punch at my face. I forget exactly what he said but he clearly felt my schoolmate got exactly what he deserved.

One time I was given Out in a game of Cricket when I accidentally played the ball back onto my own wicket. Given the budget of our public school we just used one-piece, solid metal wickets with the bails welded on top, instead of the 5-piece wooden wickets used in most games. After I struck it, the ball slowly rolled backwards along the ground and tapped the metal wickets behind me. The guy playing Keeper appealed and our Teacher declared me Out. I was a bit ticked at this, and let out an incredulous yell "What?!" because I didn't believe the ball had struck the wickets hard enough to dislodge the bails. Yes, they were one-piece metal wickets, so the bails couldn't be dislodged, but my opinion is that had the wickets been made of wood, the bails would have remained atop the wickets.

My classmates were quite amused by my yelped "What?!" and most likely mistook it for confusion on my part, thus implying ignorance of the rules of Cricket. School kids love to make fun of kids who aren't as smart as them, so I was the brunt of much teasing in the locker room after the game. I sat there in raging silence, getting madder and madder as my schoolmates kept up their incessant teasing, and eventually I felt my top lip begin to quiver and curl up in an unmistakable snarl. I tried to stop it but with my schoolmates relentless teasing that was impossible.

When my schoolmates saw my lip begin quivering it then became the focus of the teasing, until they realized it was not the quivering lip of someone almost in tears but the snarling lip of someone trying very, very hard not to kill someone. And so they stopped teasing me, all but the one kid who'd been the Keeper, so everyone literally piled onto him to make him shut up. Which is kind of funny, now that I think about it. They were having lots of fun teasing me, but when they realized how far they'd gone, and that I was desperately trying to hold back the green machine they quickly shut up, and were equally quick to shut down the one guy who didn't want to stop.

They had no qualms with teasing me to the point of what they thought were tears, but when it became obvious that I was actually getting really pissed off, they stopped. Some of who were considered the toughest kids in school were willing to tease me up until it looked like I was going to fight back, and then they stopped. Looking back on this, I think I probably had a reputation as someone who wouldn't fight back (in fact I lost the fights I did get into because I wouldn't fight back), but I think everyone also remembered that I was the one who'd been asked not to take part in the playground battles. It's possible that everyone was a little bit scared of me, of what I could do if I ever got really mad and fought back. They were more than happy to tease me, and tease me they did, but only up to a certain point.

Years later, while I was working on the Census, I ran into one of the guys who'd teased me that day. He invited me into his apartment and offered me a cold drink and we sat down and chatted and reminisced about the old days. He was living with one of his oldest friends and the two of them worked shift-work at the local Mill. They hadn't seen any of the old gang for 10 years or more. Come to think of it, at that time, neither had I.

I was born and raised in a small country town in rural Victoria, Australia. We were just like the kids in most small country towns here in the U.S., most of us wanted to graduate High School and get into college so we could get the hell out of town and never have to go back except to visit our parents. We've moved on, created a new life for ourselves, made new friends. And only occasionally do we ever think back on the people we grew up with, and wonder where they are and what they're doing now. But usually we don't waste too much time on those thoughts, and in some cases we conclude that look back at our childhood days with the simple thought, "Fuck 'em!"