2014-07-28

Alienware sucks worse than MSI

Last year, my Alienware laptop died after 18 months of service due to a power-related failure. I replaced it with an MSI because I could order it quickly, but it came with problems. To summarize my main issues with the MSI - it only boots successfully about 50% of the time, and otherwise freezes while booting, so it's often challenging to get it started. To avoid this, I have to keep it running most of the time. In addition, the keyboard misses keystrokes, and has an exceptionally awkward layout. Among other things, pressing Home and End requires a combination with the Fn key. Overall, not great for work.

Because I really liked my previous Alienware, and my wife likes hers, I decided to buy a new machine sooner than I otherwise would have. I opted for another Alienware. Oh boy. That was a mistake.

Ladies and gentlemen, what I have in my hotel room, resting in a suitcase next to me, is a $3,720 paperweight. I'm still typing this on my MSI laptop, because the Alienware shipped defective out of the box. It does not run on battery power. The motherboard fails to recognize the battery. It does run on AC power - but that's not what a laptop is for.

Adding insult and increasing injury, Alienware's service has been inept. I called Dell as soon as I unpacked this glorified brick and discovered the problem. It took me an hour just to get the right person on the phone. About 4-5 people forwarded my call from one department to another, incurring a 10-15 minute wait each time, each one saying I got the wrong department. When I finally got through to Alienware Tech Support, it took another hour to work with them and go through the diagnostic steps. The problem was confirmed, the fault must be in either the motherboard or battery. This was last Monday; they scheduled to ship both parts to a Dell technician in the area, who ought to call on Wednesday or Thursday. Because I don't have a US phone number and I'm staying in a hotel, I provided Dell with contact information for the people who helped me order the laptop in the first place.

About an hour after the support call, I figure I can set up a Skype number so the technician can call me directly, and come to my hotel room. I send updated contact information to Dell. Oh, boy. What could be worse. Their process now requires them to cancel the initial service order, and place a new service order. This will now cause a delay of 1 - 2 days, even though I sent new contact info just an hour after the call.

On Tuesday, I get a call from Dell, and they're confused about who to call and where to send the technician to. I don't care, whichever address works for me, I'll bring the laptop where it's needed. Just get this done. OK, they decide, the technician will go to the original contact address.

Comes Thursday, I receive an email from them saying they've canceled the original order after all, and have to place a new order using the new contact information. Then a few hours later, they call to say it turns out that Alienware batteries are completely out of stock. They agree that there's a 50/50 chance the problem is with the motherboard, so I ask that they send just the motherboard, so we can try replacing that. They say OK, and confirm that their technician will now call early the following week. I'm leaving the US later that same week, so this is cutting it short now.

Next Monday arrives, and there's no call yet, so I send them an email asking about what's up. They reply they've now realized the motherboards are out of stock as well. They can do nothing to help, but they are very sorry. I should initiate an ownership transfer procedure so as to get warranty in Costa Rica. Then I should beg for help when I get there.

So what I'm left with right now is a $3,720 Alienware Paperweight™ which won't work on battery power. I can't return it, because that's a process that takes 2 weeks to complete, and I need to be home by then. It can't be fixed, because the parts are out. All I can do is beg and hope that their international division will be able and willing to take care of this problem at some point after I return to Costa Rica. Which I'm pretty sure they're only promising because that's how they can get rid of me, and they actually won't.

2014-07-17

On the relative value of money

Money makes problems go away. That's nice. But when the problems in your life are gone, the remainder is not happiness. It's vacuum.

If life were a game, then getting rid of the problems is like skipping to the end, past all the obstacles. You have the entire map uncovered. You can travel any place, buy anything you want that in-game vendors are selling. You can complete all the little achievements - find all ten of this, kill all six of that. And it's easy; you have all the upgrades you want, and you can kill everything in one shot.

But it feels hollow, and shallow, and it's nothing like playing the story for the first time - with appropriate difficulty, where fights are a challenge, and you have to keep trying to win, and winning feels rewarding, and you're at the center of a story with dramatic turns, and you don't have the means to know everything yet. You can deprive yourself of the advantage - unequip your gear, try to kill everything with a knife in close combat - but you know such restrictions are arbitrary, and just as lacking in meaning as any other way. But you'll do that - because what else is there to do - and then that will be done, too.

Having all the money you want is like having your life in front of you, and it's already game over. You've already won, and that's in the past - perhaps it happened before you were even born. Nothing you do from here on really matters, and after you've explored the trivialities of the world, the only mysteries that remain are the hard ones, the unyielding stone walls imposed by nature; the borders of our known world, which no single man can realistically overcome, regardless of what wealth they have. What you can realistically hope to do is help chip away at eternity - contribute what little you can in the gargantuan task of expanding our world a bit more.

If you're in that spot, and have passion and love in your life, it makes all the difference. Money makes a good life better; but arguably, it is more worthwhile to have passion and love, and be poor, than lack that, and have all the money in the world.

2014-07-16

/r/polyamory and me

I have a love/hate relationship with /r/polyamory. On the one hand, it's the one place to discuss my favorite topic - on loving people without owning them. On the other hand, it's disproportionately populated with participants who somehow manage to push my buttons. While many are great conversational partners, others reek of unfounded superiority of the liberal arts type, combined with a firmly held belief that they can write, even though they couldn't read to save their lives. I think of them as neckbeards and beardettes, which seems to about fit the profile, if I can believe photos and reports of their meetups. In addition, the place is overseen by this perfidious type of moderator who consistently fail to police subtle insults, but are quick with the banhammer against someone who explicitly counterattacks.

As a result of this setup, participating in that subreddit makes my blood slowly boil. For months at a time, I'll try to remain calm against people whose obstinate failures to comprehend range from overconfident ignorance to outright malice. But in a while, the sublimated anger accumulates, and a day arrives when I'll have had enough, along with a person who presses my buttons a little bit too much. I'll give them one chance after another, but they'll keep stabbing me in the back, until I can no longer keep my cool; and then, Mr. Sensible turns into The Incredible Hulk. I'll tell them exactly what I think of them, and I will tell them really well - at which point they'll alert the "police", and...


What surprises me is - after the initial shock, this comes to me as a relief. I both didn't, and did want this to happen. I could have avoided it, but I kept it up because I've been seeking it all along. It's a necessary break from trying to talk sense to pretentious, unempathetic, "socially concerned" (but really quite egotistic), "tolerant" (but really not) artsy liberal arseholes.

2014-07-02

It's just a hunch...

A funny little thing happened. A few days ago, I woke up after dreaming about a problem in our SSH Client. The dream called my attention to an issue I had never really thought about, or considered a problem. In currently released versions, when the client is run for the first time by the installer, it starts elevated - it runs with full administrative permissions of the installer, which means it runs in a slightly different security context than every next time it is run. I dreamt that this is causing problems, but after I woke up and thought about it, I couldn't quite put my finger on what these problems are. I wasn't even sure that it runs elevated in the first place. So at first, I didn't want to make a big deal about it. It seemed like a theoretical issue more than one with immediate impact, and we have other issues to deal with.

Still - later that day, before I went to bed, I remembered the dream again, and gave it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I couldn't think of how it causes problems, but the behavior is incorrect. I opened a case about it, and Andrej fixed it soon after that. The fix isn't yet available in a released version, but it will be.

A few days later, we receive a follow up from a customer who had reported strange behavior with the SSH Client. He previously found that some of his network drives aren't visible from the SSH client, but now he found that the problem occurs when he uses the client after installation. The drives become visible if he closes the client and opens it from the shortcut again. I get a hunch, and ask the customer to try running the client from the shortcut, as Administrator, using elevation, and see if that reproduces the problem. Sure enough, it does.

So I dreamt about a problem that I didn't understand, and we fixed it a few days before recognizing an example of its impact. Cool. :)

2014-07-01

Adderall vs. street meth

Fascinating article on US drug culture hypocrisy with regard to speed in the form of Adderall, vs. speed in the form of street meth:
The Speed of Hypocrisy: How America Got Hooked on Legal Meth

Most people understand that heroin and Oxycontin are both hard, addictive drugs. Not so with speed. When it comes to amphetamine, we’ve chosen a national split-screen in which doctors airily put millions of healthy children and adults on daily speed regimens while SWAT teams throw concussion bombs in baby cribs in pursuit of small-fry meth dealers.
...
“By the time I had the seizure, I was taking 90 milligrams of Adderall a day,” she says. “I knew girls who were taking the same amount or more. I don’t know if any of us had so-called ADHD, but the effects [of the Adderall] started to look exactly like how ADHD symptoms are described. I was told I needed it, so I believed it, but it was really just addiction.”
...
No pimply meth dealer ever tried to tell me his product was a harmless stimulant. No Mexican cartel ever made huge buys in medical journals to corner the market on fifth-graders, or hired pop stars to push their product on young moms on national television.

2014-06-29

The incompatible trinity of relationship features


My theory of people is that most aren't naturally mono, or naturally poly, but naturally hypocritical.

While many mono people genuinely feel no desire for other partners, many - perhaps most - suppress this desire because they think this is expected of them, and also because they couldn't handle their partner having such a desire.

While many poly people genuinely feel no jealousy about the romantic and sexual actions of their partner(s), many - perhaps most - strive to overcome this jealousy because they recognize their own desire to be with other people, and wish to extend the same freedom to their partner(s).

2014-06-08

Breaking Bad is awesome after all

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen Breaking Bad up to and including Episode 1 of Season 3, stop reading here.

Okay, so in October I wrote a fairly scathing criticism of Breaking Bad. It was when Jana and I got stuck, and just couldn't keep watching when it looked like Mr. White was going to have another completely unnecessary episode of madness, and burn all that money he had made.

Several months later, we finally mustered the willpower to keep watching, and we were blown away. Season 3 definitely exceeded our expectations. We are now at Season 4 and loving it. The main characters, White and Pinkman, remain hateable - but the script is much more fun than we expected it would be.

That is all. :)

2014-06-03

Suggested WoW ability: Living Nightmare / Dying Nightmare

I suggest for either of the following player abilities to be added to WoW. The reasoning is that this would be awesome and cool. Either of these would fit the kit of a Warlock, a Shadow Priest, or a Death Knight:
  • Living Nightmare. This would be a non-spammable CC ability with a medium-to-long cooldown.
  • Dying Nightmare. This would be either a passive ability that activates randomly when dealing a killing blow to a player; or an active ability with a cooldown, giving the targeted player a debuff, and activating if the player dies with the debuff. Dying Nightmare would be an "enhanced death" experience, rather than a CC.
On activation, either ability would leave the targeted player's body behind, and would teleport their spirit into one of the following locations:
  • A rocky cliff with a narrow tightrope to another cliff, where there is a portal. If the player makes it across the tightrope without falling, and enters the portal, the player is ported back to their body without delay - either ending the CC, or causing them to die. There is a side wind making it difficult to walk the tightrope successfully. If the player falls off, or doesn't attempt to walk the tightrope, the player is returned to their body when a timer expires.
  • A room with three walls. One of the walls is missing, instead of it there is a black abyss. The player starts on one side of the room, with a strong wind moving them towards the abyss. The player must use a speed boost to successfully cross the room and get to the exit portal on the opposite side before they are blown into the abyss. If the player fails, their spirit falls into the abyss, and is returned to their body when a timer expires.
  • A garbage compactor room with walls closing in on the player. On the floor, in front of the player, there's a knife. The player can click the knife and end the nightmare, but doing this deals damage to their body on return; the more damage the faster the player chooses to return. If the player doesn't click the knife, the walls continue closing in. When the room crushes the player, a scream is heard, and the player is returned to their body.
The challenge is to implement this without requiring a loading screen. Doing that would probably require a fair bit of infrastructural support. But it would be awesome!

2014-05-17

Strong love is not codependency

In various places on the internet, people like to give relationship advice. One type of advice people like to give is about what kind of love they think is healthy.

Sometimes, a person seeking help with their relationship might describe their feelings about their significant other as follows:
  • "I couldn't live without my SO."
  • "I can't imagine life without my SO."
When a person writes that, someone will inevitably respond:

"It's wrong to say you can't live without someone. Saying that is giving them power over your life no one should have. This is unhealthy codependency."

No. It isn't.

First of all, what the person is saying isn't: "I am 100% for sure going to kill myself if this relationship fails." What they're saying is: "This relationship is very valuable to me, and losing it would be very painful. Ending this relationship is not an option I will consider at this point." Phrasing this as "I can't live without my SO" is merely saying it dramatically, and succinctly.

Second, merely having strong feelings about someone isn't codependency.

Codependency is an unhealthy type of relationship where one person has a pathological condition which they have no intention of overcoming - usually narcissism or drug use - and the other person lets themselves be psychologically or physically abused, because to them, this is preferable to ending the relationship. For something to be called a codependency, there has to be a relationship, and there has to be an unhealthy, abusive dynamic.

Strong love may enable codependency to happen, to the extent it may weaken one's will. But merely feeling strong love isn't codependency. A person may feel very strong love, without letting themselves be abused by their loved one. A relationship where one or both partners feel they "can't live" without the other might not involve any pathology, or any abusive dynamic at all. If there is abusive tendency, a person can stand up for themselves, and resist a codependency, and thereby cause the relationship to end, even if this causes them to suffer greatly, and even if they could not imagine life without their partner.

For some people, life without their significant other actually isn't worth living. A couple might live together happily for 50 years; then one dies, and within a year, the other dies too, because they don't have the will to continue. This isn't codependency. It's wrong and presumptuous to imply that what this couple feels for each other is somehow unhealthy, or incorrect.

2014-05-13

The perceived threats of non-monogamy to children

A significant number of people think that parents being polyamorous, or swingers, or in an open relationship, is somehow harmful to children. When parents are divorced, this is often used to keep children away from a parent involved in completely ethical non-monogamy. In a recent /r/polyamory post, someone asked what grounds people have to maintain this prejudice.

This is the kind of question for which it's difficult to find a rational answer. One must resort to asking people who actually have these opinions, and figure out their thought process based on their evasions and non-replies.

To many of us practicing some of these lifestyles, it's obvious there's no danger at all. But try to explain that to people whose range of opinions might include that homosexuality is an abomination, and that gay people should not adopt children - presumably because they'll raise them to be homosexual, or tolerant of homosexuality, which they basically consider just as bad.

If you ask them why they believe this sort of thing, they won't be able to tell you. These aren't people who form opinions based on arguments, they form them based on the first emotion that comes to mind. This emotion might be a feeling of disgust, or jealousy, or some other kind of generalized wrongness.

Last time I had an argument with a person like that, they pretty much equated feelings of disgust and jealousy with conscience. By that, this person explicitly meant that if one overcomes jealousy in a poly setup, or does not feel disgust for a homosexual act, then one either (1) does not have a conscience, or (2) is repressing their conscience, and the only thing that's left of a person on this track is sociopathy.

What we have here is a majority of people who lack introspection in any meaningful sense; who don't differentiate between disgust, jealousy, and conscience; who think that any instinctual negative feelings are God-given and right, and trying to overcome them is immoral.

The way these people see it, it's immoral to expose kids to social structures where they might receive insight that would encourage tolerance, and hinder instinctual negativity. They want the child to be like them, which is to experience the same destructive emotions which they think constitute "conscience".

2014-05-09

The three kinds of sexual risk tradeoffs

In my 10+ year experience discussing this issue, I find there are roughly three kinds of people, according to their chosen sexual risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff:
  • The reckless. These are a small minority who don't care about consequence, at all. They might engage in behaviors such as unprotected receptive anal sex from strangers. These behaviors spread serious diseases, such as HIV, and make all other STIs more frequent.
  • The practical. A significant proportion of the population chooses what they consider a reasonable risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff. They don't expect to go all their lives without a cold sore, but they still care about their health. People in this group will avoid risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex with strangers; but they are willing to let down their guard if they have reasonable evidence that their sexual partner is safe, such as recent negative STD test results.
  • The anxious. A substantial proportion of the population is extremely concerned about any kind of sexually transmitted infection at all. In the minds of people in this group, getting herpes is nearly as bad as HIV, and they will go to the same lengths to avoid it. While it would make sense for people in this group to be monogamous, a fair proportion of polyamorous people are of this type. A person in this group might be unwilling to forgo condoms not only until they have reasonable evidence that their partner is safe, but until they have positive proof that this is so. A non-monogamous person in this group might be concerned about the sexual behavior of their partners to the point of intrusiveness. They might be extremely uncomfortable if their partner doesn't use condoms with someone else, even if they always use condoms with them.
As you might expect, I find myself smack in the middle of the "practical" group. Here's a response I wrote today to one of the "anxious".
It sounds like you are an extremely risk-averse person, which you have the right to be. Many people on here are like that. However, it does sound like this makes you incompatible with people who are more practical in terms of how far they think it's worth going for safety, and what risks they will tolerate in exchange for what reward.

As one of those people, I would personally find it frustrating to have an intimate relationship with you. You have the right to be concerned about all the things you are concerned about, but if this concern was directed at me, I would find it more than a little burdensome.

Based on my conversations with people who shared your concerns, I don't think it's easy to change someone like you to be like me, nor is it easy to do the opposite. To be true to your values, a person like you needs to limit their exposure primarily only to other people who you believe are like you.

If your goal in life is to make it to the finish line without acquiring a cold sore, then you will need to severely restrict your potential intimate hookups, and all your partners need to do that, too. You must sacrifice many promising opportunities, and exclude a lot of people you might like, in exchange for avoiding that cold sore.

For those of us who think the value of life is in the experiences one has, and the relationships one forms, and not so much in the nuisances one avoids, your sterile approach does not make so much sense. This does mean that you can't be intimate with us without violating your values; but I would like you to respect that this only means we're incompatible, not irresponsible. We are responsible within our value system, in which it makes sense to pursue a different risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff.