A Lucas Halloween!

Another Halloween has come and gone, and Lucas truly enjoyed it.

While this wasn’t Lucas’s first Halloween by any stretch of the imagination, it WAS his first where we took him trick-or-treating. In fact, he got to do it more than once. :-)

He actually had two costumes this year. The first was his actual trick-or-treating costume, where he wore a hard hat, orange vest, safety goggles, and toy tools so that he could be a construction worker. The other was his school costume, which was a t-shirt that looked like an airline pilot’s shirt and tie, and a airline pilot’s hat.

His first trick-or-treat was actually a “Trunk or Treat” on Sunday, put together by the church our friend Lindsey goes to. Jennifer and I took him there, while her parents and her parents’ friends from Michigan joined us there. Admittedly, I’m not that familiar with “Trunk or Treats” or how they operate, but I liked how this one was set up. Instead of going from car to car and simply getting candy, each trunk was set up as a carnival game like a bean bag toss or a bowling alley. Once you played the game, you got candy. Needless to say, Lucas had a blast playing the games, even if much of the time he needed Grandma’s help or simply walked up to the game and dropped the beanbags in instead of tossing them from a distance. :-)

We actually didn’t expect Halloween night itself to be that eventful. It’s rare for us to get trick-or-treaters, as far back as we are in our neighborhood and being in a cul-de-sac. Most years, I could count the number of trick-or-treaters we got on one hand. This year, however, we got more trick-or-treaters than we ever had before. Granted, the doorbell wasn’t ringing constantly, but it was more than we ever had. For his part, Lucas was a perfect host. He’d run to the door, say hi to people, and when they got their candy he would say, “Thank you! Happy Halloween! Bye bye!” I was proud that he was so outgoing, and several parents (and a few kids) remarked about how nice he was.

When it came time for him to do trick-or-treating, he decided he wanted to stay in his pilot’s outfit and not change into his construction worker outfit. We were okay with that; in retrospect, I think it was probably better because now we didn’t have to keep track of his toy tools in the dark. There weren’t very many houses with lights on on our street, so our choices were limited. The first house we went to was across the street from ours, where the homeowners had come outside to give out treats. We spoke with her briefly, and she gave Lucas a small bag of goodies.

The next house we went to was further down the street. We arrived as other trick-or-treaters were at the door getting candy. As we waited, we told Lucas that we were going to walk up and he should say, “Trick or treat!” When the other kids left, we walked up to their still-open door…

… and Lucas decided to barrel on in, right to their living room.

Horrified, Jennifer asked permission to go in, and went inside to go retrieve him, apologizing profusely as she did. She found him in their living room, already starting to play with their daughter’s toys. She picked him up, and carried him out. Admittedly, I wasn’t much help, simply because I was laughing too hard. Fortunately, the people who lived there not only weren’t offended, they were laughing harder than I was. :-)

In fact, after we took Lucas to two more houses (and we made sure to hold onto him at the door, just in case!), we happened to pass the daughter of the couple from that house as she was returning to her home, and she made a point to say that she had only just stopped laughing about it a few minutes previously. :-)

From there, we hit two more houses that had candy on tables outside their front door, and headed home. The second one was notable in that they had a “life size” inflatable Yoda holding the candy. Lucas knew who Yoda was, but something about the figure frightened him. I’m not sure if it was the sound of the compressor or his appearance, but Lucas was scared. I made a point to touch Yoda and show he was friendly, and even spoke as Yoda. I’m not sure he was convinced. :-)

Once we got home, we settled down and watched Sesame Street: A Magical Halloween Adventure on Amazon, pausing to greet the occasional trick-or-treater.

All in all, Lucas had a wonderful Halloween. He got candy from three trick-or-treating outings (the third was at his school), and got to be social with quite a few people. For my part, I think it’s been my favorite Halloween since I was a kid, if only because it’s a treat (no pun intended) seeing him experience it for the first time.

Here’s hoping he has as much fun with future Halloweens. :-)

Fixing Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection for Windows 10…

It really is a shame that Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection has been more or less abandoned on Steam/PC.

This past weekend, I went to the Houston Arcade Expo for my annual classic arcade gaming fix. While there, I noticed that for the first time they not only had Mortal Kombat II, but the original Mortal Kombat and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as well. Of course, I had played for several minutes on UMK3 before realizing, “Hey, I could be playing this at home…”

Now, I have Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection for both Xbox 360 and Steam, but my Xbox 360 is currently packed away (more info about that in a later post, hopefully). So, that night, while waiting for friends to be ready to play Team Fortress 2, I plugged in my USB gamepad and launched MKAK for some classic MK action.

That was the plan, anyway. What ended up happening was that the game hung at the title screen; it said “Press Enter”, but completely ignored when I pressed Enter.

After doing some research, I found that the problem was that MKAK requires Games for Windows Live, which Microsoft had ended up abandoning. While many games were patched by their developers to use Steamworks, MKAK was already essentially abandoned by WB Games and was never patched. In fact, MKAK is only available for me because I purchased the game; it’s no longer available on Steam for purchase.

Fortunately, there IS a fix. I mostly got the fix from this guide, though I ended up modifying it via trial and error and looking at one or two other sites as the steps as given don’t work on Windows 10.

The procedure is:

  1. Go into Apps and Features on Windows 10 (right click on the Start Menu to reach it), and uninstall “Microsoft Games for Windows – LIVE Redistributable” and “Microsoft Games for Windows Marketplace”.
  2. Reboot your system. (This IS required.)
  3. Download two GWFL files: xlive.ini and xlive.dll. You can download them from my Dropbox here.
  4. Place the two files into your MKAK install directory. The default should be C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection.
  5. The game should now work properly.

I really do wish WB Games/NRS would support MKAK again, as I can’t imagine there isn’t a market for the classic games. In the meantime, though, for those of us who bought the PC version and found it didn’t work on Windows 10, I’m hoping this will help. :-)

Not surprised by the ignorance of declarations…

So, on Independence Day, NPR decided to tweet the entire Declaration of Independence as part of their holiday celebrations. Apparently this did not sit well with a bunch of people.

Needless to say, there was much mockery of those complaining. After all, if one is going to be a patriot, it would help to be able to recognize one of the country’s founding documents, right? Even a Google search would have been helpful.

Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that it’s not going to happen.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for twenty-five years ago…

One of my high school senior year courses was a Government class. Throughout the semester, our teacher, Ms. Baratti, would have us divide into five-person groups and do a project regarding some aspect of our government. These were often in-depth and required some thinking, like a presentation of a controversy regarding a Constitutional right or a bill that we wanted arguing before the state legislature. The first project, as I remember, was that we had to do a Declaration of Independence or a List of Rights and Grievances regarding any topic we chose. When writing ours, I made sure we kept to the same language and format that the original Declaration was written in. Keep in mind that we had gone over both the original Declaration and List of Rights and Grievances in some detail before this project.

When we had completed our Declarations/Lists, we put them on poster board, and Ms. Baratti placed all of them, from every group in every class, on her classroom wall. We were then asked to make observations about them in our class journals.

My only real observation was to note that almost every single other one (with maybe a couple of exceptions) started with, “We the people…”

So, yeah. After having been in a class who, even after studying the Declaration of Independence, couldn’t tell the difference between it and the Constitution, I’m not going to expect Joe Average to know what the hell it says.

I just wish more of those people admitted their lack of knowledge and/or taking time to learn what is being posted before flying off the handle. After all, the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing you have one.

The State of the Geek – Gaming

As you might imagine, I haven’t had much time to properly game for a while. :-)

The issue is mainly one of time. I’m usually up early to help get Lucas ready for school/daycare, and in the evening, by the time I’ve gotten Lucas to bed I’m ready to go to bed myself. So, needless to say, getting really involved in games usually doesn’t happen.

At this point, there are three games I’m playing relatively heavily: Overwatch on my PS4, Vainglory on my iPad, and Team Fortress 2 on my PC.

Overwatch is getting the most playtime by far, as it’s so easy to start a game on Quick Play and go for a few rounds. As most rounds last at most 10-15 minutes, I don’t need to invest a great deal of time. My current mains are Reaper, Widowmaker, D.Va, Ana, and Mercy, depending on the role the team needs. Admittedly I’m not that great as a sniper (which is the type of character Ana and Widowmaker are), but I find it fun nonetheless. I’ve admittedly considered trying competitive play, but I simply can’t guarantee the time for it. It’s just a nice bit of diversion.

Team Fortress 2 is the same way, but I have to admit I only play if my friend Sinc and his usual fire team are playing. Otherwise, I stick to Overwatch if I want to play a team shooter.

As far as Vainglory goes, I like the concept of MOBAs, and this one is simple enough for me where I don’t feel lost trying to play it. Not only that, it’s nice to be able to play it when I’m in bed or the living room. I haven’t even tried playing true multiplayer yet, though, as I’m not that confident in my gameplay abilities just yet. Still, it makes for a nice little diversion.

Other than those, the only games I’ve been playing have been Pinball Arcade (especially now that both the original and remastered Doctor Who tables are available), and DOOM. DOOM has been vexing me, simply because I’m stuck in this one particular section. It’s not that I don’t know what to do; I just keep getting killed before I can finish killing all of the enemies in the area. I’ve also tried Heroes of the Storm, but I think I need more practice in tutorials because I get lost so easily. :-/

In addition, Injustice 2 will be out in a few months so I’ll be hitting that one then, if only for the Story Mode. Unlike Mortal Kombat, I can only do well enough in Injustice that I can finish single player mode. If I even try that one multiplayer, I’d be smeared all over the pavement. I also considered Mass Effect: Andromeda, but I simply don’t have the time to devote to a game of that length of complexity.

Ah, well. When Lucas gets older, I’ll have more time to play, plus will have the joy of introducing him to gaming. For now, though, I’ll just keep getting my games in when I can, like I have been doing. :-)

The State of the Geek – IT

It’s been an interesting change for me the past few months, as far as my personal IT stuff is concerned.

It’s really no big secret that the services for my domains were hosted on my own personal servers, and that the servers were located at my house. I was able to run everything locally because I had a business-class internet connection at the house, and as such had the ability to pay for static IP addresses. It admittedly wasn’t the cheapest solution, but I went with it because I could deal with issues locally and I had been running things that way for something like fifteen years.

Of course, the fact that I was facing unemployment meant that I couldn’t really afford to run things that way anymore. So, I had to look for a solution, even if it was only a temporary one. I ended up moving all of my services to a cloud-hosted VPS, and we migrated the home connection to a residential-based one.

In retrospect, while I had originally considered this a temporary move, I kind of wish I had done it sooner.

The VPS isn’t quite as powerful, RAM and storage wise, as the virtual machines running on my virtual host server at home, but it’s compensated by the fact that it uses SSD storage and is on a much faster pipe. In addition, running the server off-site meant that my servers aren’t affected when there’s a power outage at the house (the local Comcast node doesn’t have redundant power, so even though the local servers were on battery backups they lost internet connectivity), and our personal web browsing and streaming aren’t affected when the servers are uploading backups to my backup provider.

Moreover, even with paying for the lowest tier of internet service and a monthly fee for the VPS, our total bill is less than half what we were paying before, and we have faster internet speeds to boot. This doesn’t even account for the fact that I don’t pay for a cable modem rental anymore, as I’m using a cable modem I purchased from Amazon instead of a forced rental from Comcast Business. We also have power savings because the servers are now shut down.

At this point, it’s unlikely I’ll be powering the local servers back on unless there’s a demand for them, and I don’t see that happening in the immediate future. As much as I enjoyed running stuff locally the past fifteen years, this arrangement is more cost-effective and practical. We’ll see how things go, but right now, I’m happy. :-)

The State of the Geek – Professional

I know I had mentioned that I would start posting the State of the Geek posts last night. Unfortunately, real life prevented me from getting time to actually post anything. It’s a relatively slow Saturday, so I’ve got a bit of time now. :-)

So, during the year I had been working as a contractor to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. The job was a little different to what I was used to; in this case, as opposed to focusing more on systems, I was a network administrator. The department I worked for was the Enterprise Group Shared Labs, which was essentially server space for research and development. We had servers that was as old as my IT career next to hardware that hadn’t even been publicly announced yet. I was the network admin for the labs out in Palo Alto; fortunately, the nature of my job was that it was very uncommon for there to be someone on-site, as all of the equipment was accessible and configurable over the network. I also worked on some side Linux admin work, like helping set up the R&D IT department’s company-wide GitHub Enterprise environment and proposing an on-demand cloud backup solution, complete with a proof-of-concept system.

I rather enjoyed the work, even if I was a little outside of my comfort zone doing network administration. On the other hand, there were a couple of warning signs, like the fact that our contracts hadn’t been extended, and the backup solution had been abandoned. I took them with a grain of salt, though.

Unfortunately, the warning signs were there for a reason. As a result of the divestiture of HPE’s Enterprise Services division, budgets were cut dramatically, and we were informed in a conference call in September that EGSL was being moved to be under a different division, and that the department was being decimated. All of the contractors like myself were going to be let go, along with several full-time employees. When the smoke cleared, EGSL went from close to thirty employees to under ten.

The only bright side was that our contracts expired at the end of October, and it was made clear that our primary jobs at that point would be to find new jobs. :-)

Fortunately, the staffing agency that got me the job at HPE got me a new contract-to-hire gig. My new employer provides telecom services for inmates in jails and prisons. This time, I’m back within my comfort zone, doing Windows server administration.

That’s not the only good thing about this job. This time, I’m not expected to do any actual user support, as there’s an actual help desk that provides user IT support. In addition, the commute is less than half what my HPE commute was, so I get to spend a little more time with Lucas in the morning and evening. :-)

Overall, I’m doing pretty well. Once I go to full-time, it’ll be nice to have benefits and vacation time. Also, the chances of me having to do any travel for business is pretty small, so I won’t have to worry about that.

So, as they say, one door closed, and another one opened. I’ll miss working for HPE, but I think I’ll do okay at this job, for now. :-)

The State of the Geek

It’s been more than a little while since I last posted on here. I should do something about that.

I have to admit, there have been a couple of changes since the last time I wrote something for this site. Rather than put it all here in a too-long and overly boring (even for me) post, I figured I’d write a few separate pieces under a State of the Geek heading. That way I’m more inclined to get it all done and posted. :-)

The first post will probably go up tomorrow evening, time permitting, and I plan to have the others done in the following days. I don’t anticipate there being more than three or four posts, all told.

I’ll be back on here tomorrow, with some info on how my professional life has been going. :-)

A fighting game meme….

Damn, when was the last time I even posted in this category? Anyway, you all can blame Jenn Dolari for this one.

Fighting game I love: Mortal Kombat X (both console and mobile).
Fighting game I hate: Primal Rage. I find the controls to be so unresponsive that the game isn’t fun to play at all.
Fighting game that’s overrated: While I love the look/feel, gameplay-wise I’d say Killer Instinct. The combo system annoys the hell out of me.
Fighting game that’s underrated: Darkstalkers 3. I feel the series doesn’t get enough love because it’s seen as “Street Fighter with monsters”.
Fighting game I wish I could be good at: Any of the Tekken series. It’s a great series, but I just can’t wrap my head around the actual gameplay.
Fighting game I secretly like: Time Killers.
All-time favorite fighting game: Mortal Kombat II.

Maybe I will trek online after all.

A couple of posts ago, when discussing Star Trek games, one of the games I mentioned was Star Trek Online. As I stated at the time, I didn’t really think I had the time to get into an MMO, and the fact that it was PC-only was another turn-off. While my battlestation is still capable of running the game, I would much rather play games on my Playstation 4.

Apparently one of my reservations about the game has been taken care of, as there’s a console port in the works.

I have to admit that the game looks good, and the fact that they’re taking great pains to make sure the game works well on a gamepad is appealing as well. In addition, my argument that I don’t have much time for an MMO tends to ring hollow, considering I try to keep up with Destiny.

On the other hand, I have two big issues. The first is that I barely have time to game as it is, MMO or no; these days my non-mobile gaming is restricted to weekends, and even then I may get a few matches on Overwatch or missions in Destiny before I get tired and need to go to bed. The second is that Star Trek Online is free-to-play, and my general experience with free-to-play is that it really means “pay-to-win”. Unless you do an insane amount of grinding or plonk down some cash, advancement in the game is slow-to-nonexistent.

(Honestly, my thoughts on free-to-play could probably fill a post on its own. :-) )

As it’ll be a free download, I’ll very likely give the game a try once it becomes available for Playstation 4. I’ll try and temper my enthusiasm (as I tend to get obsessed when I get interested in a game), but hopefully it won’t be an annoying timesink and will actually be enjoyable to play while providing a good Trek experience.