Monday, February 21, 2011

On a personal note

When I started this particular blog, I quietly swore to myself I wouldn’t be writing about boring, everyday things that happen in my life. That’s exactly what I used to do with Livejournal, write up all the dull shit happening, as if anyone actually gave a damn. The trouble with this was that for the most part, my days are pretty repetitive; I go to work, I come home, I bugger about with the hobby du jour, I go to bed, prior to getting up and rinsing and repeating. This is probably true of most people, but that doesn’t make me Samuel Pepys. This becomes so repetitive to write about that suddenly I’m updating once every six months, and that’s only to say that nothing new or exciting is happening.

So here, I decided I’d at least try to be a little different, and write about things that people not in my immediate family might have a passing interest in. So far, that seems to be working. I can’t claim my posts are interesting to read, that’s the readers call, but at least they’re not boring to write.

For once, though, it’s worth touching on personal events. Last week we had an interview with Homeland Security, and my green card was renewed. For the first since perhaps 2002, one of the major stress factors in my life has just... stopped. Gone away. I don’t have to deal with the interminable paperwork or shockingly high fees for filing said paperwork for at least ten years, and even that would just be a renewal. I have to admit, it’s left me flailing a little to suddenly not have that looming in the background.

I can’t say the approval came as any surprise, given I’m from one of the few countries left in the world that still likes the US. I’m pleased that once you got past the stock forms and demands for financial records of nonexistent things, once you actually get to the face to face level, the immigrations staff have been extremely pleasant. This was true in London, and it’s true in St Louis. Indeed, it’s hard to be concerned about the outcome of the interview when halfway in the interviewer starts pulling up pictures of her cats on her iPhone and showing them to us.

Really though, the whole thing’s had a sense of anticlimax for some time. There’d have been a time when I first moved here when I would actually dream regularly that I’d been deported back to England. I wouldn’t call them nightmares, as they were pretty dull as dreams go, but clearly my subconscious wasn’t thrilled at the prospect. For the last year or so, though, it’s just been another minor stress to add to the pile, a tediously slow exchange of correspondence we wished would just be done.

And now it is. It feels somehow sudden that it’s all over, but unless I want to start the naturalization process in a few months, I don’t actually have to deal with Homeland Security until 2021. Citizenship isn’t anything I’ll be rushing into, incidentally, until I can find out what the long term effects are on both sides of the water. I hear that Neil Gaiman has always, somewhat superstitiously, clung to his British Citizenship like a drowning man clinging to a wooden plank, and I would love to know why.

Nine years of bureaucracy ended in a single day. If nothing else, I thought it would be worth noting here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Soviet Russia, Internet reads YOU

Some (most) of the hits this blog gets seem to come from a particular source, an auto finance blog. I'll not give the url, as that might just invoke their fel spirit; at best, it'd be free advertising for them. Note I've never written about cars, or finance, in any way, shape or form. I don't think I've even used either word until this post. I have no interest in auto finance, I have no car, I have no intention of getting a car. Or a loan. Or a car loan. Or...

And yet, still, somehow, traffic comes from them, to me. With no visible sign of an actual link to my website, either. I note when I try to follow the link back, it goes through about 3 layers of Yahoo addresses before landing wherever it lands, which does nothing to raise my respect for that company.

 I'm not sure why they're latching on to me, but I suspect I'm one of thousands. I wish they'd bugger off, though. The hits on wordpress, I'd rather be authentic. It's not like I'm being paid for them, after all.

Perhaps I can entice them to sod off and ping my AC account.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A true story

I recently found out that my PC specs are adequate for running Team Fortress 2. I remembered that that looked like a lot of fun when I’d seen my brother playing it on the 360, so I duly ordered it through Steam. I found a bunch of server affiliated through a particular clan that I enjoyed, and got to playing.

And died. Over and over again.

Now some of that is probably because my PC just about meets the specs; it certainly doesn’t have the sort of Super Fandango Quad-blit video card that I see used on youtube, whose framerates make me insanely jealous. It stutters at times, and I suspect my characters heads would be exploded a lot less were it a little smoother.

But I persevere. I have a crack at it most nights, I get to the point where names of the other players are starting to sound familiar. They don’t say a lot, as they’re too busy firing rockets and flamethrowers at my asshole, but I attribute emotions to them, I start to judge their level of competence, and I slowly begin to get better at the game. I learn where the taunt key is, and use it liberally. I learn how the different roles play out, and basically how to lay down some smack occasionally between deaths.

And then, late one night, someone makes a comment about ‘Jesus, how many bots do you have on here?’ I pay it no mind at first, but obviously my subconscious nags away at it. I check and find you can bring up the scoreboard with the tab key, and sure enough, ‘BOT BOT BOT BOT BOT’. Out of the 20 players on the server at that point, 3 are actual people, the rest are being run by a computer.

Now, it’s a credit to TF2 that the bots are that good; that they can make complex tactical  decisions and contribute to a team’s game so well, that they can mimic human players reasonably, and they don’t get stuck running on the spot against a wall somewhere. They’re possibly some of the smartest AIs I’ve seen playing a game. But I get the feeling I might as well have just been playing offline half the time. I suspect the clan’s servers have more real people during reasonable hours; I tend to play well after midnight, and anything up to 4am.

It’s also slightly creepy to think that even if I weren’t online, there would be anything up to 24 bots, all battling it out, 24 hours a day, with no end in sight and nobody even watching. On multiple servers and maps. War has never looked so futile.

So, back to the drawing board. Time to look for more servers where real, breathing people actually play at OMG o’clock. On the plus side, playing against bots for so long has made me a better player. I suspect the bots have a fair better reaction time than most people; they don’t have to see something and lurch for a key combination or anything, they just do it. On the downside, I also suspect I’ll be back to getting killed to death pretty quickly; however good the bots are, they’re not as good as some of the hardcore players who drink, sleep and shit TF2, and eat punks like me for breakfast.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Written 1/29. Promptness is a virtue

I suspect I need a peer group. At least, some kind of Blog peer group. I still cringe at the word ‘blogosphere’, but this blog really is a wee bit isolated.

Trouble is, every other blog I’ve seen recently is selling something. At the very least, they’re selling themselves, desperate to get pagehits to their sites by any means necessary.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; given my flirtation with AC/Yahoo, I can’t really claim I haven’t done this without being an enormous hypocrite. The sad thing is, you see so many ‘successful’ sites that get thousands of hits a day, and say absolutely nothing. I noticed one site had somehow sent me a few hits my way, and I was curious how. Google Chrome inched its way past the screens of ads, and led me to a blog where there was no sign of the article cited, just 40 or 50 esoteric articles on blog design. I can’t tell if mine was ever mentioned anywhere or just generated randomly with some sort of bot to generate him that tiny bit more traffic. The posts involved appeared to be little more than links to other posts on other blogs, with a thumbnail picture of something vaguely relating to the topic thrown in.

And this site, mind you, had hundred of comments on the posts. On each post. I didn’t even dare read them. How much can you have to say about the importance of graphics in articles?

The point is, this traffic being generated to my blog was never, as far as I can tell, touched by human hand. It was certainly never read by anything sentient due to these clicks, I’m sure.

Am I the only one who finds this a bit depressing? I mean, if we’re going to play silly buggers and write articles and posts that aren’t going to be read, why don’t we just code something up to write articles that no-one will read? Then the two algorithms can just get on with it, and anyone creative involved can go for a drink and relax.

So, this is why I’ve previously been reluctant to join any little blog circles or things of that nature. Discussions on AC’s forums are all about the Search Engine Optimisation of articles, and how to maximise potential hits by parroting key phrases a certain percentage of times throughout your writing. Not only does this seem slightly dishonest, the writing equivalent of trying to lure someone into the back of a van with the promises of puppies, those who do it well turn out articles which are frankly... inelegant. Search engines are supposed to love these (or did; I don’t believe Google relies on SEO any more), but for humans trying to read, it’s a load of tedious, repetitive bollocks.

The short version: I’d love to read your blog, actual real person. I’d love you to read mine. I don’t even care what it’s about, as long as I find it interesting. If you’re such a real person, feel free to subscribe.

If you’ve a blog that’s optimised for maximal hits from Google, I’m probably not interested. If I was interested, I’d have looked you up on Google, wouldn’t I?

If you’re a bot, go play with the other bots. You already outnumber actual people; don’t crowd those of us left who actually write for the hell of it out entirely.