Archive for February, 2012

Can’t stand the new Facebook Timelines layout. Refuse to use it.

February 29, 2012

Cluttered, hard to read, and a pointless and annoying change. The old Facebook was streamlined and information packed. The new layout is the opposite. I have refused to “upgrade” my own page to the ill-conceived Timelines layout and told Facebook I don’t plan to do it. If they make it mandatory, I may simply drop Facebook. I note several Facebook pages have been created by others protesting the need to fix what simply wasn’t broken.


Astrid from Skyrim, bad girl supreme, shares name with basso nova singer

February 18, 2012

It is interesting that they used the name Astrid for the female leader of the infamous Dark Brotherhood, as music fans may know the name well.

Astrud Gilberto was the singer of the 1964 basso nova hit The Girl from Ipanema, of fond favorite from when I was a kid. Astrud is a variant of the name Astrid.

It is also kind of funny that Astrud Gilberto herself is from Brazil, while her name has old Norse roots:

Brazil is kind of far from the traditional Viking stomping grounds.

I have to wonder if someone from Bethesda was a fan of the singer and slipped her name in as a character, though deploying the original old Norse spelling. Or maybe it is just coincidence.

Now, there was another notable Astrid in history, a queen who had a tragic end:

My interactions with Astrid in the game were short.

MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW: We got off to kind of a bad start (prior DB assassination attempts, kidnapping, and threats) and things went downhill from there. By “downhill”, I refer to my character declining her “offer” to join the Dark Brotherhood by way of a volley of arrows.

However, I must admit that Astrid had an eye for talent and an appreciation for technique. As she fell rather quickly to my monstrously overpowered Daedric bow, her final words were, “Well done.”

How to fix an issue with logical player motivations in Skyrim

February 18, 2012

Minor spoilers follow:

The opening of the game Skyrim has you about to be executed by the Empire side of a civil war. You escape when a dragon attacks and later you have the option to join one side or the other in the civil war. Yet, there really isn’t much of a choice — in that one side had tried to kill you despite not even having your name on the official list of the condemned. Basically they were going to lop off your head just for the heck of it. Hey, you must have done SOMETHING bad at SOME point.

This is why I can’t see ever taking the Empire side in the civil war raging inside Skyrim. The general I would later see to join was the same one presiding over MY PLANNED EXECUTION. Now, I am a bit of a “let bygones be bygones” kind of character, but that takes it to extremes.

Again, so far as my character knew, the Empire still had a death warrant out for me. I later ran into the general in Solitude, but went out of my way to avoid discussing our prior encounter. Indeed, he kept threatening me with jail time the whole period I was in his HQ. The Empire path is for masochists with self-esteem issues. The Stormcloak side had their own issues, but trying to kill me for no reason wasn’t one of them

Player motivations in Skyrim need a closer look, as this glaring leap in logic could easily have been addressed. Simply program a messenger to send me a note once I hit Whiterun. Have the note be from the Empire and admit my planned execution was a boo-boo, issue me a general pardon, and offer some amount of gold from the Empire as a gesture of apology. To get the gold, I needed to go to see them in Solitude.

That gesture could then clear the deck to allow me a logical reason to consider joining them, since they owned up to a mistake and tried to rectify it.

Skyrim review posted at

February 17, 2012

It is well done and I wanted to give it a plug on the blog. I also confess that the comments from “James” as the contributing editor in the review are mine.

Oh, and get the game. It still needs some bugs quashed in the next patch, but it is the best single-player open-world RPG out there right now. It also may end up with some killer DLC. You can get hundreds of hours of RPG goodness out of it.

Skyrim and Witcher 2 were my picks for the best games of the year in 2011.

Something going right in Texas on public health

February 17, 2012

A key indicator of your health care status as a state is infant mortality rates (IMR). One might assume that Texas would be an outlier in this area, but in the wrong direction. Well, actually, this is an area where Texas looks pretty darn good. The national IMR rate (2009 data) is 6.8 per thousand, while in Texas it is 6.0. Better still, our trend is pointing down, while the national stats have taken a troubling turn upward.

Texas is also working on a couple of major projects to try to drive our IMR numbers down even further. One is here:

The statistics I quotes are found here:

Here is the most recent report (PDF), with the 2009 numbers cited above:

Update on EA tech support (or lack thereof)

February 17, 2012

Readers of the blog know of my ongoing tech support issues with EA and their refusal to honor a $20 discount code. I wrote about it in detail here:

Well, I have an update, though sadly the problem isn’t solved. I note the curious coincidence that the update came in within 24 hours of posting a flaming comment to PC Gamer’s site to an article on Origin’s attempts to build gamer goodwill after so much “vitriol”. My comment linked to the blog article and I also cross-posted it to Facebook.

In short, EA offered me the same thing I had rejected before (15% off coupon) and I responded by demanding they honor the $20 discount they themselves had issued to me without restriction.

I will post the emails back and forth, though with customer support staff names and codes deleted. I must stress that the EA staff themselves are most polite. One of their call centers is located in North Austin not that far from where I live. My beef is not with any of the EA tech support as individuals, but with EA as an entity and its policies.


Dear EA:

I quite specifically rejected the offer of a 15% discount code in lieu of the $20 discount given to me by EA the first time.

Again, I have to remind everyone that my $20 discount came with NO TIME LIMIT OR RESTRICTIONS. Indeed, let me once more supply the relevant quote from the original EA email to me, with appropriate highlights:

“Additionally, as a valued player, we would like to offer a small token of our appreciation in the form of a $20 off discount offer “ACTUAL DISCOUNT CODE # DELETED” for the EA Store! This discount code does not have an expiration date, and can be redeemed for any future purchase on”

The EA store later was renamed Origin and revamped a bit, but it is still EA and it is still your store.

So, I ask myself, why would EA now offer me basically the same thing that I already rejected?

What will satisfy me is for EA to honor my $20 discount. Anything other than that will not be acceptable.

As before, my ongoing saga over $20 will be posted to my blog:

It is also being shared with the website for their industry integrity reviews.

So, can we please just get me the $20 discount and close this thing out.

NOTE: As an aside, the $20 game I was going to buy from Origin when the discount code was rejected was Spore. While this saga has been playing out, I ended up just getting it from Steam. They will now get the sales of any DLC for it.


P.S. Please note that my frustration is not with any of the individual EA customer service staff, who I must stress have been exceedingly polite. Rather, it has to do with the inability of EA itself to resolve what appears to be a simple problem.

From: Customer Experience [mailto:EA (EMAIL DELETED TO STOP THE SPAMMER BOTS)]
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2012 3:48 PM
Subject: Case (# DELETED): Invalid $20 Coupon



Thank you for contacting Electronic Arts regarding your invalid $20 coupon.

First, I apologize for the long delay in our response. We have been undergoing a restructuring of our support tiers and as a result our email queues have been somewhat neglected.

Depending on what $20 coupon code you were trying to use, the previous advisor you spoke to may have been mistaken in that it was invalid simply due to expiration. We did have a $20 coupon code that was valid from January 17th until the end of the month, but it was not valid for SWTOR, preorders, game time codes, games released less than 30 days ago, and third party titles. If you tried to use the coupon on any of those products, that is most likely why it was invalid.

The coupon code will be expired by now, and unfortunately we cannot generate that particular code. However I have created a 15% coupon code that has most of the same restrictions but will be valid for SWTOR: (CODE NUMBER DELETED)

If you need to contact us again about this issue, feel free to reply to this email. If you have any other issues, questions, or concerns, please contact us by logging into and clicking on the Talk to a Game Advisor link to open a new case.

Thanks again for contacting us, and have a great day!

Best Regards,
– EA Customer Experience

Summing it up: At some point, I think EA will decide that they have bled enough in public over this to honor their $20 discount. It just needs to rise up to one of “the suits” who will go, “Just give him the (insert a cuss word or two here) $20 and be done with it!” Still, it just amazes me the lengths one has to go through sometimes to get people to do the sensible thing. Just do it on the front end. It is easier and better for business.

There is no free lunch or “free” preventive care

February 16, 2012

Excerpt from the email announcement:

“Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today that the Affordable Care Act provided approximately 54 million Americans with at least one new free preventive service in 2011 through their private health insurance plans. Secretary Sebelius also announced that an estimated 32.5 million people with Medicare received at least one free preventive benefit in 2011, including the new Annual Wellness Visit, since the health reform law was enacted.”

Sorry, but these services were not, technically speaking, “free” to recipients. Of course SOMEBODY paid for them! If it was a private health plan, then the cost came in premium hikes. If it was a government plan, then the costs came from the taxpayer or at the expense of other benefits.

How to illustrate it? Let’s say the U.S. Congress decided that people needed to eat more fruits and salads. OK, noble goal. However, suppose the mechanism to push it was to mandate that every restaurant meal served had to include a “free” salad or fruit cup? Alright, so what does the restaurant do in response? In the real world they add a buck to the price of the Happy Meal or Grand Slam Platter to cover the “free” side dish they now have to include.

Well, the same is true in health care. Your “free” service comes out of premiums paid by you or the employer, the taxpayer, or in some other service you don’t get or that now costs more.

The policy of promoting prevention can be noble and some prevention services really are worthy, but it is dishonest to refer to it is “free”. It isn’t.

Donald Trump is a doofus

February 10, 2012

Maybe if everyone in the GOP put up a buck, we could pay him to agree to just go away. Seriously, Trump is all about Trump and makes Lady Gaga look demure when it comes to being a PR hog. Where did this bozo get the idea that he speaks for the GOP? Did we elect him somewhere as our mouthpiece? I don’t care what Donald Trump thinks, wants, or endorses! He would happily sell the entire GOP down the tubes for a few ratings points. Hey Donald, you are FIRED! Now, please go away. Your 15 minutes are up!

Barbas the Dog in Skyrim may be the most annoying companion in the history of PC gaming

February 6, 2012

OK, he is a good immortal companion to have when you need to fight stuff. But, he barks constantly, gets in the way all the time, can actually PUSH YOU AROUND when he crowds you, and is always underfoot. He blocks doorways, hallways, dark cave corridors, whatever! Memo to Bethesda: The companions block progress all the time and Barbas is the worst of the bunch. Please reprogram their AI to maintain a certain physical separation from the player. And, while you are at it, make it to where Barbas cannot actually shove the player around. Oh, and also make him not bark constantly — especially when you are in stealth mode.

A dozen spammers trying to post fake “comments” today

February 6, 2012

The reason this is a moderated blog was showcased today with a dozens spammers trying to post fake “comments” to advertise their websites. Sad we all have to run spam filters and then moderate comments.