Archive for February, 2014

What I think happened in the song Powerderfinger by Neil Young

February 19, 2014

I love the song and just about wore it out playing the vinyl version of Live Rust as a teenager. The most haunting song is Powderfinger about an unnamed 22 year-old dying in what appears to be a raid on a riverside dock community. When and where are never explained, but it could be in the Civil War.

What is left unclear is exactly how the young man dies. Common thought is that he was shot since he could see rounds hitting the dock, but I am not so sure.

It is clear the firearm he grabs to defend the homestead is not his own. It is his father’s and the song notes he is gone. So, it is an unfamiliar weapon. The fact that he had to grab another person’s rifle may indicate an unfamiliarity with firearms.

These next eights lines of lyric tell the story of the fatal second:

Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.
Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.

Shelter me from the powder
and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger

Listening to the song a lot, I don’t think it was enemy fire that was the cause of the tragedy. It sounds more like a firearm breech exploded due to a plugged barrel.

He raised his rifle to his eye, despite noting how his father’s advice had been to flee in the event of an attack. Raising the rifle to his eyes, he never stops to wonder why he was about to try to kill in a foolhardy stand.

The black he sees is the back of the firearm exploding and sending fragments through his eyes as he touched the trigger. The breech explosion causes his face to splash in the sky.

A dying lament to be sheltered from the “powder and the finger” is especially poignant if the cause of death was his father’s “reassuring” rifle exploding. The “thought that pulled the trigger” was his own .

Only Neil Young knows for sure what happened on a dock with a nameless 22 year-old and bullets flying. Or maybe even he isn’t sure. Great songs, like other great art, sometimes leave a detail or two hidden even from the artist themselves.

Here are all the lyrics:

Look out, Mama,
there’s a white boat
comin’ up the river
With a big red beacon,
and a flag,
and a man on the rail
I think you’d better call John,
‘Cause it don’t
look like they’re here
to deliver the mail
And it’s less than a mile away
I hope they didn’t come to stay
It’s got numbers on the side
and a gun
And it’s makin’ big waves.

Daddy’s gone,
my brother’s out hunting
in the mountains
Big John’s been drinking
since the river took Emmy-Lou
So the powers that be
left me here
to do the thinkin’
And I just turned twenty-two
I was wonderin’ what to do
And the closer they got,
The more those feelings grew.

Daddy’s rifle in my hand
felt reassurin’
He told me,
Red means run, son,
numbers add up to nothin’
But when the first shot
hit the docks I saw it comin’
Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.
Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.

Shelter me from the powder
and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger
Think of me
as one you’d never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I’ll miss her.

Oh, and go buy the album:


Skyrim a great game, lots of fun — and still a bugfest

February 19, 2014

I am doing an iron-man play-through of Skyrim on legendary difficulty and am now a level 57. While I still love the game a lot, one must conclude it is unlikely to play it through without hitting at least one quest-stopping bug (or maybe a game-breaking one).

On this character I had the first spell cast on my by Brelyna in the Mage College not wear off in that fun little side-quest. You know the quest if you have played the game. After days of running around waiting for the quest to advance, I resorted to a ~ console code to get it to reset. The code is setstage MGRappBrelyna 01 30 if you need it.

Later on I fought some vampires in Whiterun and then went to the Jarl’s palace. As soon as I approached the Jarl in the Dragon’s Reach throne room everyone inside went hostile. A swarm of red dots flooded the mini-map!

I reloaded and tried it again only to encounter the same bloodlust vibe. I did some research and the bug seems to be I may have nicked a guard in the vampire fight — though nobody called out crime or tried to arrest me. To reset I went and stole a cheap item from a vendor stall with a guard watching, was stopped, paid the $5 fine — and now the Jarl and his court are my best buddies again.

UPDATE: I also just had to use a console cheat code to get the quest Arniel’s Endeavor to advance. It hung up again when trying to heat the flawed soul gem in the Dremer Convector. Both times I have tried to play this particular quest it has failed due to bugs.

Again, the game is great and I have approaching 1,400 hours inside it — but I still have to complain about the bugs two years after release.

Good article at Rock, Paper, Shotgun on Elder Scrolls Online beta hands on, along with my comments.

February 10, 2014

First, I greatly enjoyed the John Walker article and suggest others read it. Rather than excerpt from it, just follow the link.

What follows below are my comments regarding the Rock, Paper, Shotgun preview of the Elder Scrolls Online. I figure that if one can post the same comments online at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I can post them to the blog with a link to the original article. Also, this is a blog that covers the gaming industry and I am a journalist (though admittedly not a full-time pro anymore). Still, I will limit myself to what I consider responding to the original article and the comments that followed.

Oh, and gain, please do read the original Rock, Paper, Shotgun hands-on piece. It is a fun bit of writing. Then read all of the comments, some of which touch on points also covered here.

For background, I also tried the beta for a few hours, so feel able to respond fairly to the hands-on experience of the author of the article.

On the positive side, the graphics at times make WoW look like Pong. The character creation options are also the most detailed I have ever seen in an RPG. I love them! I want them in other RPGs (to include Skyrim).

However, what I don’t like about MMOs became clear as I trudged through it: It is just another MMO. And, basically, I am not that fond of MMOs.

It could be a re-skinned WoW.

It has the same stuff I see in WoW with lots of low-lever players all running around the same quest-givers or quest stops. It has the same endlessly respawning wildlife to slaughter. While the quests are not as obviously “go get X number of Y”, they might as well be so. It was more effort to do a basic quest in Skyrim, which was not known for being a deep game.

I did one quest to spring a guy from a prison. I fought lots of the same enemies who respawned. There were always OTHER PEOPLE running both forward and back as they were doing the same quest. It was like a subway terminal of players and grunt-level enemies.

It didn’t feel like an adventure involving ME, it felt like, well, an MMO.

The enemies respawned in the same spots and it didn’t even try to create the illusion of “this is real”. Two NPCs repeated the same dialog back and forth every few seconds, regular as clockwork. It was as static as WoW.

And, the number of crates, boxes, chests, urns, and other containers was almost at RPG parody level. The opening dungeon seemed more like Molag Bal’s warehouse than a prison and torture chamber.

I never felt in danger (unless slaughterfish ate me when I tried to leave). I kept using the same starting-level bow. Enemies were shot once, or a few times, or occasionally a few more times. I could block attacks, but never bothered to do so. I just clicked the mouse and once in a while could use my first bow power-up.

However, the big problem is that they missed the key ingredient of an Elder Scrolls game experience: the sandbox. Once you leave the opening dungeon, you end up on this port island. It is fairly small. When I tried to leave it, I got eaten by slaughterfish.

It is likely some part of the main quest tells me how to get off this rock. However, I want to play the game like the other two Elder Scrolls games where I purposely blew off the main quest. I wanted the freedom to head off in any direction and just keep going.

I didn’t care what “The Prophet” wanted to tell me (just like I didn’t care what a freshly dead Emperor or the Jarl of Whiterun wanted me to do before). I was out of the opening dungeon and now ready to head off for parts unknown!

Even WoW, dated and as boring as I found it to be, allowed me to head out in a direction and just keep going right off the bat.

I also think the game is kind of rough for a having a release date so close. Enemies would die and clip into barrels, so I had a hilarious barrel with two legs sticking out of it. I had containers that wouldn’t open when it looked like they should do so. I never could figure out how to get the fishing to work. I didn’t know if I was doing it wrong or if it just wasn’t working right.

As much as I like the two Elder Scrolls games I had played, this ended up not engaging me.

But then, I am radically opposed to the notion of buying a game and then making monthly installment payments to keep playing it. I can’t wrap my head around the notion of $180 a year to be able to keep playing a game I supposedly ‘bought’.

I give it six months before it goes free-to-play.

I will look forward to the mod in development of a modern graphics Morrowind rebuild. I admit I didn’t get past the dated graphics when I tried to play it after getting it at a Steam sale. Long-time fans of the series think it is the best game and I do need to give it a play-through someday. I just want it to look pretty when I do so.

Anyhow, it is disappointing. Maybe they will get scathing beta feedback and pull it back for an overhaul. However, with pre-orders already underway, that isn’t likely.

However, I don’t want to come off as too hard on Bethesda itself. If this game fails to sustain itself, i think the problem is as much the model as anything else.

I think it safe to say that just about any modern subscription-based MMO is going to fail. The only one I can think of that has maybe bucked the trend is Eve Online (EO), which is also cheaper (a year for $99 on special).

Even WoW is heading to a subscription level roughly half of its peak. It rides on momentum. Some people have years of their life and thousands in cash invested in the game. That makes it hard to walk away.

What is a mystery to me is why game companies keep trying to roll the dice on subscription-based MMOs. None of them (other than EO) have pulled it off in recent memory.

At this time, I don’t believe even Blizzard will be able to recreate the success of WoW with any other successor. The model is dead for new subscription-based MMOs (that are not already WoW).

So, while Bethesda may have muffed it – it wouldn’t matter if it had been someone else. Nobody else has pulled it off either. Not Bioware. Not Garriott. Nobody. Not with Star Wars. Not with Tolkien. Not with Conan. Not with any IP. Not with any genre.

Well, again, except for maybe Eve Online and space-faring science fiction. It looks to be holding its own with about a half-million subscribers and growing. It has a niche market sewn up, so anyone who isn’t into WoW Tolkien-Lite fantasy can go sci-fi. I am willing to bet that there is minuscule overlap between the two game’s subscribers.

The real question is when are studios/publishers/investors/industry/whatever going to learn THIS MARKET MODEL IS DEAD already!

So, for me (and likely lots of others) the plan is to wait for the inevitable free-to-play version. In the end, I like the Elder Scrolls universe and might enjoy game if it ain’t costing me $14.99 a month. I might even consider buying it ONCE if I can still play it long-term (like the  Guild Wars series).

Once more, go read the original article to see what I am commenting on.

Cleaning up a smoker’s computer will gross you out!

February 2, 2014

Computer are my hobby and I am always building, upgrading, or repairing one.

I am trying to salvage parts from a machine owned by a couple of smokers (family members). It is GROSS!

Everything inside the case is coated with sticky gunk that resists canned air. I had to clean a lot of out with piles of Q-Tips. The liquid cooler radiator was so caked it took a tooth brush and solvent. The 120MM Corsair liquid cooler fan was so nasty I just ordered another one. It was worth the little over $20 to avoid having to handle it, especially since the fan may have been damaged along the way! The nice Corsair 650 watt power supply was partially disassembled by me (removed the fan cover) to I could dig all of the nastiness out with a fistful of Q-Tips and half a can of canned air.

All of the internal case fans are packed with crud and I am not bothering to bother trying to clean them. I decided to just give away the windowed Aspire case rather than scrub it out. 

So, if one is a nicotine fiend, please don’t smoke in front of your computer. Go kill your lungs in another room and avoid damaging your hardware with tarry residue that will eventually ruin your rig. Given time, it will clog everything that handles heat exchange off the hardware.

Now, I like a good cigar now and then. However, seeing what the inside of a computer looks like when smokers sit in front of it – I can’t imagine anyone inhaling cigarette smoke. One can’t take a toothbrush and solvent to one’s lungs…

Oh, and even if you don’t smoke, desktop computers build up dust inside. They act like air filters, pulling dusty air in that then passes over electrostatic charged surfaces. I have opened them up where they looked like the inside of a dryer lint trap or a used vacuum cleaner bag.

Just take the desktop outside, take the side off (two screws, typically) and blow it out with canned air. If it is a flat desktop, then the top panel is the one you remove. The only caution is to put a finger on fans when you blow them out to avoid them spinning overly fast.