I’ve been very lucky in iSRO this week

These are just a few of the prizes I got in the White Day event.

I barely played at all, to tell the truth, and I still ended up getting some fabulous prizes. The last one is from SRO-R. Of course, I’m happy about it since I’m the one who benefits, but it’s quite obvious that the ease with which these items can be acquired will be ruinous for the game economy. It really ought to take a lifetime of grinding and alchemy, not to mention massive amounts of real currency, to be able to obtain these Seal of Nova and “Rare” items. Yet a person like me, who had barely played in the last year, was able to get those items using a brand new character that I hadn’t even been botting very much with. Case in point: I bought a level 101 “Rare” earring from a guy for 150k gold. That’s how flooded the market is with Seal of Nova and “rare” items; people will sell them for less than the price of a single star level 35-50 Dimension Hole.

Ruined though the economy may be, it was to my great advantage, especially since my character is a newly created one. I once again am reminded of my theory that the bad luck I used to have in SRO was due to some sort of invisible “luck” factor built into the game, one that is assigned to each character upon creation and never changes. Not that I really believe there is a hidden “luck” statistic, but I did play legitimately without botting from level 1 to 80 during cap 80 and it is true that I never once got an SOS drop or even a +5 drop. Yet, in the space of several days of light botting (not even 24/7), my character got these:

As though that wasn’t enough good luck, the new equipment exchange system is worth mentioning. I haven’t seen too much written about this yet, which surprises me because it strikes me as one of the biggest game-ruining updates ever implemented, dwarfed in imprudence perhaps only by the elimination of the triangular trade system. The idea of the exchange system is that if you have, say, a level 56 sword and you need a level 56 blade you can go to the Magic Pop NPC in any city and exchange the sword for a blade or any other Chinese weapon of equal level with randomized stats. You pay a small fee in gold for the exchange. The key phrase here is randomized stats. This isn’t random in the same sense that the alchemy success rate is “randomized” to never, ever work when you most need it to. No, it’s “randomized” in a good way. Say your sword has shit stats, no blues, and is +0. You might get a +5 blade with full blues and superb stats in exchange. All it’ll cost you is a very modest fee in gold. Here are some items I got today with my new character by exchanging equipment with no bonuses on them at all:

I don’t know if the best part about all this is

    a) that you can buy an item from the NPC and “exchange” it for a superior item of equivalent level or
    a) that you can “exchange” an item into something else and then “exchange” the resultant item back into the original type of equipment

The latter requires a teensy bit of elaboration. Let’s say you use blades and have a level 52 blade with garbage stats. You have no money or patience for alchemy to fix the stats on the blade. As long as you have at least a little bit of gold you can exchange it for some other weapon and then exchange that weapon back into a blade. There is a good chance the resulting blade will have better stats than it did when you started the process. If it doesn’t, you can just keep repeating this exchange loop, as it were, until you get a blade with stats that you can be satisfied with.

The fee is not enough to discourage gaming the system like this. I can’t remember the exact fees, but for low degree stuff the fee was only four digits. For the 8th degree staff it was around 250k or thereabouts. It’s highly affordable and less of a gamble than you might imagine. I didn’t go through the loop more than three times on any of those items, if I recall correctly.

Once again, this change to the game gives some instant gratification and I’ll even admit I did momentarily feel like posting a global chat message proclaiming my overflowing love for Joymax when I realised how I could take advantage of it, but, just like the White Day event, it takes one of the meaningful challenges out of the game while leaving untouched the most injurious of the game’s many flaws which is the amount of time it takes to level up. Planning ahead was one of the things that made SRO great. You could never be certain that you’d be able to find equipment mid-degree. By this I mean that, while you could always be sure in the knowledge that, in a pinch, you could buy NPC equipment, you couldn’t buy equipment after the first item for each degree from NPCs. So if you were level 52, you needed to start thinking about buying your level 56 and 60 weapons because, though you could buy the level 52 weapon from the NPC, you had to buy the latter two from actual human players via a stall or direct exchange. The same was true for equipment. The stall network made it easier to find the second and third tier items for each degree but didn’t actually do anything to reduce the scarcity of them. The exchange system, on the other hand, actually reduces that scarcity and makes it easy to create out of thin air equipment that cannot be purchased from the NPCs. This reduces the importance of long term planning and will surely precipitate a sharp fall in the prices of most non-SoX equipment and perhaps even elixirs.

Having said that, I should really quit biting the hand that feeds me. I will exploit the exchange system to the fullest. It’s not a bug, so I can’t be banned for it. I just can’t help but wonder if Joymax realised when they implemented it how generous they were being.

The most incredible episode in my series of good luck, however, must be the following:

I’m telling the truth when I say that I only started playing again in mid-March. I went to the Forgotten World a total of three times since I started playing and, as is my wont, only went to the first treasure box. I got Spell Paper on my first run, Red Tears on the second, and Elder Staff on the third. I’m now in the peculiar situation of having the two most sought-after talismans but nonetheless being unable to finish the quest for lack of a Puppet, which is not all that rare of a talisman. Yet in the entire stall network there has not been a single puppet since this morning, when I got the Elder Staff. I suppose I’ll just try to get one myself since I’m only level 56 and have no need to finish the quest just yet. I can’t wait to one-hit mobs in DW stone cave with my SoSun staff!

I tried Silkroad-R today…

...and got this in the White Day event!

It was my first day playing SRO since last autumn and I didn’t even know what Silkroad-R was. Now I do. Since I’ve only played it for a few hours so far, I’m unable to conclusively say what I think of the new system yet. It’s weird getting stacks of 500 potions. I used to have to do gross estimates in my head every time I would restock on pots, trying to estimate how many inventory spots I would need to leave empty in anticipation of elixirs, alchemy materials, and, if I was lucky, equipment drops. Now I don’t have to do that. Pots take up 3 spots: one for HP potions, MP potions, and universal pills.

On the positive side, you get a free SOS equipment set every time you reach the next degree (eg. 8->16->24->32->42->52, etc…). This is nice, I suppose, especially for someone with bad luck at getting SOS drops. On the other hand, it takes all the luck out of the game. In normal SRO even killing thousands of Niya snipers has a tiny degree of suspense because you never know if a piece of equipment will drop. In the back of your mind you even maintain hope that maybe today will be the day you’ll get a SoX drop. Nearly all chance is taken out of the equation though without equipment or even gold drops in SRO-R prior to level 70.

But the reason I’m so excited is not because of SRO-R actually. In fact, I was going to play normal SRO today but I can’t get the client to update properly. Shortly after starting SRO-R I got these two White Day event items. On my very first try I got the above SOM garment chest piece. My first thought, of course, was that I had stumbled across some bug and that now I was going to be banned for “abusing” it. My second thought was something along the lines of, “Holy hell, this is one uncharacteristically magnanimous event if all the rewards are like this!” But no, apparently I’m just the luckiest noob on earth.

I’ve cashed in two sets of heart-shaped event items now. The first was a grand triumph. The second time I got a cookie that restores 25% HP and MP. The value differential between the first and second prizes is just staggering. So for all my complaining about there being no element of chance in SRO-R, it looks like it’s the events that are going to restore the premium on luck. That and presumably alchemy. I suppose that’s still all about luck, too.

I hope I can get a GDF. Those are worth barrels of money now.

I’ve dumped Comodo

Haha, I just love this kid.

Comodo firewall is great if you like to micromanage every single process on your computer. Nothing slips past Comodo, seemingly even if you set the firewall to “disabled”. On the one hand, it’s a bit idiot-proof to the extent that it’s hard to accidentally disable the whole program by some mistake. On the other hand, I’m rarely able to get it to do exactly what I want. For example, just to get a simple P2P program working required making 4 non-intuitive application rules (one for port 80 for tracker announces, one for TCP in/out, one for UDP in/out, one to deny everything else) and a global rule. I also had to make these 5 new rules top priority or else they didn’t take effect. There’s a section for managing programs on an application-by-application basis so you’d think I could just point the firewall to P2P_program.exe and tell it something along the lines of “trust everything P2P_program tries to do; it’s safe” but that doesn’t work. Even the “allow all” setting doesn’t really allow all. You have to dig deep in the forums to figure out how to allow a single program access through the firewall on a single port or port range, as though this were some sort of uncommon task that only superusers need to know how to do. It’s not though. Whenever you install a program that needs relatively unfettered access to your Internet connection you need to let it through your firewall but there’s so much prerequisite knowledge needed to be able to do that in Comodo firewall that it can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. I should be able to choose a program, specify some ports and a direction (ie. IN/OUT) and be done with it. I shouldn’t have to mess with global rules, stealth port settings, and application-specific rules or be familiar with some arcane settings buried in an obscure “advanced” menu.

Comodo is not a bad firewall. Of course, I know nothing really about computer security, so even if it were a bad firewall I wouldn’t be qualified to judge. What I can say though is that Comodo makes it so difficult to actually allow a program to run normally that I may as well unplug my Ethernet cable for 100% security. The program is so secure that it makes it a real challenge to weaken it even slightly. A more user friendly approach is what I’m looking for, even if it may put me in a less secure environment than Comodo. I’d rather be put in a bit of danger by human error resulting from my own foolishness than do things safely but painstakingly with Comodo.

My other problem with Comodo though is cfp.exe, which unexpectedly jumps to 25% CPU utilization occasionally. I’ve read that this can be caused by conflict with another firewall or AV program but I don’t have another firewall and I’ve tried uninstalling my AV program Avast, with attention to meticulous detail including using CCleaner and the official Avast manual removal tool. I’ve also specified the entire “COMODO” directory to be excluded when Avast does virus scans. In the Defense+ settings of Comodo I’ve likewise specified all the Avast folders to be excluded. Neither of those ideas helped. The high CPU usage is not a reproducible reaction. It’s totally unpredictable and has no upside, which is what makes it so aggravating, unlike the strictness of the rules system which at least has the benefit of preventing me from doing something stupid. Sometimes I’ll simply be browsing the web without any P2P program open at all and cfp.exe will cripple my computer, sometimes for just a few minutes, sometimes for as much as a half an hour.

I didn’t want to use a commercial firewall as a replacement. I did a google search for “lightweight firewall” and came across PrivateFirewall. I’ve only been using it for about 30 minutes now but I already know how to make global rules, new application rules, how to trust an application completely, and how to make application rules that allow a program through the firewall only under certain conditions such as only via specific ports or only in one direction or the other. These are all things that were not satisfactorily covered in the Comodo help menus which meant I had to read countless threads on the Comodo forums before I could figure out how to do them and even then, my rules did not always work properly because I had missed some other minor setting that would render them ineffective.

I also like the PrivateFirewall taskbar icon of a friendly police officer.

Oh good, Chiaki Omigawa is in a show this season

Skies of Arcadia ranks as one of my favourite games for Dreamcast. I will watch anything with airships and pirates.

That means I will be watching Mouretsu Space Pirates. This is a good way to force me to watch the show, since it’s not as though I enjoy piracy or miniskirts for their own sake or anything like that.

I should really be ashamed at what I waste my time watching and why

I took this screenshot because I thought it would be useful for the next time I needed a good picture for one of those "I came" images but then I felt guilty using this show for that so I'm going to trail off now...

I’m such a hypocrite. I pretend like I’m some connoisseur of TV but I just watch whichever show has cute character designs, a catchy gimmick, or voice actors with whom I’m enamoured. Chihayafuru is appealing for most of the same reasons that watching Pokemon is and episode 09 really made clear to me why. The viewer is the protagonist, Chihaya, and looks forward to every episode/day in which opportunity is provided for her to overcome one of life’s obstacles, recruit a member for her club, increase her experience points, or get a kansetsu kiss from Miyano Mamoru. Episode 09 was the quintessential training camp episode in which the clubmembers go to the house of one of its members to practise. The protagonist’s variegated array of teammates, from the nerdy Tsukue-kun to the normal girl Kanade to the allstar bishounen Taichi, are all the viewer’s friends and it’s my relationship with them, not some fictional protagonist’s, that are slowly improving and bestowing significance upon my tender developmental years. It’s my aching otomegokoro, not hers. This isn’t healthy but it’s why we watch TV. It’s just more apparent in josei and kids shows than elsewhere that this is our motivation for watching. I nearly let myself watch Nana as a result of a similar need for vicarious emotional discharge but mustered up sufficient shame to avoid that pitfall just in the nick of time.

Neither the director nor the writer draw your attention to it quite as blatantly when it comes to gaining experience points in the real world. I did laundry today but I don’t feel like my competence level as a human has increased all that much for it, nor do I feel the sense of satiety or completeness that gets underscored at the resolution phase of each story in shows like Pokemon and Chihayafuru. Problems arise, tension builds across an episode or several but, eventually — and most importantly before the viewer falls into despair from beginning to perceive the show as a “downer” and risk dismissing it on those grounds — the problem gets resolved and we all feel that we’ve overcome one of the hurdles of childhood and we’re one step closer to fulfillment, maturity, and satisfaction. In TV World everything happens for a useful reason; each time we resolve a problem we get noticeably better at life. Our skillset gets filled out, our minds expanded, or our hearts opened to something new. It’s an enjoyable experience because TV concentrates this development into a few short minutes at the end of an episode instead of allowing it to take the more diffuse, less noticeable form it manifests itself in in daily life, a form nowhere near dense enough to function as the emotional payload of a TV episode.

But just like caffeine, prolonged use means I’m needing this in ever larger doses. Real life wasn’t cutting it from the beginning, but now even TV isn’t saccharine enough for me. Chihayafuru and Tamayura Hitotose are but I don’t know what I’m going to do next season. I’ve been watching a lot of Sekai Meisaku Gekijou lately because they exclusively adapt stories that fulfill the above formula. It’s not enough though and on a practical level, I can’t buy from Yahoo! Auctions and not all of the seasons are available on Share. Ghibli is good for honeyed fairy tales, but I’ve used those films up.

Industry, do you hear me? Forget robots, explosions, and sport shows; spin more syrupy accounts of growing pains that I may watch from under a snuggly warm blanket with my wet sleeves and carton of melancholy flavoured ice cream.

I’m happy that exams are over (but I quit anime again)

I'm a winner.

I quit anime again. Initially this was because I figured I’d be playing Skyrim right now but I’ve been embraced by one of my periodic waves of morality and decided that I will buy it instead. In keeping with that decision, however, I’ll now be waiting a year or so until the price decreases.

If I’m not watching anime or playing Skyrim though I have no real reason to keep writing anything. I never have anything interesting to say anyhow. I’m to media consumers as Takeru Kobayashi is to diners. I’m the least discerning viewer out there.

Calling someone a Type B anime viewer can have a pejorative connotation. I once maintained the delusion that I could claim to be a Type A viewer because I count series and films like Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, NHK ni Youkoso! and Satoshi Kon movies among my all-time favourites. But I can no longer delude myself about being a Type A viewer when I’ve also seen Okusama wa Joshikousei. I’m not a connoisseur, I’m a garbage disposal.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Hoarders on television. This is a reality TV show in which camera crews and TV therapists exploit people who suffer from chronic disorganization and clutter in their homes. Some of these people are really hopeless nutcases who pose a danger to themselves and their neighbours, but others are just normal people who have too much junk in their homes. Part of the definition of a “hoarder” that the show employs is that, regardless of the type of item that the patient accumulates, it must be relatively worthless. Occasionally they profile people who do collect valuable items. They’re not hoarders; they’re collectors. I see an analogy between the behaviours of these people and my own omnivorous appetite for pandering, derivative, clichéd shows that rely on preexisting, done to death tropes rather than taking a leap and telling an interesting story.

If it weren’t for FTTH and my lack of ethics, I’d be the ideal consumer. I can easily imagine myself buying any Blu-ray with an attractive cover design, any video game with voice actors I like, and anything associated with a studio that produced a single franchise that I may have once enjoyed, regardless of how abhorrent their subsequent work may have been. I have no taste whatsoever. The only reason I can associate somewhat competently with people when they talk about anime masterpieces is because I watch everything. The principle of averages means that it’s inevitable that I eventually watch some gems with the kind of methodology I employ.

Having said that, I’ve stalled on one of the only two shows I’m keeping up with this season: Idolmaster. To my credit, I’m still watching the type A show, Mawaru Penguin Drum. The opening of this most recent episode reminded me of that famous painting which, proving to myself that I’m not a complete buffoon, I knew was by Seurat, though I had to look up the name,

This show is great, but I sometimes find that, rather than strain my head to try and construct some understanding of the overall plot, I just say to myself, “Fuck it. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt that it’s profound”. The more abstract an episode is and the harder the narrative thread is to discern, the more likely I am to be impressed yet the less likely I am to understand why.

Figuring out exactly what I am supposed to be most impressed by is too much effort so I sometimes skip the drawn-out post-viewing contemplation session and jump ahead to the part where I just give the show credit for saying something incisive, deconstructing some taken-for-granted assumption about the social world, or challenging my preconceived notions about some social construct, even without knowing which cornerstone of my worldview has just been shattered. It could be all of them for all it matters. Something is certainly being chipped away at. It just remains to be seen exactly what.

As for my vengeance driven experiment, I’ll go ahead and try to resume that next week. I couldn’t very well count how many people were using electronic devices while taking exams. Incidentally, I don’t know whether I should do a facepalm or be impressed at the security-by-obscurity tactic to prevent forgeries used by the City University of New York on their official department stamps:

One more thing: child broiler? What is that? a German fairy tale?

Tee-hee: I bought a Sega Saturn (I told you I quit anime!)

But I am disappoint. I bought it in “as-is” condition on eBay. Here’s the “before” picture from the auction page:

It was homely, to say the least. But here’s what it looks like now that I’ve had a chance at it:

Obviously, I wouldn’t have purchased the system if I was sensitive to aesthetic issues like the appearance of the console, but I was, nonetheless, curious as to what proportion of the imperfections visible in the “before” picture were just dirt that could be cleaned away and which were actual scratches. I was happy to find out that there are really only two actual scratches of any significance; everything else was just dirt, stains and even what looked like bits of paint, all of which were easily removable with typical household cleaning products, lots of isopropyl alcohol, and considerable elbow grease.

I have mixed feelings about buying badly worn-out consoles or other electronics. On the one hand there’s no feeling quite like taking something that’s been well-used or even downright poorly taken care of and making it look like new, or at least as pretty as possible. It’s an extremely satisfying feeling. On the other hand it’s very hard work cleaning these things and I sometimes wonder if I would be happier to just buy items that are already in decent cosmetic shape, saving myself the work.

Cleaning up used controllers is especially hard work. As for the Saturn above, I used cotton swabs and toothpicks dipped in alcohol to clean out the indented areas, such as the letters on the “Reset”, “Power”, and “Open” buttons. The rest of the cleaning work could be done with paper towels and cotton balls, since there are relatively few fine spaces. I did clean the inside as well though and for that I had to use cotton swabs, since I didn’t want to damage anything. Cleaning the inside might have been overkill though. Although it really was pretty sticky underneath the disc drive cover, almost as though someone had spilled juice in there or something. The point though is that there aren’t too many narrow areas or grooves where you need a tool with a thin point to clean. Controllers, however, have all sorts of little tiny areas that need to be cleaned with toothpicks or straightened-out paperclips dipped in alcohol. Even with tools like that, however, it’s tough to make sure you’re actually removing the dirt, crud, and gunk from the grooves rather than merely pushing it around and causing it to accumulate into lumps at the end of the groove. Also, certain indented letters are easier to clean than others. The letter “O” is very easy to clean since it has no corners. A letter like “E”, however, is very difficult to clean since dirt gets stuck at the many corners and ends. Cleaning controllers is satisfying work, of course, but it’s even harder than cleaning a console or other large electronic device.

The ease with which the console could be cleaned made me happy. Furthermore, the reason I am disappoint is not that the system doesn’t work; it does, in fact, appear to be fine, despite the typical veiled meaning of the phrase “as-is”. I’m disappointed because I bought the thing without any accessories at all: no controller, games, or cables of any sort. I knew I could use more or less any power cord that I had lying about, but, to my chagrin, when it arrived I saw that the video cable required needed some kind of special connector which was not common to any other game console I had. I had to bite the bullet and purchase an S-video Saturn cable online for 13 USD. I had hoped a Dreamcast or Playstation RCA cable would have worked, but I was wrong. I suppose I should have done my research on that beforehand.

So that meant that I had to wait about a week before I could really ascertain if the console worked. I did turn it on, of course, but I had no controller or video cable so even though the green light turned on I couldn’t be sure that it was actually outputting video, let alone whether it could read game discs.

Silly me; I just had to go and get the standard North American controller

I intentionally chose not to buy a controller until after the console arrived. I wanted to make sure the console powered on before spending money on a controller. Once I knew that it did, at least, power on, I bought a controller before knowing whether it output video or played games. The controller arrived yesterday and the video cable arrived today. I’ve had the console for a bit over a week now.

I attached the video cable today and was so happy that it worked, that I immediately snapped a “victory” photograph of the thing outputting video. “This is it”, I thought, “this is the sign that it’s safe to drop the 30-something USD on a modchip that I want”.

My heart was racing as I grabbed the controller. The thought flitted through my head that the fact that the Saturn was displaying the setup screen could be an indication that the save battery needed replacing, another cost I’d have to incur, but I was too excited to let that get me down. Slowly, with a sense of exaggerated solemnity, I pressed the A button to select “English”. I waited a moment, expecting something magical to happen. When nothing happened I thought that perhaps I had gotten confused, assuming that the A button had the “confirm” function, as it usually does on Nintendo games. I tried pressing Start, then X, Y, Z, B, C and A again. I tried the right and left shoulder buttons as well. I became frightened and tried combinations of various buttons simultaneously. I tried connecting the controller to the player 2 slot. I tried resetting the console, unplugging it from the power adapter, blowing on the controller connectors, and finally, I noticed the following devastating peculiarity in the controller connector:

It was missing a pin. A quick Google search told me that Saturn controllers have 9 pins. This one had 8. Well, perhaps this was a special-edition controller that only needed 8 pins. That line of self-delusion was plausible to my frenzied mind. But if that was the case, the fact that it wasn’t working must mean the Saturn itself was broken. So I made the cheaper assumption and concluded I bought a broken controller. Stupid me.

I had had grandiose plans for this console. I wanted to buy a mod chip for it and do the region switch modification. I was going to amass a collection of original copies of only the greatest franchise-starting Sega Saturn games; the ones that went on to become legendary, like Lunar, Langrisser, Tengai Makyou, Panzer Dragoon, NiGHTS, and Sakura Taisen.

I really shot myself in the foot because, after long deliberation, I had chosen to pass up the opportunity to buy a 3D controller from a seller in Japan for 13 USD in favour of the regular controller I bought for 11 USD from a U.S.-based seller. I made the decision because I wanted to save the 2 USD and get the item sooner. The USA seller was someone I had never purchased from before whereas the Japanese seller was somebody from whom I had made many purchase in the past and knew to be quite reputable. But it was because of my impatience and penurious ways that I bought from the U.S. seller and got ripped off. To add insult to injury, the controller from the U.S. seller didn’t even arrive very quickly because the seller was located in Washington and I’m in New York, something like 4000km away and Hurricane Irene delayed all mail considerably. I really should have purchased the 3D controller. It looks more comfortable anyway. It looks a lot like the Dreamcast controller which, in my opinion, is one of the most comfortable of all game controllers.

Now I’m going to have to wait for the next time the seller that I like on eBay offers a Saturn 3D controller for sale. I won’t miss it the next time he sells one. Zettai ni…