A little politeness goes a long way …

… but that’s something the game community is obviously unaware of. Yesterday I decided to try out several StarCraft II Arcade games. One of them, Aeon of Storms, a League-of-Legends-like map attracted my attention.
There’s no tutorial and I found out about the official site after I’ve played the first game, so it was no surprise I made a couple of dumb mistakes. But hey, everyone started small, don’t you think? Alas the vast majority of players don’t see things that way. Instead of telling me what I did wrong, I was instantly called names, threatened, and asked to leave the game. I only encountered one player who was willing to give me a few tips. Over all my experience was pretty bad, even though I enjoyed the gameplay.
I think this is a big issue with the gaming community nowadays. Although I’ve noticed that this problem is more prevalent online than offline. People don’t have the patience to help new players, they usually just complain and yell at them. If someone told me what I did wrong, I could have instantly adjusted, but basically noone even bothered. But they had more than enough time to spew forth rudeness.

What not to do when using a WordPress.com blog

Yesterday I wrote a pretty long article in Google docs. I first published it on Google+,  but then remembered this blog and decided to post it here as well.

So I entered the title, added a few tags and copied and pasted the whole article into the New Post form.

Boom! My blog suddenly was suspended for a Terms of Service violation.  I contacted support, but didn’t hear from them for several hours. Later I realized there’s a special contact form for suspended blogs. So I used this and only moments later, my blog worked again.

So what did I do wrong? By copying and pasting the text I was obviously triggering an automated anti-spam system that immediately suspended my blog. So, the next time I’ll have to be more careful (or WordPress.com has to make some tweaks to their anti-spam mechanisms). ;)

The end of democracy

The events of the last years have convinced me that we are living in post-democratic times. For most of my life I believed in democracy, freedom, human rights, and now I feel that all these ideals are slowly thrown down the drain by the people we elected into power.

 

Democracy comes from the greek words for “rule of the people”. In a democracy the sovereign are actually its citizens. But since it’s unpractical to give everyone a vote in every decision we usually practice a system where we elect people to do the decision making for us. And herein lies a part of the problem. It’s much easier to influence a few hundred policy makers than to influence whole nations. And usually it’s wholly sufficient to influence the people in the government which are even fewer. Nowadays major politicians are more in touch with lobbyists than with the people who elected them in the first place. In several cases laws have actually been written by lobbyist group and not in the ministries by the people who we elected to do the job. Just look at international copyright law and you’ll clearly see what I mean. These laws are made for corporations and not the people.

 

This is something which has been going on for a while now. It has become more and more obvious to me in the late nineties when the social democrat Gerhard Schröder became chancellor. Up to this day I am member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and I am still a stout believer of the original idea of social democracy, but I have got the impression many years ago that these ideals are usually sacrificed to stay in (or get back into) power or to get personal benefits.

 

When back in the late nineties the social democrats and the green party came to power in Germany, I had high hopes, but years later I now realize what damage has been caused back then. The reforms called Agenda 2010 might have had a positive effect on the competitiveness of the German economy, but it furthered the gap between the rich and the poor. During the Schröder administration the financial sector had been heavily deregulated and the situation of the unemployed have been worsened. These decision damaged the SPD in the eyes of its voters severely and the party has been struggling in elections ever since.

 

If you look closer at the policies made in Germany during the last 20 years you’ll notice that while governments changed, the policies made are eerily similar. Sure, there are some fields where the German major parties disagree, but in most important questions their election programs are pretty close if not identical. And in the end they all listen more closely to lobbyists than to the people, so what party you elect every four years doesn’t really make such a big difference.

 

A watershed moment for the Western world was surely September 11, 2001. The last remaining superpower, the United States of America, which has felt invincible ever since the end of the Cold War, suddenly felt vulnerable again. This was also the moment when politicians and the secret agencies saw their chance to implement all the laws they always wanted to. In the name of the war against terrorism many liberties of the Western World including free speech and due process have been undermined. Surveillance of the public has reached unprecedented levels, “enemy combatants” have been tortured and kept in military prisons. We all  just started to understand what has been lost during these 12 years. The recent unveiling of projects like PRISM or Tempora by Edward Snowden show that secret agencies all of the Western world have been monitoring the internet in an extent never thought possible. Privacy, one of the big achievements of modern Western society, is basically nonexistent. Especially journalists, internet and civil right activists are deeply disturbed by this, while the majority of the population doesn’t seem to realize the scope of these programs.

 

Politicians do their best to tell the people that everything was done within the law and to protect our security. But I have my doubts that’s the case. And why are governments and government agencies so keen on monitoring the communication of their own citizens or the citizens of allied countries? What are they afraid of? And are we still the sovereign if our communication over phone and internet is constantly monitored and stored for later analysis? I’ve come to the conclusion that Western democracies are democracies by name only. Our governments act as if they are not our elected representatives but as if they are the sovereign, not us. We are treated as mere subjects, which need to be controlled and if necessary detained for as long as it’s deemed necessary without a trial or due process. We are living in a post-democratic world. And in recent years, especially since the recent financial crisis in Europe, I’ve read that people have publicly spoken out against democracy, deeming it too slow to react to such crises. Democracy is not perfect – no system of government is – but in my opinion it’s still the best guarantee for human rights, freedom, and liberty. But we are in the process of squandering all that in order to please our corporate masters and to feel a little bit more secure.

 

I may be painting a very glum picture here. Perhaps there’s still hope that things will change for the better. But in my opinion the time is slowly running out. We’ve seen how Western democracies have reacted to valid criticism. We point our fingers at countries like Turkey, where people demonstrating peacefully are attacked by the police, but we’ve also have seen the same pictures in countries like the US, the UK and Germany. Remember what happened in Heiligendamm or Genua. Repeatedly the state has used its monopoly on the use of force against its own citizens often in blatant violations of human rights. In my opinion it’s important that we start to change things now, before we have reached a point of no return. And we have to make sure that all the policies that are now in place to “fight terrorism” are abolished. Even if you assume that our current governments only wish for the best of all of us, there is misuse of these laws. Imagine what would happen if a more extremist government would take over. Think of what a person like Adolf Hitler would have done with the information which is now stored on the servers of secret agencies all over the Western world.

Tethering an iPad to an iPhone 3GS: It works!

For ages I tried to connect my iPad (with only WiFi and no 3G) to my iPhone 3GS to no avail. The iPad was unable to find the iPhone over BT and vice versa. I actually started to believe this was Apple’s method of saying: “Get an iPhone 4!”
But after some further research I found out that this was actually not the case. I just did something wrong. I tried to connect the two devices before actually enabling the Personal Hotspot function. So the iOS devices see no reason to connect and don’t find each other over BT. So here’s what you have to do:

  • Enable BT on both devices
  • Enable the Personal Hotspot on the iPhone
  • Go to the BT settings on the iPad and connect to the iPhone
  • Start surfing!

That was actually not that hard, wasn’t it? ;)

4X Games: Star Ruler and Armada 2526

From time to time I start looking for a worthy successor for Master of Orion 2, which has been my favorite 4X game for many years now. Some games like GalCiv2 and Sins of a Solar Empire are pretty nice, but still can’t topple MoO2 from its throne. Recently I found two pretty new 4X games that might not exactly what I’ve been looking for, but they are very cool games in their own right.

Star Ruler

Space is huge. Our local galaxy has billions of stars and there are millions of galaxies in known space. Of course no computer game could simulate anything like that and still remain playable, but Star Ruler actually comes pretty close. It features huge, procedurally generated galaxies. Each solar system not only contains a couple of planets, but also asteroids, moons and many other astronomical objects you would expect.

Instead of a flat starmap, Star Ruler’s map is fully 3D. The graphics might not be up to par, but they definitely serve their purpose. The original soundtrack is pretty cool though, and the fact that the game features fully simulated newtonian physics is a big plus in my book.

I have to admit I’ve just barely touched all the cool things you can do in this game. The highly detailed but easy to use ship design feature was actually what sold me on this game.

 

Armada 2526

Armada 2526 is much more traditional than Star Ruler. It features a classic flat space map and actually shares a lot with MoO2. When you have played MoO2 you’ll feel right at home with Armada 2526. I actually started playing without bothering to play through the tutorial and did pretty fine.

The majority of the game is turn-based, only combat is handled in realtime. The battles also use full 3D graphics unlike the rest of the game which is in 2D. I have to admit I haven’t fought that many battles yet, so I can’t comment on that part of the game yet.

For the most part the UI of Armada 2526 is pretty clear and self-explanatory, but there are some things that took me a while to figure out. Hmm, perhaps I should have played through that tutorial after all. For example you need to click on the appropriate building in the planet overview screen in order to build new buildings and ships.

Although I am pretty happy with Armada 2526, there are two things I am missing: a) being able to have more than one colony per system and b) ship design. But it’s still a very good 4X game, no doubts about that.

The recent addon Supernova added a more technologies, a trade system, two new races, and most importantly multiplayer to the game. If you are interested in buying Armada 2526 you should consider getting the addon, too. It’s worth it.

 

Bottom line
Both games are definitely worth a closer look, although none of them has the special charm Master of Orion 2 still has. Star Ruler is definitely the more ambitious game but it also has a much steeper learning curve. The vast scope also makes it necessary that the player has to rely on the AI a lot, when it comes to colony management or space ship control. But luckily you can override the AI manually if needed.
Armada 2526 is much more traditional and feels more like a “game”. The lack of custom space ship designs is a bit of a letdown, but aside from that it’s definitely fun to play. If you ask me, you should check out both if you are into 4X games.

Ask The Readers: Help me find a new keyboard

For quite a while now I have been using Microsoft’s Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000. I really like the look of the keyboard and it’s relatively small size, but there are a couple of drawbacks. For one, the mouse that came with the keyboard has massive problems with its rechargeable batteries. And while I really love the keys on the keyboard, it’s always a hassle to remove single keys when you want to clean the keyboard. I always fear that I break it in the process. And getting crumbs under the keys is the best way to render it totally unusable. Normally keyboards are not that delicate, alas this one is.

So I have been looking into alternatives. And of course I found a great keyboard pretty fast, but there’s a problem: it’s the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The keyboard looks and feels almost perfect but since it’s meant for Apple computers it’s not really a perfect fit when used with Windows 7. Of course I could get it to work with my PC but there still would be the problem that certain keys are missing. Seriously, I don’t want to live without a Delete key. Using Fn+Backspace instead is just too much hassle. It would be much better if there was a Windows keyboard with a similar look and feel like the one from Apple but with everything needed to run under Windows 7. It doesn’t have to be wireless, but it should be pretty small.

So, what would you guys recommend? Are there any keyboards I should check out?