log (2010/01/01 to 2010/01/07)

The other night I tanked for the first time in World of Warcraft. Unlike in the rest of the world, in WoW this does not mean that I crashed, or failed, or got drunk; rather, it means that I was the point-person of a dungeon-going party, the one who gets (and, ideally, holds) the attention of the monsters, taking their attacks while the DPSs (for "damage per second") work on killing them, and the healer works on keeping me (and secondarily the rest of the party) alive.

Tanking is, arguably, the most high-pressure role in a party (with healing a close second), because if the tank dies or just loses control of the monsters at the wrong time, the whole party often dies. DPSing is easy by contrast: you just wale on (whale on?) the monsters until they die, and if anything goes wrong you blame the healer and/or the tank. Ranged DPS, as I've been doing lately with my new hunter, is especially easy, in that you do that while standing as far away as possible from the actual monsters.

(Spennix is a melee DPS, who has to stay close to the monsters to do significant damage, and it turns out I'm pretty bad at that in a dungeon context; the silly mobs move around alla time, and I have a hard time keeping on their tails. But Spennix has always preferred soloing anyway.)

Another relevant fact is that for solo leveling, DPS characters tend to have an easier time; leveling a tank solo is a bit of a pain because tanks don't usually do as much damage and so have a hard time killing things without the help of DPSs, and leveling a healer solo is a real pain, because they don't do much damage at all, and it's hard to heal yourself when a mob's attacking you, so you die alot.

As you might therefore expect, there are alot of DPSs, and they are a dime a dozen when putting together a party; healers are a bit harder to find, and tanks are the ones that you're always sitting around waiting for one of to show up. I've rolled up a few WoW characters with the intention of having them be tanks, but before the latest patch it was too hard to find groups within the limited amounts of time I have to play, so I'd usually ended up changing their talents to make them more DPSish for soloing.

With the new patch, it's very easy to find a party to do dungeons with, and I went in and found one of my would-be tanks, a troll warrior named Daylh, re-spec'd him as a Protection Warrior, and put myself into the Find a Dungeon queue as a tank.

And the party did good! No one died, we did all of the Razorfen Kraul bosses (including a really long boring optional escort quest that I don't currently intend ever to do again), and even though mobs did get out of my control and go after other party members more times that I would have liked, the other party members assured me that this is normal, especially at these low levels where the tank doesn't have all the advanced mob-control abilities that come at higher levels.

So that was fun. *8) And I've just realized that I've never run a Druid, which is one of the classes that can tank, so I'm thinking about rolling up a brand-new Druid, with the intent of starting regular tanking at level 15, as soon as the Dungeon Finder becomes available.

Unless I get distracted...

A couple of items of note from Bruce Schneier:

Quantum Cryptography Cracked, whose best line is:

And it's always interesting to see provably secure cryptosystems broken.

(The spoiler is that it's not the provably secure part that was broken, just the annoyingly practical parts around that which make it actually useful.)

And Christmas Bomber: Where Airport Security Worked, in which Schneier notes insightfully that while the security apparatus did fail in not realizing that this particular guy should perhaps not have been allowed on a plane, the apparatus did work in the sense that it forced the bad guys to use a very hard-to-detect explosive material, which has the downside that it is really hard to make explode (as opposed to simply setting one's underwear on fire).

Which is unfortunately something too subtle for the media to present in a sound-bite, but seems significant.

And finally, Bill points us at another free-on-the-web story of The Laundry, from Charles Stross: Overtime. I haven't finished it yet, but it's good so far.

Whoops! Post-finally, in late-breaking news, I have just noticed that Desmond Shang, who runs the very prosperous an' fun nation of Caledon in Second Life, has now got Caledonia in Blue Mars running. Follow the links on that page to some extremely clear (to me, anyway, compared to what I've seen before) descriptions of how one actually creates content for Blue Mars, gets it up into the platform, and so on.

Very interesting stuff. If Desmond is interested enough in Blue Mars to put in that much effort, maybe I can persuade myself to look at it again sometime soonish...

Today we are going to talk about the Doctrine of First Sale. This is a U.S. legal dojigger, thought up in 1908 and explicitly written into the copyright law in 1976, that says that even though the publisher (or other copyright holder) has pretty much sole control of the distribution of that book you bought at the corner story (or on Amazon), you can still sell it next year at a yard sale, or give it to your brother, or whatever; and you can do this without having to get the publisher's (lawyers') permission.

The Doctrine of First Sale makes good sense from the book-consumer's point of view; it means there can be a lively and laid-back aftermarket in used books, of the kind we (and by "we" I mean "us") so much enjoy and benefit from.

There has long been a story in the area of computer software that the Doctrine of First Sale doesn't apply there, because you don't actually buy a copy of a piece of software, you just pay for a license that gives you the right to use a copy for certain purposes; that copy, the story goes, still actually belongs to the copyright holder. Your typical modern house, in this story, contains a very large number of objects (CDs, some of them in use as wall decor; dusty old diskettes fallen down behind the desk; and so on) that do not actually belong to the inhabitants.

(Or, depending on just where you draw your ontological and legal lines, the inhabitants may own the CDs and diskettes, while someone else owns each particular instance of the bit-patterns on them; we won't go there tonight.)

This story is repeated in very much the same way in every click-through license agreement that you've ever agreed to (as you know, since you have read them all carefully and reviewed them with your legal counsel before you agreed).

But in October of 2009, the Honorable Richard A. Jones, in an Order Granting Summary Judgement in the case of Vernor vs. Autodesk, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (at Seattle), ruled that well, actually, at least one pretty typical-looking telling of this story is in fact wrong. And that, in at least one pretty typical case where the story says "the manufacturer retains all rights to this software, including this here very copy of this software on this CD, and all you're buying is a license to use it in certain ways", what's actually happening is that, as well as getting a license to use the software, you're also buying that copy of it.

Which seems to me to be important for two reasons: first, it means that the Doctrine of First Sale applies, so you can sell or otherwise pass on the copy that you own (on EBay, for instance, which is what the party in this particular case was doing); and second, it means that some of the stuff that pretty much every retail software license on the planet says, might not actually be true.

I'm talking about this here mostly just to bring it to your attention; I haven't read extensive analyses of the case, or decided just exactly how important I think it is yet. But you should certainly read it too; here's the Order itself (PDF), from the Miscellaneous Internet Free Speech Cases page on the Public Citizen site. (Public Citizen represented the guy selling used copies of Autodesk on EBay.)

The Order is doubly interesting because as well as reviewing the relevant bits of copyright law, it talks both about the precedent that it relied on in making the decision (a 9th Circuit case from 1977 involving movie prints), and about some more recent cases, also in the 9th Circuit, that seemed to find the other way. The Honorable Richard A. Jones concludes that the precedents are irreconcilable, and since in such cases the first (oldest) precedent wins, he finds for the EBay guy, and against Autodesk.

I think it's pretty likely that the case will be appealed; and in any case it should be very interesting to see how this feeds into the general rather spotty and obscure history of software licenses, especially of the "click here to agree" kind.

Speaking of variously-unauthorized uses of digital material, I commend to my readers' attention the two amusing remixes on this page, both of which are well worth watching. And of course this reminds us of the classic Madonna "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" clip, remixes of which may be found on Youtube these days. (I still have the iTunes playlist of 36 different remixes of that, that I mentioned at the end of a weblog entry back in 2003.)

Misappropriation FTW! As they say...

First Sunday morning of the decade, first bagels, first Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.

Have I mentioned that we've been doing the crossword puzzles again, most Sundays? We used to do them alot, 'way back Before Kids. They've gotten harder; I think they're assuming that everyone is just using Google for the easy stuff. They never say "(2 wds)" anymore, and many of the clues end with a "?", meaning "well, sort of, heh heh".

The gimmicks that each puzzle has seem to be more complex, too, than I recall from th' Old Days. This week's was called "Antique Finish" (which is a pun itself), and all of the long answers were formed by taking a relatively common phrase, adding "th" to the end of a word ending in "e", and giving a clue for the resulting oddity (with the obligatory "?" at the end of the clue).

So the answer for "a lace starts to come undone?" was "shoestring budgeth". Formed of course from "shoestring budget". Ha ha, eh? *8)

Night before last something clogged in our basement oil tanks. M woke me up apologetically around 8 or 9 or some similar hour (I tend to sleep late on vacation, especially in the winter), 'cause it was like 55°F in the house, and getting colder.

I pushed the "only push once" button on the relay on the oil burner once, and the furnace came on for about thirty seconds, and then turned off again. The oil company said someone would be around between 10 and 1, but fortunately he showed up well before 10, and found that an oil line was clogged, and unclogged it, and everything worked again.

It was fun walking around the house in my nightshirt and flannel PJ pants and flannel robe and slippers for a bit, and wheeling the little electric space heater into the bedroom and huddling around it. But in general I am a fan of central heating and other modern conveniences.

And then last nighth it was windy. Quite windy. Sometime around one in the morning, I found myself awake and listening to a deep thudding sound. The wind died down a little and picked up again, and it thudded again.

Thud, it went. Thud, thud.

I thought at first it might be something across the street, or next door. But I decided it sounded like something maybe thudding against the house, which ought to be looked into. I got up and put on a coat and boots and got a flashlight and went out.

The thudding was just the two big major limbs of the tree between the house and the fence, thudding against each other when the wind blew strong enough to move them. Nothing touching the house itself.

It was utterly lovely outside; cold and clear, bright moon and strong gusty wind, bare branches swaying and clattering against each other. (Also thudding.) The remnants of a couple of light snowfalls creaking and crackling underfoot.

I like the winter.

This year we made two hundred and nine (209) dumplings; this is apparently again a New Record (although just by a little).

We spent the Changing of the Years down the block at the neighborhood party, as usual, eating food and watching the ball drop on TV and blowing noisemakers and all as usual. Then we came home, and I spent the Changing of the Years in Chicago in Second Life, at the New Year party at Rouge. And then this morning I slept late, and then went out to buy ground beef and ground pork and cabbage, and we made the dumplings an' all.

It was a good time. *8)

And now it's the twenty-tens! Which is hard to believe.

There is considerable interest in whether it will be "two thousand ten" or "twenty ten"; odds are favoring the latter, 'cause it's shorter. (Whereas "twenty nine" would have been wrong, and "twenty oh nine" is no shorter than "two thousand nine".)

We are watching Spongebob.

The helmets can't handle this level of rock and roll!

I haven't made any particular Resolutions for the New Year, or the New Decade. I could have resolved to write more in th' weblog here, and I might even do that, but I didn't officially promise myself (and I won't officially promise you, even!). I could have resolved to Watch My Weight and to Eat Less, but the tradeoff between current pleasure and vaguely-expected approximate life expectancy is a subject of ongoing debate and renegotiation among my various selves, and I wouldn't want to Pick a Winner.

We saw the movie "9" on DVD. It was fun, if even less sensible plot-wise than expected.

I have not yet seen "Nine", or "District 9" ("District Nine"?), but I am amused that they exist. Similarly we saw "Up" (on DVD), but haven't seen "Up in the Air".

The little boy is about to go see "Avatar" in the actual theater. Later this year there will be another movie that would logically be titled "Avatar", but that will apparently have to be titled "The Last Airbender" instead, because of the one called "Avatar" that the little boy is about to go see (there he goes, in fact).

Are we running out of namespace here, or what?

The virtual worlds continue be fascinate. In World of Warcraft, Spennix hasn't been getting much play time, because I rolled up ("rolled up") a brand-new character on a different server, and have been levelling her and doing instances (dungeons, more or less) using some of the fancy new features of the latest WoW patch, and that's been lots of fun. Deminestia is now like level 43, which given that I started her shortly before Christmas is ridiculously high by my previous standards. Last night she finally learned how to make stuff out of all this Heavy Leather she's been accumulating (she is a Blood Elf Hunter / Skinner / Leatherworker).

Dale has been, continues to be, utterly immersed in Second Life; most recently I've been greatly enjoying sailing in various kinds and sizes of sailcraft, as well as discussing realism and pleasure vs. combat craft in the SL blog-o-spheroid.

I don't know if I've pointed to Meaties lately, but it's starting to seem increasingly inevitable, for at least a significant fraction of some piece of the world population, as time goes on. The technology will only get better, and the virtual worlds therefore only more attractive as places to spend significant time.

Anyone making millions from this insight is invited to share some of it with me, just to be nice. *8)

(Another Resolution I didn't make but could have is to use smilies less; I do it an awful lot in various contexts, and I'm not sure why. Just not wanting to seem too serious?)

Ooh, and for Christmas! I got one o' these kewl one-cup coffee maker things that are all the rage; my big surprise present from M. It's a Keurig b40, and it makes all sortsa "hot water with stuff in it" things, including a buncha different coffees, an' hot cocoa, an' some teas. (And it must have been a real popular Solstice-time present, 'cause their website for actually buying things is semi-functional and/or Sold Out right now.)

Also I got a bunch of books, several about Second Life and virtual worlds, and my usual annual Second Life paid membership, and some chocolate, and like that.

And I've been hanging out somewhat on Second Citizen, a (vaguely) Second-Life-related web forum / bulletin board thing. Some fun people there, and interesting discussions, and notable silliness (as well as a certain amount of flaming and trolling and other sometimes-interesting pathologies).

What else what else? One notable thing about the virtual worlds (I know, I know, that again) is that I don't seem to have depression there. I mean, it's not too bad in the real world either (although that's easy to say at the end of a three-week relaxing vacation), but in the virtual worlds it's just not there at all. At least I don't think it is. For whatever that may mean.

I stopped paying significant attention to Blue Mars awhile back, because the content was boring and too many of the people on the beta-tester forum were prats. I've heard that there are more developer tools available without NDA now, and maybe some new content; but so far nothing that's persuaded me to take another look at it.

Metaplace (another web of virtual worlds that I posted about while back) is apparently shutting down, and Forterra Systems (which makes virtual world software for businessy things) has apparently laid off 20 of its 40 employees. Which doesn't, I think, conflict in any way with my feeling that the virtual worlds will continue to become a stronger draw on people; it just suggests that these two particular flavors won't be strongly in the mix.

What's up there?

I would think that it is stars calling you by your name.

The Bicycle Pedaling Frog wishes you and yours a happy on-or-about-Southern-Solstice holiday(s) of your choice.

And what could be better than that?