"Delilah in Skyrim" After deciding to spend some time back in Skyrim, I started a new spell-casting character from Breton named Delilah. To make things more interesting, I also opted to use the following self-imposed rules:

1) No fast traveling - I added a mod that effectively disables fast traveling in the game.

2) No joining the College in Winterhold - although I passed the test of entry in order to obtain an inexpensive copy of the Fear spell, I refused to actually enter the school.

3) No wearing cloaks or hoods that improve mana, mana regen and/or spellcasting costs - enchanting items myself is permitted, as are rings and/or circlets.

4) No bladed weapons - my fallback melee weapon is a quarterstaff, and I also have a bow and arrows if non-magic ranged attacks are needed, but that's all.

5) Pick up as many spells as possible by finding them unless impeded by the difficulty of the gameplay - so far I have only purchased Fear and Firebolt, but I prefer to discover new spells by exploring.

Ironically enough, it was the mobile devices that drove me to it. This is going to take a bit of an explanation, however, so go grab a fresh cup of coffee and a snack, and make yourself comfortable.

I've always been a big fan of personal computers, ever since I was first introduced to the Apple II and Commodore 64. I never owned either of those systems, and was a bit envious of family and friends who did, but somehow I instinctively knew how to use them effectively, even as a child. The first personal computer purchased by my father for our household was an Apple Macintosh LC (low-cost color), which served us well for typing papers and entertainment in the form of video games such as Sim City 2000. It also made it a relatively simple task for me to adapt to the Macintosh computers that were the most prevalent systems to be found in the computer labs at Syracuse University, albeit in a Unix-networked environment.

However, the first personal computer that belonged solely to me was a Windows 95 custom desktop offered for the low price of $1,200 at Staples, and I rather liked it. The computer had an intel Pentium 100 processor, 16 megabytes of memory, a 680 megabyte hard drive, 2x speed cd-rom drive, 14,400 baud dial-up modem and an Avance Logic SVGA graphics card with 128kb of on-board memory (expandable up to 256kb). It was not particularly fast, nor was it particularly slow. It did everything I wanted a desktop computer to do at that time - it permitted me to play Star Wars: X-Wing and Star Wars: Dark Forces, it gave me access to the internet, and I even partitioned the hard drive so I could install Slackware linux, my very first introduction to the linux world.

Once I entered the work force, this computer was upgraded with a better processor and motherboard, more ram, and a better graphics card so it could support newer games like Jedi Knight (Dark Forces II) and modern computing. I added a network card so that I could take advantage of the DSL internet service obtained for my shared living space. I eventually built a new computer with even faster components, upgraded to Windows 98. Still later upgraded those components again, upgraded to Windows Not for Me (aka Windows Millenium Edition) and finally upgraded to Windows XP before purchasing my first laptop computer. On this laptop (a Medion Akoya LS) I installed Ubuntu linux for the first time and became an ardent fan of the distro. Very quickly it became my operating system of choice for almost all aspects of computing.

By this time I had been in the field of computer repair for several years and had grown weary of all the security pitfalls inherent in Windows operating systems, particularly in Windows XP. Even though I would continue to sell and recommend Windows systems to my customers, I had reached a point where I personally chose to use linux as my primary desktop environment. After my children managed to hose our family computer with a particularly virulent trojan infection, I banned Windows from our home. All computer systems in our household from that point forward (until recently) either ran Mac OS X, iOS or some distribution of linux, typically Mint or another Debian derivative. I had already given up on Ubuntu due the company's change in direction from developing an easy to use desktop operating system to a bizarre, un-intuitive mobile-device/desktop hybrid. I had also picked up a second-hand Macbook Pro to use as my personal computer, and was now using OS X as my operating system.

So with that summary out of the way, here is where I currently stand:

A desktop operating system is intended to be a platform that makes it easier for the user to take advantage of what a computer can do, without needing to be a programmer or computer engineer. Every time I ran into circumstances where the operating system failed to do this successfully, or otherwise introduced additional burdens to facilitate its use, I abandoned that platform.

In regards to Windows XP, I abandoned the operating system (and subsequently Windows Vista, 7 and 8) because I perceived that those operating systems had a severe lack of security. Even though Microsoft began to invest in securing its product with the release of Service Pack 1 for Windows XP, and each release since then was a big step in securing their operating systems, they were still regularly targeted by malware developers who would either compromise the entire system, making it unusable, or otherwise compromise the security of sensitive activities, such as online banking. I abandoned Windows in favor of Ubuntu linux, which I perceived to be a superior desktop operating system in terms of security, even though it was inferior in ease of use.

In regards to Ubuntu linux, I abandoned the operating system as soon as Canonical switched its focus from ease of use to making the next "new thing" that would somehow make the company profitable. As far as I know, Canonical to this day is still not making a profit, and it has succeeded in alienating a significant portion of its user base which may have eventually helped it to become profitable. Why Ubuntu ignored Redhat's business model is beyond me. I switched to Debian for a while, which was less easy to use than Ubuntu, tried Crunchbang (#!), Mint and Arch and finally reached my limit with Arch.

In regards to any distribution of linux as a desktop environment; when I found myself spending 10-30 minutes a day fixing something that broke after installing security updates I rapidly began feeling that the operating system was no longer useful, especially when the recommended fix in more than one scenario was to "reinstall the operating system" (this should be something done as a last resort, not as a recommendation). The specific issue that broke the metaphorical camel's back was that I was using an AMD APU and R7 graphics accelerator in Dual Graphics (Crossfire) mode, which is currently unsupported by the open source AMD driver and results in the computer hard-locking, requiring a manual restart. The proposed fix was to install proprietary drivers from AMD, which resulted in my system booting to a black screen no matter what configuration changes I made. That sort of crap just gets in the way of getting something done. I don't have time for that anymore, and I only foresee myself using linux as a server operating system in the future (something which it is best suited for).

In regards to OS X as a desktop environment, the issue is twofold. One, the Macbook Pro I purchased second hand is almost ten years old. The fact that it still runs well is a testament to the engineering that went into this particular laptop, however, it also means the newest version of OS X that supports this laptop is Lion, and it is rapidly approaching its end of life in terms of security updates. Two, I kept finding myself banging my head against what I thought were simple issues to resolve. For example, I wanted to install the Atom text editor as a development tool, and even though it was available to be compiled from source, I couldn't. There was no version available to install on Lion, and I couldn't compile one because the dependencies couldn't be met. I couldn't upgrade and I couldn't install a (relatively) simple application, simply because of the limitations imposed by the operating system, and Apple's refusal to support a computer with a graphics card that did not support Shader (GLES) 2.0 - essentially a 3d rendering limitation. I'll be impressed if anyone ever successfully explains to me why an operating system needs 3d rendering support. The solution of forking over money for a newer model is not satisfactory in this scenario - aside from the lack of shader support, this computer is perfectly usable, and currently running Windows 7 in Boot Camp without any issues whatsoever. This is another classic example of an operating system getting in the way of the user.

In regards to the iOS operating system, which is not a desktop but is certainly the most popular operating system in use today, desktops included - Apple has created an annoying walled garden that can only be breached by overwriting the firmware of the iPad or iPhone with a hacked version of the operating system. In other words, you cannot install software that Apple does not let you install unless you compromise the device's security. Worse, you cannot access data on the device easily, and certainly not without purchasing apps that make such data access possible. The day I found out that I could not plug in an iPad to a MacBook and have direct, immediate access to the photos stored on the device was the day I swore I would never purchase one for myself. Unfortunately, because we have several in use in our household, I have the misfortune of needing to provide support for these shiny turds on a frequent basis, and the frequency with which the digitizers on these devices shatters is simply awe inspiring.

In regards to the Android operating system, I have yet to experience an Android device which does not slowly degrade over time, eventually requiring a factory reset of the firmware. The performance degrades as well, meaning the longer you have an Android the slower it gets (gee that sounds familiar, I seem to remember Windows users complaining about this). The thing is, Android is based on linux, and therefore if it were using a typical file system this would not be an issue. Unfortunately, cell phone companies are not okay with making all aspects of a cell phone freely available to the cell phone owner, resulting in the crap we now have today. When I was ready to buy a new smart phone last year, I came to the realization that the reason iOS is so popular is because Android is cheap garbage, and based on the new huge gaping holes in Android security, I do not foresee myself purchasing an Android device anytime in the near future.

So what type of smart phone did I buy? A Lumia. A smart phone manufactured by Nokia (with a certain reputation for ruggedness) running Windows 8.1 mobile, with future support for Windows 10 mobile (which I am currently running even though it has not yet been officially released). The biggest limitation of this device is the lack of apps when compared to an iOS or Android device, but in terms of a mobile device with a reliable operating system that does everything I need a smart phone to do, it performs with flying colors. Not only that, but it was affordable, and I am paying a very reasonable monthly fee for service without a contract through Cricket.

Even though I had established a prior bad relationship with Microsoft based on their security troubles, there were other factors I had to consider. I was no longer a repair technician but a developer, and after extensive use of Visual Studio in the course of my work I can honestly say it is one of the best pieces of software I have ever worked with, hands down. Every version released is an improvement on the one released before. Visual Studio requires Windows, and therefore Windows has been my primary operating system on a daily basis as a direct result. What I have found is that unlike OS X or linux, Windows typically does not get in my way. In general, it does a very good job of getting out of my way. Windows 8 is an obvious exception, but 8.1 has resolved most of the annoyances and for the most part I don't have an issue with it.

In addition, with Windows 10, Microsoft for the first time realized that its operating system was not its primary source of revenue, but rather a gateway to better sources. To me, this is an indication that Microsoft has started to wake up and realize it needs to think and do differently to remain relevant, and it is taking steps to do so. Windows 10 is a pleasure to use because it gets out of my way and lets me work. It is intuitive to use. It has not (as yet) caused me any issues that I could not quickly and easily resolve.

While there is still some concern regarding user privacy based on the data collected by Windows 10, I think that overall it's a step in the right direction, and look forward to seeing what else will be coming down the pike. Without being dismissive of privacy, I'm also a bit jaded in that I don't think there is a computer device that connects to the internet that cannot be compromised, whether by hackers, government funded organizations or something even more nefarious. Consequently the privacy is not as much an issue for me as it might have once been. I've come to accept that in this world, the current status in the Internet of Things is that privacy has been compromised for a long time, and understanding that will lead to smarter practices by the users of those devices.

Molly the vault dweller, wearing her new-found ushanka in the Starlite Drive projection booth

So my oldest mentioned how she would like a copy of Fallout 4 for Christmas, and I didn't worry too much about it until she also mentioned that it required an Xbox One to play and she only had a 360. With that in mind I considered replacing the motherboard, processor, memory and power supply in the non-working computer I built back in 2007 so I could gift her with a PC version of the game, but then I happened to look at the system requirements while shopping at Walmart. After my initial double-take when I saw the minimum requirements, I realized that while my current desktop would be able to handle the game, it would be cost more than an Xbox One to upgrade the old computer. Consequently I opted to give her a user account on my PC and she received a copy of the game via Steam as her Yule gift.

This would then fall under the category of "self serving gift" because as it happened to be installed on my computer, I of course would take advantage of this fact in the hour before I start my shift as I am waking up for the day. I started a play through and made it to level 10 before deciding to wipe and start over. I wasn't very happy with the performance of my first character. In Fallout 4, spending a bunch of SPECIAL points on intelligence in the early game is probably a bad idea, although it might potentially turn out to be useful later on. I decided to not wait and see.

So I re-rolled, and chose the name Molly because it was one of the names on the list that Codsworth will use in conversation (which is fun) and focused on a melee character with agility. This probably sounds counter-intuitive because agility is associated with mostly ranged weapon perks, but I wanted a character that could do a lot of damage with small, fast weapons such as the combat knife, and the added bonus to Molly's ability to sneak was a plus. I put 4 points in strength, 7 points in agility, 4 points in charisma, 5 points in luck and 3 points in the other traits. I then started off with the security baton that can be found in Vault 111, and immediately found the game much easier that it had been on my first run-through. The benefit of extra agility points is that you get more action points, which means I take full advantage of using VATS in combat. The bonus is that in many cases I take no damage from melee combat, because VATS will allow you to get your hits in first, especially if you notice potential combatants before they notice you. The downside is that until I acquire the Blitz perk, I have to get fairly close to those opponents to use VATS.

With this in mind, after acquiring a switchblade from a raider and modifying it with a serrated edge, I was feeling pretty confident and set out in a south-western jaunt across the country side, not following any quests but mainly just trying to see what I could find (and what sort of trouble I might get into). I successfully encountered and defeated super mutants, soft-shelled mirelurks, packs of wild mutant dogs, groups of raiders, a gunner encampment with turrets, and even survived a sneak attack by a pack of feral ghouls without taking a significant amount of damage.

At this point, however, I should have heeded the warning sign that things were about to get more dangerous. I had made it a bit to the south and west of Diamond City, in a hilly region with the occasional destroyed home. I considered looting one such home until I noticed it was occupied by yao guai (mutated bears), so rather than pick a fight with them I crouched down and snuck away. I had recently reached level 7 and had spent a perk point on the Sneak ability, so this probably helped.

Turning the corner of the next building, I came face to face with a Deathclaw. I stopped, and then noticed that next to its name was a skull, indicating it was a significantly higher level than me. The sneaking indicator had switched from "Hidden" to "Caution" and it sniffed the air but didn't seem to see me. I decided to creep backwards, and as I did so I noticed the Deathclaw lift its head away from me, turning toward the nearby hill. Cresting the hill came two more Deathclaws, and then a fourth Deathclaw a moment later, and all I could think at this point was, "Oh sh!*, I'm dead. I'm totally dead." as they proceeded directly to where I was crouching.

Then I heard a loud roar emanating from beyond the hill, and the Deathclaws scampered directly past me, somehow without noticing I was there. Bear in mind that I had never before faced a pack of Deathclaws, and was fully expecting to not survive the experience based on everything I had heard about them. The difficulty I experienced during a one-on-one fight against a lone Deathclaw in Concord while wearing power armor only solidified what I had heard. At this point I was seriously freaked out, because what could possibly make a whole pack of Deathclaws flee? I did not have to wait long to find out.

The largest super mutant behemoth I have ever seen crested the hill wielding a giant club, bellowing the whole way. If I had crouched just a few feet to my right it would have stepped on me as it chased after the deathclaw pack, swinging the club. The pack was no longer visible, and the yao guai made themselves scarce as the behemoth plowed into the ruined home, still swinging its club at anything that moved and continuing to roar in an enraged state. A few moments later, it was gone, and quiet settled around me.

For some reason I decided to keep going a bit further south, and off in the distance I saw something raise its head that distinctly looked like a deathclaw. It was at that moment that I decided to stop pressing my luck, and I used the fast-travel option in my Pip-Boy to return to the Red Rocket fuel station near Sanctuary, internally deciding that I should hold off on traveling south of Diamond City until I had acquired more levels.

I've played a lot of video games, spent a lot of time in Skyrim as well as post-apacolyptic Washington D.C. and surrounding regions in Fallout 3, and never experienced anything quite like this. This did not feel like a scripted event. This did not feel like I had triggered this scenario. The reaction of the pack of Deathclaws to an enraged super mutant behemoth felt natural and therefore hit home in a way I've never experienced in a video game before. Even though there has been a certain amount of criticism in how Fallout 4 seems to be less like other Fallout games in the series, this event seems to indicate that this may not necessarily be a bad thing. Fallout 4 is an awesome game, and I look forward to experiencing more scenarios like this one in the future.

...except that you should probably use the tool that you feel most comfortable with.

Ultimately that's exactly what a computer operating system (OS) is; it's a tool that permits you do to work, perform research, consume or be entertained. A good operating system gets out of your way and facilitates these tasks. A poor operating system requires more time and effort to use than the task you wanted to perform in the first place.

At the present there are several types of computers present within our home. We have Apple laptops running OS X, multiple iPads, an old Dell workstation re-purposed as a Linux file, email and web server, another Dell workstation repurposed as a Linux desktop, an aging laptop running Linux, my cell phone running Windows 10 mobile, and my personal desktop running Windows 10 and Linux in a dual-drive capacity.

A decade of my professional career was spent troubleshooting and repairing computers running some version of Microsoft Windows. As a side effect of that career I felt that the Windows operating system was a poor operating system, prone to all manner of issues likely to lead to the loss of one's hair, and the worst ones were security related. The ease by which a Windows computer could become compromised by spyware, viruses and rootkits was quite sobering. When our family computer became infected to the point that I could not repair it without completely erasing the hard drive, I decided that Windows was no longer welcome in our home, especially because there were other alternatives available.

Toward the end of 2005 I had found that the Ubuntu Linux distribution had matured to the point where using it as a primary operating system was not inconceivable, and naively believed that it was the future of personal computing. It was not (though it worked great on our computers at the time), and ten years later it still is not, but at the time I felt it was the best answer to the security issues of Windows systems. Today, in our home Linux fulfills certain requirements but does not quite meet others, primarily when it comes to video games other than Minecraft (the horror of Wine!) and certain tasks that are necessitated by school and are not inherently supported (that require Adobe Shockwave, Adobe Air or Microsoft Office). On top of this, certain other heavily used applications (such as Adobe Flash and Reader) are no longer in development for Linux and may or may not receive timely security updates as a result. The workarounds for these issues are complicated and not always desirable. While the systems tend to remain stable and secure, the amount of time spent getting basic things to work was not inconsiderable, and free time is a luxury I can scarcely afford these days.

Some years later I purchased a used Macbook Pro computer that was already past its prime in years, and yet has been a steady workhorse ever since. Generally speaking laptop computers don't tend to keep working properly for more than three years, but this particular model was top of the line when it was assembled, and it shows. However, the trade-off has been a limit to the operating system supported, namely OS X Lion which is soon to reach obsolescence in the computer world. Once Apple stops producing security updates for this operating system, other software developers will jump ship, which will not help the aging equipment remain useful. In an attempt to reinvigorate the system I attempted to install Linux, which rendered the laptop barely usable due to Apple's proprietary EFI system, and failing that I even loaded Windows 7 on the computer for a short while before deciding that I had made a terrible mistake (the system perpetually ran hot, and with laptops computers that is never a good thing). Still, the system was good enough to purchase one for our eldest child, who still prefers it to the other computers in the house to this day.

As for myself, I presently find the OS X operating system too restrictive, and primarily use it for accessing the internet or other computers in the home (either my desktop or server) via our local network. I find iOS to be significantly worse, where your personal data seems to be no longer something you can control directly, but rather only in ways that Apple deems fit.

The gallon water jug in The Long Dark

A little less than ten years ago, my wife, two daughters and I were sheltering in my employer's home in New Orleans, slowly starving and suffering from the effects of dehydration. In that two-story building were five adults, two children, two dogs and a two cats. The first floor of the building had flooded, and the water was mixed with oil and contaminated by broken sewer pipes and floating dead bodies. Although they were not in our immediate vicinity, some of those bodies were human, people who had been alive just a few days before. There were also downed power lines trailing into the water, and no way to know whether any of them were energized. We were effectively trapped.

We had only managed to rescue a limited amount of food, and there were only two five-gallon containers of water to be shared among all of us. Of course the children were permitted water before the adults, but my wife was also two months pregnant with our third child, and she was suffering from the daily temperatures that were now reaching as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no power, therefore no air conditioning or fans, and also no running water. We also had no way to treat the contaminated water that surrounded the building, nor did we want to wade into it to fetch things because we would have no way to properly clean ourselves afterward. The situation was rapidly becoming dire, and one of the women sheltering in the house decided to scale the roof in an unsuccessful attempt to flag down passing helicopters. She began consuming the precious potable water more rapidly than anyone else as a direct result.

She was the first one to notice the two men passing by out front of the building in their canoe, sometimes with a passenger when they returned, going in the opposite direction. She ended up shouting to the two men to let them know we had little children in the house, and they offered to take our daughters to the nearest safe shelter, which was something that initially sounded appealing. We did not want our daughters to die from dehydration. Reality sank in as I realized what would happen to a two and four year old girl outside of the supervision of their parents, and I grimly declared, "Either we all go, or none of us goes."

Thankfully, the men responded by saying, "Mom and Dad can come too."

My wife and I waded through the oily water and carefully got into the canoe, then each of us held our daughters in our lap. The men wasted no time setting off, but mentioned almost casually that they would be taking a roundabout route so that our girls would be spared from the sight of the floating dead. We quietly thanked the men, and stared around us in awe as we could finally comprehend the amount of water all around us, all of it the direct result from a levee system broken by a runaway barge.

The men decided to take us to their home briefly, although they had us wait in the canoe. A woman stepped out, and one of the men said something to her. She went back inside, and when she returned she was carrying a white, plastic gallon jug. They must have frozen it before the hurricane, because it was still at least half frozen when they gave it to us. This, along with the canoe ride, was a gift like no other. We each took a drink of cold, clean water for the first time in several days, and I began feeling more optimistic that we were all going to make it.

They took us to dry land where they introduced us to a friend who had been giving rides to people in his SUV while preparing to leave the city with his own family. He was kind enough to take us to the nearest hospital, but due to the looting they would not let us in, and a guard armed with a rifle indicated we needed to leave immediately. We walked down the road, the jug carried in my one hand, and my daughter's hand held in the other, until we found a police officer who unwillingly drove us to a staging area and dropped us off in a sea of humanity. We walked into the crowd and settled down to wait for the buses that were promised to come and take us to another staging area.

While we waited, a pickup truck arrived with a bed full of bags of ice. People scrambled, pushed and shoved to get to the truck, frantically grabbing ice bags even though there were clearly enough to go around. I waited patiently until everyone else grabbed their bag and took one from the driver, who was looking rather annoyed by everyone's behavior. I thanked him profusely and his attitude improved slightly. When I returned to my family I opened the bag and poured the ice into our gallon jug, which had almost reached empty by this point. The bag filled it back up again, and in the summer heat it rapidly began to melt.

As dusk approached it became obvious that no buses were coming, so several of us began migrating down the small highway in the direction of the final staging area, designated as the point where I-10 and the Causeway intersected. As we walked we were harassed by police who told us to get off the road, but offered us no assistance with reaching our destination. At that point we were on an overpass and there was no way off the road except to keep going, so we did. Finally, more pickup trucks arrived and we climbed into the back of one along with several others before it lurched forward and took us to the final staging area.

I held on to our plastic gallon water jug through all of this, and we each took sips of water as needed. People around us, noticing we had children, offered them bits of food, and we gratefully accepted knowing full well the food had been looted. At this point, however, it was a matter of survival, and our children needed the food more than we did. I did find it ironic at this point, however, that it was those people who were in a similar situation to our own that were offering the most help to my family, whereas the police and other people we would ordinarily depend upon had offered very little assistance thus far.

We managed to secure a ride on a coach leaving New Orleans, and we were transported to a sports dome in Jefferson, Louisiana. Exhausted, but already knowing some of what had occurred in the New Orleans Superdome due to the reports we had heard over the radio, we opted to avoid the sports dome and try to make our way to a hotel. We walked down the highway trying to get to a gas station where I could make a phone call to a taxi service and get transported to a hotel, but the first gas station we reached refused to sell me a phone card until 7am. It was 4am at this point. So we shuffled out of the gas station, the other patrons intentionally ignoring us as we left, and kept walking until a stranger decided to pull over in his pickup truck and ask us if we needed any help. After explaining the situation, and why we couldn't take shelter in the dome, he agreed to take us to where he worked so that I could use their phone and attempt to secure a place to stay.

As his coworkers began arriving and he let them know what was going on, they began to head out and fetch us food, clean clothes, and a mattress to nap on until we could get a hotel room. Upon finding out there were no available rooms in any hotel in town, one of the employees brought his camper to the business so we could have a place to stay until we could get a flight at the airport. It was at that point that I knew we were safe, and I finally set down that plastic gallon water jug, never to pick it up again. A part of me wishes that I still had it, but every time I see one, I remember.

In the video game The Long Dark, the protagonist can melt snow and boil the water to make it potable. It is stored in a plastic gallon jug when carried. I'm sure you can imagine my surprise and also my appreciation the first time I saw this in this game which is all about survival.

The Long Dark

For those unfamiliar with the game, Voyageur is one of three available difficulty levels in The Long Dark, and the original playing experience for this game when it was first released via the Steam Early Access program. In terms of sheer difficulty, it could be considered in the middle range of the three, in that it is harder to find gear and supplies as compared to Pilgrim, bears and wolves can be aggressive if you get too close, but there is still more available gear than in Stalker and these animals are not quite as aggressive as they could be. So to keep it simple in gaming terms, you could consider "Voyageur" to be "normal difficulty", although to be blunt, all three playing styles are challenging. There are players who have survived hundreds of days in this mode, and in some cases over a thousand, but in my case I consider seventy days to be a significant achievement.

Aside from some luck, the biggest reason I've managed to survive for so long is because I have been playing in a relatively cautious and conservative manner. My previous session in Voyageur was ended by two subsequent wolf attacks after only surviving for five days in the Mystery Lake map, and I opted for random map selection when I started a new game, this time ending up in the western area of Pleasant Valley. I made my way to the Pleasant Valley Homestead (also referred to as the farmhouse), and made that my initial base of operations until I felt I had gathered as many materials from Pleasant Valley as was reasonable, and, facing a shortage of much needed sewing kits, I opted to migrate to the Coastal Highway Map after having survived for around thirty days. I could have crafted fishing lures to as a secondary option to repair and craft gear, but I was also getting a little stir crazy and wanted to explore the other regions in the game.

I first transitioned to the Coastal Highway and spent roughly thirty days in that region, fending off wolves, gathering additional supplies, sewing kits and toolboxes aplenty. After reaching day 60 I decided it was time to move on.

Currently, I'm living out of a a cabin known as the Trapper's Homestead, in the first region made available in the game, known as Mystery Lake. I've managed to gather the needed materials to craft a bow and arrows, along with wolf skin coat, deer skin boots and pants, rabbit fur mittens and a bear skin bedroll, and also successfully stockpiled a small supply of food at this location. I have a bit more exploration planned in the immediate vicinity of this region, but at the moment I could quite comfortably continue to survive in this region for several more days, even with the constant threat of wolves and bears wherever I may go.

Similar to the rules described by the main character in Zombie Nation, I have a series of rules I try to follow as I play. These rules could be easily summed up by the scout motto "Be Prepared". By following these rules I have so far (at least on this run) done a pretty decent job of staying alive:

  1. When possible, use a building with two doors as your home base - this is particularly important because most shelters with two doors also have a quick access door and a door that is somewhat protected with a barrier of some kind, such as a porch railing. Always exit the building through the door that leads to a protected space, so that you will have an opportunity to react if there is a wolf or bear immediately outside (and cover from which you could retreat back into the house, or use a ranged weapon to dispatch said predator).
  2. When possible, choose a building with a warm bed (it should have a better warmth bonus than the bedroll you start with), and a way to start a fire indoors - either a fireplace or a wood burning stove will do just fine.
  3. Always make sure your thirst is near or at zero before you go to sleep for the night. Don't sleep for longer than ten hours at a time (at zero thirst) without drinking to avoid dehydration negatively impacting your condition. Make sure you have eaten enough calories to survive the night as well.
  4. If you expect to wear your gear for a while, repair it - you will need to locate either a sewing kit or alternately a fishing lure and tackle (or craft one), and either scrap fabric or sacrifice found clothing items to repair the ones that you intend to keep. The better the condition your gear is in, the longer it will take you to get cold while outside. Don't waste precious repair materials on useless gear such as sneakers, and cotton socks.
  5. Always carry the materials you will need to start a fire before you go anywhere - you should have at least a few tinder, at least one piece of soft wood or a book, and either matches or a striker. I always carry one can of accelerant for emergencies, because you can start a fire with it almost immediately. If your fire-making skill is low, try to keep a book with you, because they are much easier to use to start a fire. I usually carry a log of soft firewood, use it to start a fire, then harvest hard wood once the fire is going.
  6. Always carry about a half-gallon of water with you before you leave - dehydration will kill you faster than almost anything else in this game. Carrying more is not a good idea because water is realistically heavy.
  7. Always carry some aspirin, antibiotics, bandages and antiseptic. Alternately, brew and carry rosehip tea, reishi mushroom tea and at least three crafted old man's beard wound dressing. You will get attacked, you will sprain your ankle, and you may get sick from eating bad food. If you have these first aid items on hand you can treat your condition immediately (although you may also have to sleep it off to recover fully).
  8. Avoid going outside during a blizzard because it will ruin the condition of your gear. If you get caught in a blizzard while outside, find a boulder or some place to crouch down out of the wind and start a fire to keep yourself from freezing. If you stay stationary with some cover it will prevent your gear from getting too badly damaged, but be prepared for the wind to change - keep a spare piece of soft wood handy if you need to find another spot to start a new fire. If you are inside and can't tell how many hours are left before night/day, and you can hear the wind blowing, there is almost definitely a blizzard raging outside (Caveat: sometimes you will have spent an hour indoors during a blizzard and it seems like there is still a blizzard going, but if you leave the building the storm will have just ended - it's worth periodically checking outside to see for yourself whether there really is a blizzard).
  9. While outside, periodically check you status, especially if you begin getting verbal cues from the character that he/she is tired, cold, hungry, etc. If hungry or thirsty, address those conditions as soon as you are able. If fatigued, bear in mind that sleep will be necessary soon, and you will not be able to carry as much without becoming encumbered (which will slow you down).
  10. Keep a significant distance between you and any wolves or bears you spy while outside. Use higher ground whenever available to be able to see a wolf or bear long before they see you. Pay attention to the direction the wind is blowing, because if a wolf is downwind from you, they will notice you from an even further distance than they would otherwise. Crouch to make it harder for you to be detected until you are safely out of range. Unless you are high enough to prevent a bear from reaching you, or can duck into a nearby building or vehicle before they reach you, do not provoke or engage a bear. You cannot fight them off, and they can potentially kill you even if your condition is 100%.
  11. Carry some form of meat on you at all times to use as a lure. Even if you don't have a weapon, if you have meat you may buy yourself enough time to run into the nearest shelter while the wolf checks it out. As soon as you hear a wolf growling, even if you can't see it, drop your lure and step away from the lure. The wolf will usually (but not always) go for the lure, giving you time to take aim and shoot it. The cost of a bit of meat vs around 7-10 lbs of fresh meat, wolf pelt and guts is an advantageous exchange for you. This is also much safer than engaging a wolf in hand-to-hand combat and will spare your gear from damage. It may be smarter to shoot the wolf before it starts eating, because if it changes its mind it will come for you instead. Aim for the head, between the eyes if possible.
  12. Cook your meat before trekking through the wilderness, because raw meat draws wolves. If you are concerned about being attacked while harvesting meat, start a fire beside the carcass. This has the added benefit of thawing a frozen carcass, which can then be harvested even if you do not have a hatchet or hunting knife. Keep an eye on your status while harvesting and cooking, and keep an eye on the fire duration. If a blizzard starts, forget the fire and get to your closest shelter immediately.
  13. When traveling outdoors, keep an eye out for deer and rabbits. They are an indicator that there are no wolves in the immediate vicinity (although they could be nearby). You can drive a deer before you as you trek, which may help draw out wolves that you might not have noticed otherwise. If the wolf takes down the deer and begins eating, this gives you an opportunity to shoot the wolf, potentially resulting in two carcasses for the price of one shot.
  14. As soon as you are able to do so, craft gear (deer skin boots and pants, rabbit fur mittens, wolf skin coat, and bear skin bedroll). These items are superior to any gear you can find while exploring, although they also weigh more than their found equivalents. Keep the gear in good condition, especially after a wolf (or bear) attack, because higher condition gear will help keep you alive longer while you are being attacked. Higher condition gear will also provide better warmth and protection from wind chill.
  15. Fishing and using snares to catch rabbits should be considered a secondary method of obtaining food (unless you have neither a rifle nor a bow). Neither produce as many calories per pound as wolf meat, venison, or bear meat, and there is a significant chance of failure to catch anything. Rabbit snares are beneficial in that they can yield gut and rabbit fur for crafting/repairing mittens, therefore if you choose to do either, start with snares.
  16. Be aware that nearly everything has a condition that changes over time. Tools generally do not degrade until they are used, but clothing, matches and food can degrade even when in storage. If possible, locate a secondary fire making source to support you when the matches are no longer available. If you are planning on a long run, conserve materials as long as you can, but be sure to use them before they are no longer viable (food that reaches 0% condition vanishes).
  17. Be aware that meat under 50% condition is considered spoiled and can cause you severe food poisoning, requiring antibiotics and sleep to recover. Avoid eating meat when it reaches this condition. It may be possible to use this meat as a lure for wolves, so keep it on you, just remember not to eat it. Also bear in mind that uncooked meat has a greater chance of causing severe food poisoning, so you should only eat it uncooked if you do not have enough calories/condition to make a fire.

There are more that I will add to this list as I think of them. In the meantime, be prepared.

Out for a stroll after the end of civilization as we know it.

"I would totally kill for a pair of boots right now," I muttered.

"What?" My wife was confused.

"Oh, in this game I'm trying to survive after crashing a plane in the Canadian wilderness as a result of a massive CME. I've got a bunch of tools, rifle, hatchet, hunting knife, but I'm wearing a pair of sneakers...in the snow," I offered in explanation.

"Ah," she said.

"So it's hard to avoid freezing to death, as a result," I concluded. I turned my attention back to the game, where I was busy starting a fire to prevent just that very thing from occurring.

My latest focus is on an indie game still in development, The Long Dark. Initially funded through Kickstarter, at this time the game is only available via Steam Early Access, although a Steam key can be purchased through the Humble on-line store as well. The protagonist of the game is a bush pilot who was forced into a crash landing as a result of a coronal mass ejection from the sun that caused severe atmospheric ionization, effectively putting society back into the pre-industrialized era. Winter has set in, and in order to survive the pilot must locate and utilize any available tools, gear and food he or she can use to survive another day.

At this point in development, the only portion of the game that is accessible is the Sandbox mode, which permits free-form play through one of three available maps and their interconnecting zones. When the game first released in the fall of 2014, only one map was available, but the developers have been making steady progress at adding additional content to the game, in addition to support for crafting your own gear, tools and weapons to aid in survival. They also release frequent bug patches and interact directly with their player base via Steam's community discussions and their own forums. Consequently, even though I am typically reluctant to pay for an Early Access game (which may or may not be a developer attempting to cash in on a project they never intend to complete) the development team at Hinterland Studio has shown a clear intention to complete this game, with the Story Mode expected to be released sometime in 2015. In my mind, the most impressive move by the developers so far was the replacement of the game's Unity 4 engine with Unity 5, to enable better performance on computers with high-end GPUs and/or multi-core processors. This transition appears to have only taken a few weeks to accomplish.

If I'm starting to sound somewhat fanboy-ish, that's because (against my better judgement) I am. Previously I had ranked The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as my favorite video game of all time. Even though the graphics in this game are not quite as realistic, I actually enjoy this game much more. That's probably because the challenge is real, and the scenario behind the game is one that could become all too real, should the Earth be caught directly in the path of a massive coronal ejection from the sun.

When I began the game, I immediately tried Voyageur mode, which is the middle difficulty level (and originally the only difficulty level available). Even though I was new to the game, I managed to survive for more than 5 days before I was finished off by a wolf in the dark. It was a harrowing experience, however, and even with the knowledge I already possess I found the only way I could stay alive was to keep moving and scrounging for food and clothing wherever I could. I expected to die any moment. Subsequent attempts to play the game at this difficulty mode met with disaster in less than 24 hours of game time, so I ended up switching to Pilgrim mode (easy difficulty) to get a feel for the game and attempt to learn the ropes. It didn't take too long to get hooked.

A significant portion of the game is exploration. Newcomers would probably find it best to use Pilgrim mode to get used to the game mechanics, because there is a lot to juggle. Thirst, hunger, fatigue, and cold are all statuses you have to keep your eye on as you play, because they impact your ability to survive. The type of winter gear you are wearing and the gear's overall condition directly impacts how quickly you get cold while you are outside. Tools are necessary for survival in order to do basic things like start a fire, harvest materials and food, and repair your clothing and equipment. All of this is hard enough without having to learn how to avoid and fend off attacks from starving, predatory animals.

I recently reached a point where I was no longer satisfied with the Pilgrim experience, because once you have successfully explored the majority of the three maps and their interconnecting areas, it turns into a slow, day to day experience which may feel like a bit of a grind to some players. At this point, confident that I had learned what I needed in order to survive a harsher apocalyptic world, I returned to Voyageur mode and subsequently died again within 5 days of game time. I returned to Pilgrim mode with the advent of an update bringing new craftable weapons and hunting mechanics, along with a new area to explore, but once I had achieved everything there was to achieve I returned again to Voyageur, where I have now survived over 11 days of game time, with successful hunting and as of this morning, surviving a wolf attack and living to tell the tale.

I have more to tell, but hopefully this should suffice until I have a chance to return and share my story.

Crows are your friend in the Long Dark

Please be assured that the lack of visible activity at this website is not an indication that nothing is happening. Although, to be completely honest, I have been spending a significant amount of time playing The Long Dark lately, when I probably should have been more focused on developing this project. Regardless, progress has been made, and as usual (in my development experience), progress completion has been held up by the little things, or in this case, the proper detection and insertion of tag references to a submission post at the time of submission. In an attempt to prevent duplicate tags, the code now examines the tags entered into the field one at a time, compares them against existing Tags already defined, inserts new ones if no match is found, and then assigns each one to the post all as the post is submitted.

Although relatively simple, the first iteration of the site's built-in submission/editing form is actually rather powerful.

Submit Form

At this stage the form can only insert new posts, mainly because I have not yet added support to the rest of the site to edit existing ones. I have to figure out a few things, such as persistence of form field data, how to load data into fields, and also add in some java-script to prevent the accidental navigation away from a form in progress to prevent some of the invariable loss of data that will occur. That said, all but two of the aforementioned items I wanted working in my last submission have all been met. Those two are namely:

  • Add support for post summary.
  • Add support to limit the number of posts on the home page.
I plan to roll those two items into the 0.3 release, as I get to it, because obviously this is not yet done, but we're making some considerable progress as previously I had to add submissions manually in a MySQL interface, which was clumsy and unwieldy when assigning tags to the posts in question. At this point, however, I can at least submit a draft version of a post in my browser, view the draft, then flag it public after I'm satisfied everything looks correct.

Even better, I learned how to use prepared statements effectively when submitting forms, so even though this form should be inaccessible to an non-authenticated visitor, there is still built-in security present to prevent SQL injection attacks.

Also to be included in 0.3 are the following items:

  • Add support to edit existing posts and set the visibility flag from draft to public (or private, or deleted).
  • Improve the submission form to avoid accidental data loss when a submit fails or when navigating to another page.
  • Add file upload support to add images and/or download links to posts.
  • Additional security.

Future items which may or may not make it into 0.3 include:

  • A dashboard with site statistics, a list of post titles (with links) authored by the user and other useful information.
  • An edit user form to support changing the user's password, adding "About" info, setting an avatar, etc.
  • Administration support to allow an administrator to assign additional privileges to users, inactivate accounts, update passwords, etc.

I have a lot I'm thinking about in regards to how I want this weblog to grow. However, since I seem to forget what I was doing 15 minutes ago, I guess I should probably document some of these. This list may change as time moves on.

ToDo list for 0.2:

  • Quash any remaining bugs
  • Make tags clickable
  • Make titles clickable
  • Add support for post summary
  • Make logo & title clickable link to "home"
  • Add markup support
  • Improve look & feel
  • Add submission form
  • Add support to limit the number of posts on the home page

In my (possibly poor) wisdom I thought I would be generous and offer anyone who might be interested in the current version of the FtES Weblog a chance to peek at my terrible code, and also the method I used to establish the database. I do not know if I will continue making this code available, but for now I have a simple Subversion repository to handle version control, so it is entirely possible that I may do this.

So without further ado, here is your download link. Please be gentle, it's my first time (coding in PHP).

FtES_Weblog_v0.1.tar.gz

Update: I found and fixed two minor output related bugs, but I'm not in the mood to repackage this just yet. Let me know if you know what the bugs are (and how to fix them).

Like the phoenix rising from the ashes once more, this personal weblog is now under construction and being developed in PHP as a learning exercise.

Stay tuned for updates on my progress, which I will post as frequently as time permits.