REAL REALITY, VIRTUAL REALITY AND REALITY TV REALITY – BY TOM CURLEY

I’m having a real problem with reality lately. And it’s not from taking too many drugs. I think it’s from not taking enough drugs. The problem is that we have too many realities to choose from. We have reality TV, which everyone knows is not real at all.

We have our real reality, which seems to be a really bad reality TV show and is very surreal.

And very now we have Virtual Reality, which is oddly, very real.

“Cool”

I recently made the leap and got a VR (Virtual Reality) system. In this case the Sony PlayStation’s VR platform. There are currently two others out there, the Occulus Rift and the HTV Vive. Which one is better? It depends. Mostly on which one you own. The Vive is the most expensive, the PlayStation the least. I’ve seen all three. Frankly, they look pretty much the same. By that, I mean AWESOME!!

“Whoa!”

Unfortunately, I can’t describe the experience. You have to experience it. Imagine being inside an HD movie. Everything is to scale. You can walk up to people, walk around them. They are human-sized. Not TV-sized or big screen movie-sized. It’s amazing. The only downside is that the games and movies available right now are sort of skimpy. There’s a Batman game in which you literally become Batman.

“I’m Batman”

It’s incredible, but the whole game only lasts about an hour. This is because of the enormous amount of data the system requires. That will change. Soon. Most of the games involve looking around at things and marveling at how real they are.

“I’m gonna need a bigger cage!”

That all changed when a new game came out called Star Trek, Bridge Crew.

In this game, you are on bridge of either the Federation Starship Aegis or the original Enterprise. The detail is amazing. You can sit at any one of four stations.:  Helm, Tactical, Engineering and, of course, the Captain’s chair.

Each station has its own console and responsibilities. Helm steers the ship, sets courses for both warp drive and impulse drive. Tactical fires phasers, photon torpedoes, scans other ships and objects, transports people on-board the ship and can disrupt enemy ships functions, such as disabling their shields, weapons, engines, etc.

The Engineering station fixes the ship, re-routes power, etc. (I need more time!) The Captain runs the show.

Here’s where it gets cool. The whole program is linked  to IBM’s Watson super-computer. When you play in solo mode you are the Captain. Your crew are AIs (artificial intelligences). You can talk to them in normal language. You can say “Helm prepare for warp.”

Helm AI will respond “Yes sir.”

Engineering AI will say “Charging the warp coils Captain.”

When you are ready you actually can say “Helm, ENGAGE!” And it does!

“Engage!”

The Watson computer is constantly learning. You can just talk to it and it tries to figure out what you want to do. This means that when you are being attacked by five Klingon Cruisers, you can shout “Red Alert! Raise shields, arm photon torpedoes, fire phasers at that goddamn Klingon!  Helm! Prepare impulse. Get us the fuck out of here!” And it does.  Of course, there are glitches, but for the most part, it works.

The solo part is not what the program was built for. You can play the game with three other real people. It doesn’t matter what system they own. They all work together. You have to work together to finish a mission and the missions are not easy. Usually, you blow up the ship.

“I think we’re about to die”

It’s a lot of fun. The first time I tried playing with real folks I was at the Tactical station and our Captain was a 14-year-old. The conversation went like this.

ME: Tactical is ready Captain.

CAPTAIN: Helm, prepare to warp the Devos system.

VOICE OFF IN THE DISTANCE: Honey, it’s time to leave!

CAPTAIN: Ma! I’m busy!

MOM: I don’t care what you’re doing, it’s time to go!

CAPTAIN: But Ma! I’m on a starship!

MOM: I don’t care where you are, get your butt up here.

CAPTAIN: But Ma! I’m the Captain!

The rest of us were laughing our asses off. The engineer recorded the whole episode (you can do that) and posted it on his Facebook page.

One other time we sat at the space dock for a half hour because the engineer seemed to have no idea how to energize the Warp coils.  I was the Captain.

ME: So, engineering, figured out how to energize those Warp coils yet?

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

ME: Well, we don’t seem to be moving.

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

ME: Let me guess, you need more time?

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

Eventually we got so bored that the tactical guy started blowing up our own ships. Yeah, you can do that.

What I find odd is that many of the reviews of the game are sort of negative. They complain that you can’t get up and walk around. You are stuck in the chair in each station. Excuse me? That’s what they do in any Star Trek episode. They sit in their  friggin’ chairs and to their friggin’ jobs! I mean what would happen if Captain Picard ordered Worf to lock phasers on a Romulan ship and fire … and he’s off wandering around the bridge.

PICARD:  Worf! What the hell are you doing?

WORF: Uh, walking around the bridge Captain.

PICARD: Are you kidding me!! For Christ’s sake, get your ass back in that chair and fire those Goddamn phasers!

WORF: Well normally sir, I stand at my station.

PICARD: Oh for Christ’s sake!

Ever since November 8, 2016 I’ve been obsessively watching all the Star Trek series — because Star Trek Reality makes more sense than our real one.  Now, until our surreal reality TV show reality returns to real reality, I’m going to spend as much time as I can in the Star Trek Virtual Reality.


Engage!

ANOTHER DAY WITH CUSTOMER DISSERVICE

As soon as I saw that Microsoft was planning to make “updates” and “downloads” automatic for Windows 10, I knew it was going to be trouble. I had managed to completely evade Windows 8 and 8.5. I had stuck with Windows 7 and been really grateful, but a bunch of newer apps were coming out and they wouldn’t work on Windows 7. These included several new graphics packages and the reader for Audible.

It’s not that the windows Audible reader was good. It stunk, but it stunk less than the alternatives. The only other option I’d been offered was to listen online only and I have strong reservations about that. What happens on an airplane? In the doctor’s office? In the car?

They designed, finally, a new reader … but it would only work on Windows 10. The old “reader” was barely crawling along the virtual ground and several graphics packages just stopped working.

I got a new computer and yes, Windows. Because Apple is great, but I’ve never been  happy with its floating operating system. I like more organization than that. And I have a fairly big investment in Windows applications. So … I got this computer. Which is great. Remarkable. Fast, powerful. Terrific computer. And the first version of Windows 10 with which it arrived was a breeze to use. I should have known it wouldn’t last.

Windows makes operating system decisions based on what their Public Relation Department tells them is good. It has to be that because it isn’t based on conversations with users. As soon as I happily settled down, they decided to massively upgrade the BIOS, which killed a lot of applications. Killed the sound. Made a godawful mess and as I gradually unraveled from the quagmire and made peace with the new system — which included downloading and installing an entirely new version of Windows 10 Pro — I realized that they had no idea what the problems were. I eventually doped out how to fix everything.

This was another one of Those Days. Somewhere along the line, they downloaded something that ruined the fix I made the last time. Which was because my customer service top of the drawer super high-quality experts didn’t know when you have two hard drives, you can only recover the one on which the operating system resides. In this case, my solid state drive.

So I already knew that you can’t recover both drives. I back up the data on the D drive on external drives and I count on “recovery” to manage the operating system, registry, et al. Everything had been going well, so I had no reason to recover anything or roll anything back. This morning, WordPress got wonky. I tried to roll it back and realized Microsoft had completely changed the interface and the restore/recover function was effectively gone. What’s more, all my previous recovery saves were gone and all of the ones they had logged contained both C and D drives. Which meant none of them would work, but I (pointlessly) tried anyway.

Not only that, but they have eliminated the interface that lets you define which drive you want backed up. In fact, they eliminated the entire recovery interface. You could replace Windows (and save your data), but you couldn’t back up to a previous point in time. And the helpers couldn’t help me. They tried to restore me to an earlier version of Windows that had a recovery option, but it failed and finally, I tried deleting everything in the recovery folder and setting it up from scratch. That worked.

This is because I have bookmarked the older interface items which have the selections to make this stuff work.

I never ever call customer service on the telephone. I only confer online by text. Why? Because if I’m on the phone, I’m going to start to foam at the mouth and yell terrible things at the people who would like to help me, but don’t know enough.

Oh, and the updates don’t show up in the notification section anymore. You have to go into settings and look for them. They will never tell you what is coming, why it is coming, what is likely to happen, and how many — any? — of your existing application will still work after the updates.

I’m not that picky. I’ll take an email that warns me of what is coming, why, gives me the right to reject any I feel will damage my system. We should all demand of whoever who builds our operating systems to at least have minimal authority to say “no” until they convince us that “yes” is a better answer.

Use the chat function. Yelling is bad for vocal chords.

IMPRESSION: TOPAZ STUDIO V1.01

IMPRESSIONS – TOPAZ STUDIO V1.01

I’ve been a devoted user of Topaz filters for a few years, but now, they have come out with a more complete graphics processing application. I downloaded it yesterday, and I’ve been playing with it since.

I thought it would be a framework to hang their existing filters — which you can do — but that’s not even close to all of what it can do for you. You certainly can use Topaz filters from in the application much you use them through Photoshop or Lightroom, However, it includes its own filters, too. From groups of basic settings through a wide range of different artistic filters, you’ll find glowing, abstract, and line drawings and most things in between. Quite a substantial collection of highly usable filters to do everything from basic set up through art.

There are areas of the application I have not quite figured out. Yet. Resetting the size and pixel count of a photograph is one of those things. You can set the pixel count from 72 on up, but there does not (yet) seem to be a function to fix the perimeter of the photograph, something I do constantly as I move photographs from desktop to website. I may have missed it and I’m going to do another run through of the tutorial.

Nor have I found a way to knock out or paint (make disappear) pieces in the original photo. I’m pretty sure this function IS there, but I’m missing it. I’m not a real whiz kid with graphics, so every new application of this type is a big learning curve for me.



As far as working in larger groups of photos, they haven’t quite gotten there yet … and they use the same klutzy save process for this application as for early stand-alone applications. Missing, too, is a simple “flat line” to straighten a crooked picture. They have a very classy rotator — classier than my version of Photoshop — but not a straight line for setting up a flat horizon. They need it. It’s a basic tool which almost everyone uses.

The filters — new and old — are great. I have heard a lot of people complaining that a lot of the presets are not different enough from the others to make them worth using. I disagree. I love the subtle differences between filters. These small changes are often what takes a picture from “okay” to “special.” Not every filter is perfect top to bottom, but this application includes an excellent selection of filters and I can’t imagine not finding many of them very useful.

This is a fine set-up for anyone who enjoys using filters and at this early point in the project’s development, you can be sure that even better things will be coming soon.

So what is my impression of Topaz Studio V1.01?

I like it. I am sure I will like it even more in subsequent versions. It’s still a bit awkward, but they will fix that. It works the way you’d expect Topaz filters “in a boxed set” to work.

They need to come up with a better naming method, precision sizing, and moving smoothly in a multi-photo array. But even at this very young point in the application’s development, you can get a lot of work done using their impressive collection of filters. Even if they didn’t change anything — most unlikely since Topaz is always developing new products — the tones, textures, and other transformations you get using this set make it worth your while.

This probably won’t be a substitute for Photoshop … but then again … with a bit more development, it’s not impossible.

MY NOTORIOUSLY NEW PRINTER

I hate printers. I also hate copiers, scanners, and fax machines.

Nowadays, you get one, you get the batch, but I still hate all of them, whether in one package or many. I got my new printer a few days ago and finally got around to installing it yesterday. Maybe I should have waited.

When you are setting up a new printer, what can you do if your WiFi simply won’t “see” it?

It turns out, the most popular technique is highly technical denial. This means you turn everything off and go shopping. Really, any outside-the-house activity will do the job. We went to Garry’s hearing place to see if they have a significantly better hearing aid for him. Not quite. Yet. Maybe it would be a little better, but not $4000 better.

When we came back from the hearing place and having briefly stopped at the grocery store, I realized I had to confront the printer again. Another one of the small aggravations of modern times: new computers — like this one — don’t have DVD players. I bought an external one, but first I tried downloading the setup instructions from the website. This is supposed to work just like the disc, but surprisingly, didn’t.

Probably, because the WiFi did not find the printer. Or maybe there was some other inexplicable reason.

When your WiFi won’t find a device, there isn’t much you can do about it. You can wave your hands in the air like a fan. Maybe that will blow the WiFi in the right direction. You can shake your devices — but this may work to your disadvantage. Then, there’s cursing. For many people, that works well, but for me, it’s a distraction from getting on with the job.

Turning everything off, then turning every back on is one of the most effective ways of convincing something that should be working to really work, but this time, it didn’t. I should have figured if going shopping didn’t fix it, I needed a new approach.

So, after we came home and I quickly realized it hadn’t magically fixed itself (damn), I hauled my laptop and DVD player into the office. There are — as it turns out — alternate instructions which only appear when you click “NO, that didn’t work either”  for the third time. At which point alternate instructions pop into your browser. These are apparently dangerous weapons of mass destruction and can only be used if your WiFi absolutely can not find the printer, even after you wave your arms and plead with the manufacturer.

It turns out, you have to press the WiFi button until the ALERT button flashes twice. Not three times. If it flashes three times, you have to start over. Next, you have to push the start button again, at which time the WiFi button should start to flash very quickly (not slowly … slowly won’t do the job). They also don’t warn you there’s a pause before it starts rapidly flashing — but if you push it again, you have to start over from the top.

If all goes well, at this point, unless your WiFi is actually out, you should have a connection.

Then you push another button while pressing a third button. Which prints a sheet which you will attempt to scan. Which inevitably produces an error message. If you try to do it again, all it will do is keep printing the same page.

I said screw it and gave up. Then, I decided to register the printer. It turns out, I can’t. Because I am a Canon user — but have no idea what my password used to be. I’m exhausted from carrying the laptop around and having to follow all those instructions.

Since the printer was been found by the WiFi, it would surely print if asked. If the WiFi had found the printer all by itself like it should have, I wouldn’t have had to do any of this. Windows would have taken over and installed everything. Immediately.

Good news? The printer says it works. I’m trusting this to be true. I’m not at all sure about the scanner, but I’ll save that for another day.

Have I mentioned how much I really hate printers? I used to hate fax machines and copy machines too, but now they’re all one thing. So I have just one big thing to hate instead of three.

Is this a good or bad thing?

HP – UNSELLING THEIR PRODUCTS AGAIN

Every time Windows 10 does an update, it knocks my printer out. Not just offline, but off. It stops working. Add to that the small matter that Charter/Spectrum has been down for hours a day for nearly a week which I’m sure doesn’t help.

We don’t use our printer much, but it’s not even two years old. Very little mileage.

Usually when it decides to stop working, I reboot it and it figures out what its supposed to do. This time, it wanted a password (which it has never had). The printer apparently got the message and spit one out, but when I entered it, I was the password was too old. They are only usable for 90 seconds and it takes me more time than that to run up and down the hallway. Since I kept getting messages from HP saying if I need help, I should call them, I called them.

Printer with paper

I should have known, when they first locked up my telephone line and I had to reboot it before we could have a conversation, that this wasn’t going well. When we finally connected, I shlepped my laptop to the room where the modem, router, and printer live. And awaited instructions.

She started explaining how to find the menu.

I told her I know how to find the menu. She explained she was merely trying to “educate me.” I said I was well-educated and could she please tell me what to do to get the printer working. She asked me to “please wait a minute” and came back to tell me that it would cost me $99.99 for their kind assistance. Including downloading a whole new set of drivers which I knew I could get for free from their website or Microsoft. If I needed them. Which I didn’t.

I pointed out the printer had cost twenty dollars less their “repair” price and that was when I bought it — brand new — slightly more than a year ago. She said I could go to some local guy for repairs. Except we both knew the printer wasn’t broken and this was a software glitch. I told her to advise the company for which she works to go screw itself and hung up.

I went back. Deleted the printer. Rebooted the computer. Added the printer as new. It found the printer and asked for a password. I gave it whatever the printer had spit out. It told me that hadn’t worked, to try something else. I had no idea what else to try, so I deleted the password file, clicked “Add A New Printer” again — and instead of asking for the password, it simply installed the printer. Then sent me a test page and began to work as it had before.

Either the password worked, or it had never needed one. It hadn’t needed one in the past … and their solicitations to call for help was a cheesy way to get a few extra bucks for a company whose computers are selling poorly.

With good reason. The only computer I ever threw away in disgust was an HP. This is the company which believes in bloatware to the max. It had so embedded this crap in their system, I couldn’t make the computer usable. I gave up. Bought a Dell. I’m still buying Dells.

The only thing I’ve bought from HP since then — during a full twenty years period — is this printer which I picked up at Wal-Mart. When I get the next printer? Back to Canon or maybe Epson. HP has permanently unsold me on HP for anything. Ever.

A hundred dollars? To tell me how to use their printer? I bet all they would have done is tell me to do exactly what I did, except they would have downloaded a bunch of new drivers I don’t need.

And, in the end, I ordered a printer that would work in Windows 10. It was not an HP. Twice ripped off? I’m done.


RIPOFF!


A top-notch job of convincing me to never use any of their products. Way to go HP!

VIDEO WARS AND VIDEO WORK – TOM CURLEY

I just got a new video game, Mass Effect: Andromeda.

masseffect.com

It is the latest in a series that has been out for years. It’s a great series. Literally millions of copies have been sold. It’s what is called an “open world” game. You can go pretty much anywhere you want. You pick up “missions”. They are things you have to do to advance the game’s story.

There are prime missions that take a long time and advance the plot of the game and then there are secondary missions. And then there are tasks. The secondary missions involve all sorts of different things that you have to do. Some to help a team-mate.

Some to acquire something that is needed to do something else. Tasks are something you can do quickly or you can do throughout the game as you travel from place to place.

In this game, you are the leader of an away team for a group of human and alien colonists who have spent the last 600 years traveling from the Milky Way Galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy.

You have to find planets to live on while trying not to get killed by various hostile aliens and humans. You interact with hundreds of folks who all want you to do something. You can say no and refuse a mission, but you don’t. That’s why you bought the game. But after a while, it gets really confusing. You start off to do a certain mission that involves going to the planet Kadara to meet a spy of the Collective Alliance.

But you have to walk through the space port to meet him. On the way there you bump into an alien who has a problem only you can solve.

ME: What can I do to help?

ALIEN WHO NEEDS SOMETHING ONLY YOU CAN DO: Oh please. I don’t know what to do. I used the last of my credits at the “Uniform Replicating and Dry Cleaning Shop” to get this stain out of my uniform. In my culture, a stain brings us great shame.

“Only you can help me!”

ME: So what’s the problem?

AWNSOYCD: The stain didn’t come out and the owner will not refund my credits. Please help me.

So I walk over to the shop and tell the owner to give the lady her credits back.

ME: Hey! Give the lady her credits back!

“F$#K you!

OWNER: No. Fuck you!

(Yeah they swear a lot.) I have to walk over and punch him in the face.

OWNER: OWW! Hey, OK, fine. Here’s her credits.

I have to walk back to where the alien lady is to give her money back.

Here’s your roll of quarters. Next time try a little Club Soda.

Great. Now, why was I here to begin with? Oh yeah, meet with the spy from the collective. That’s when I realize he’s on the other side of the planet. I also see there are five different missions happening in this marketplace.

Crap. I’ve got over a half-dozen things to do here.

So I get sidetracked. Again. And again. And again. I finally get back to the original reason I came and realize I’m on the wrong goddamn planet!

I’m in the wrong damn solar system!

I am only — maybe 30 percent — done with this game and have over 50 missions to finish. Then, it hits me. What the hell am I doing? I’m supposed to be saving the galaxy and I just spent 10 minutes mugging a laundromat owner for basically a roll of quarters. And I’m on the wrong frigging planet!

And why am I the only person in this galaxy that can get anything done!!! Let’s all pitch in!  OK folks!

Also, I can go on-line and do these hundreds of chores with millions of other folks. What’s wrong with me?  I didn’t work this hard when I was working! I’d say more but I just got an email in my game.

The lost Turian Ark may have been found in an unknown system! Gotta go!

Turian Ark

I think there’s an Assari on that ark to whom I’m supposed to deliver a recipe to for Assari strudel that I got from her mother. I’ll do it on my way back.

I SHALL GO PEACEFULLY

I am in pursuit of nothing at all. I’m not working, so I’m not hunting down money. I’m not career-involved, so not going there. I suppose the only thing I am really pursuing is how to go from simply playing Civilization to winning the game, whatever that means. All I want to do is build handsome buildings. Collect Great People to improve my population’s learning skills.

I seem to lack a killer instinct.

I have encountered this problem before. With this same game. Years ago, when they had “Cheat Mode” as an option, whenever another nation got too aggressive, I made them disappear.

Note the Great Wall

Sadly for me, they have ditched “Cheat Mode.” I sorely regret the lapse. I don’t want to go to war with Peter the Great or anyone else. I merely want to build the Winter Palace and the Great Library. Develop medicine. Send spaceships to other planets. War is annoying. It is a distraction to the really important things in the world.

I have come to believe that no one makes games for people like me. Someone should. I can’t be the only person that would like to play without brigades and explosions.

That’s why I liked the old SIM games. Your battle was with building the right number of elevators to get annoyed people to the top of the building … and you could watch Santa Claus fly by in the Christmas sky. I always like that.

I want a game without wars. Where no one, real or simulated, will threaten to blow up my civilization up with nuclear (or other) weapons. Where I don’t need to spend most of my game building some version — old or new — of The Warrior.

It’s hard being a pacifist in a nuclear electronic era. No, really. It is.