Call for action on net neutrality

Hey there internet users. The FCC has been naughty, very very naughty. In a recent high profile move, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has decided to move forward with his misguided notion of what “Net Neutrality” means. How can one claim their policy enforces net neutrality without actually enforcing it? By slippery wording as it turns out. The new policy will allow ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to charge high volume content providers (Netflix is a high profile example) extra to ensure their content is delivered as fast as possible with the fewest interruptions. The way this new proposal creates a loophole is by having ISPs advertise the minimum speed of their plan and not allowing any content to go and slower than their minimum. If a big buyer wants to go faster than the minimum, they must pay extra to the service provider.

Now this is nasty for a few reasons and I’ll highlight my two favorites. The first is that it gives a competitive edge to established content providers, leaving startups in the dust as they will be stuck in the default slow lane. The second reason that this new rule wont work is that all ISPs (Time Warner/AOL/Comcast) can keep their basic service artificially low to force content providers to pay big. The second way this works against consumers is that there is no incentive for ISPs to improve their minimum speeds because, as every American knows, there is no competition in any given area. If you are unhappy with Comcast, for example, there is no competitor to move to. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s new proposal plays lip service to net neutrality while building a system that ensures it is anything but neutral. I hope that this is not the first time you’ve heard about this fight, there have been several high profile news articles and tech giant content generators such as Google, Netflix and Amazon are throwing their weight into this as well.

Along with these giants, average consumers have been getting involved. There are all sorts of ways you, dear reader, can help out. Get off your butts and call, tweet and email the FCC and let your voice be heard. Actually, all those ways allow you to stay with your butt planted in your chair in your pajamas, boxers, underwear or even in the buff. Here are a few of the ways you can make a difference as a literal armchair activist!

Call 1-888-225-5322 use options 1-4-0 to talk to a real person. When I called, I told them ” I want Internet services to be reclassified as a Title II telecommunication service.” That would basically place the internet into the same regulatory category as phone lines.

Stay on your butt and do something! Cheers!



A Difficult Day

Today was the toughest so far. Sleep is not easy to come by due to homesickness, jet lag and an extremely irritating intermittent buzzing that comes through my bedroom wall due to some building utility I cannot identify. I estimate I may have slept three hours at best and was woken up roughly every 15 minutes due to the buzzing. It sounds a bit like the sound you hear back home when you get buzzed into an apartment, but it lasts for about 30 seconds. Despite my lack of sleep, when 6:50 rolled around I was out of bed and out the door. A dreary, cold rain greeting me upon exiting my apartment but I got to the train well in time. In fact, I was too early and had to wait quite a while for my delayed train. Once on the train, I was able to relax  and enjoy a bit of the scenery from the upper level of the train. I am unsure if this is typical of Belgian trains, but the whole car was dead silent. These trains have sound dampening unheard of by Chicago’s CTA/Metra/L. On top of that, there wasn’t so much as a peep or a rustle from any of my cabin mates. When in Rome. . . Not like I had anyone to chatter with anyway. The silence was relaxing.

Once I arrived at my destination, I walked off the train into the rain, which promptly made me realize that I had forgotten my umbrella on the upper level of the train.  In a dangerous split second decision, I dashed back onto the train, up the stairs and back to my seat where my umbrella was sitting. Maybe I should have just let it go, but I’m rather attached to the silly, bent up old thing. Thankfully, the train doors didn’t smash me in the face on the way out. The rain I mentioned earlier was a miserable near freezing drizzle. In fact, later in the office the rain turned to snow. It came down in beautiful billowing swirls, that drew my gaze away from my repetitive training tasks I was assigned at work.

I think I will enjoy working here. My project is has captured my interest (its hard for me to find motivation to work on something I am not interested in). There is more French than I expected. Even though the work is formally in English. Most casual and even work related conversations appear to happen in French. The conversations fly by too quickly for me to pick up much more than the topic being discussed. Some basic vocabulary knowledge and inference based on nonverbal communication helps me get by. I find myself being very grateful that I took so much French in high school. I can put together a few rudimentary sentences of my own, which my colleagues seem to understand and appreciate. I will keep working on improvement in this, as I feel there is a great value in developing this skill.

I had to fight for at least 20 minutes to get my GPS to target home. The interface is tremendously lousy and apparently my street doesn’t exist in it’s database! It’s true that my street tends to have 2-3 different names per city block, but I really struggled to get the GPS set (no cell phone data plan for Gmaps). The car I have been given to drive makes me uncomfortable because it is so large. I live in the heart of a city and am driving a crossover SUV and I don’t need to move anyone around but me! Parking in my tiny apartment garage nearly gave me a heart attack, as my vehicle has trouble fitting into both the garage entrance and my assigned parking space. I hope that I can replace it with a car I find more manageable.

Thankfully, when I arrived home my unit has all the repairs I had asked for. My heater is actually producing heat! I have a router for the wifis! my toilet no longer runs! Hizzah! I feel guilty for not going out to find dinner on the lovely cobbled streets of Brussels, but I am wiped out after a long and stressful day. I have to be up even earlier tomorrow, and a lot of the restaurants in my area are surprisingly closed this late.

I didn’t have the time to take pictures today and I didn’t really see anything interesting or beautiful except at work where I am not allowed to take pictures. I’m sorry I don’t have anything touristy to report today, so here’s a picture of the courtyard view from my apartment that I took a couple of days ago.


Another whirlwind day

After a rough night’s sleep in a lovely but lonely new apartment, I awoke to a brand new day in the charming city of Brussels. I threw my curtains wide and promptly realized that my cross-courtyard neighbors can easily see into my flat. I also quickly realized that my heat isn’t working. At least the weather is milder here than in Chicago. The temperature is more like 5C (40F) rather than -5C (23F). While I await heater repairs, I’ve been bundling up in a sweatshirt (apparently blankets are not included in fully furnished apartments) and letting my laptop keep me warm while home. That being said, I haven’t spent all that much time at home. A kind colleague (Eveline) greeted me this morning with a lovely gift basket full of Belgian goodies, including chocolate, sweets and a Lambic (Sour fruity beer that Belgian is famous for brewing). I’ve also acquired a few other gems that I am looking forward to trying. Believe me it wasn’t easy. I’m not sure how many of my readers (all ten of you) have ever grocery shopped in a foreign market where you don’t speak the language, but was I ever in over my head. I am thankful Eveline saved me from forgetting to preweigh my produce prior to arriving at the checkout counter and explaining to me why the milk is stored and sold at room temperature. My high school French class prepared me for identifying farm animals and buying a movie ticket at the theater, I was not prepared to decipher the different types of butter and eggs presented to Belgian consumers at the local Carrefour supermarket (I’d compare it to a Super Target). I DID learn that Duvel, Chimay, Hoegarden and Leffe (pronounced LEF my American friends) are grocery store staples that you can find at nearly every convenience store. I picked up a small variety of Belgian beers that were sold for around 1 Euro a piece. I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer that it be damn good.

After my harrowing adventures at the grocers, I found the time to visit some of Brussels old areas that are full of old gorgeous architecture and narrow cobbled streets. I even saw a statue of a peeing boy, which everyone assures me is very famous. It is truly called Manneken Pis. At the very least, there was a gaggle of tourists snapping photos of it, so I went ahead and grabbed one too, enjoy!





The Sablon area has some lovely buildings and cathedrals I couldn’t stop staring at. There is just nothing so old in the USA, it is rather humbling to be near these edifices that have stood for centuries. The local Town Hall isn’t just a functional building, it is a true work of art. I need to report my presence there within eight days of arriving in Brussels, but it feels strange to havemundane business to attend to at this local work of art. (see below)





All this wandering around left me hungry, and I did indulge in a street waffle. Yes, this waffle happened to be covered in strawberries and Nutella and yes, it happened to be delicious. I discovered the train station that I will go to tomorrow to get to work, I even bought my ticket and picked my train in advance to avoid a busy foreign language confusion in the morning. After a hard day turisting, I enjoyed a hearty dinner of  chicken nuggets and Kwak. I should eat better tomorrow, Belgium isn’t short on good food.

Wish me luck at my first day of work!


Up, Up and Away

I’m about 1 hour 40 minutes into my flight. I managed to squat a
United Economy Plus window seat which i was not assigned to and
normally costs $100 to upgrade to. I simply watched my flights seating
map to determine which premium seats had not yet been claimed and and
defended my territory as the plane filled up. The seat next to me is
empty as well. While it may not be cushy business class, I’ve got
enough space to spread out and sleep later. I have really only read
the United Airlines magazine for entertainment and now I am listening
to Avishai Cohen. Now I’m jamming out to some wild jazz piano and
drums while eating a dry roll and munching down on barbecue chicken.
The vegetables it was served with we’re mushy, but the rice was tasty.
The salad with balls-omic vinaigrette was crisp, but it was pretty
much just iceberg lettuce with a tomato wedge. The bread is rather
bland, but I’m looking forward to the brownie. Ive read recently that
taste buds shift while flying due to pressure and humidity. I wonder
how different my meal would taste while on the ground.

Prior to taking off, I was expecting to be able to access wifi while
cruising over the Atlantic, but my plane is so old, it has an ash tray
in the lavatory.  I wonder if we’re over the ocean yet, if not we met
be close. Thank goodness the screaming child of the plane is seated
well away from me.  I think I’ll just use the restroom and get settled
in for a snooze while I await out continental breakfast which will be
served before landing. Brownie, I have one word for you; SOON. . .

Diablo III launch, both exciting and disappointing

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Diablo III launched today. Two AM was a bit late for this working woman to stay up to catch her first glimpse, so I’ve been playing  for the past five hours or so. It will come as no surprise to my audience to know that I’ve made a Demon Hunter named Tigress. Tigress is quick, lethal and a blast to play. I’ve noticed that gameplay FEELS like Diablo II. Combat works traditionally and enemies spawn in interesting ways. The environment is dark, dreary and beautiful. I enjoy stopping now and then on my journey to spend time soaking up the scenery, that I then proceed to splatter zombie guts all over. Although the gameplay is traditional, I can see where Blizzard decided to deviate from some small ways. The development teamhas gone back and forth on whether players should manually click to pick up gold, or if the player should have access to dungeon minipets to collect the resource for you. The team seems to have settled somewhere in the middle resulting and the player is now required to run over or near gold to collect it. Scrolls of identity have been completely tossed out the window, identifying is required for top quality items only and there is no scroll required. For those who are familiar with Diablo II, its almost as if you are can imagine the round table discussions of the development team straining their brains over these details. A lot of these changes have been made since the beta launch, so a lot of these tweaks are relatively last minute.

A lesson the whole gaming (and game development community) should note is the perils of the age of online only gaming. Producers are protecting themselves from game piracy by requiring users to be connected to servers even if the gamer wants to play solo. There are some small advantages to this, data can be tracked serverside protecting users from lost data and duped items. The downside is that players must have an internet connection established to active blizzard servers even if they want to play alone, you know, without others, OFFLINE. This is enough of an annoyance if you’re in a location with poor or no internet. But imagine what happens if Diablo III servers go down at 10:30 pm central time on launch day.

I’m absolutely shocked that a company with Blizzard’s resources, experience and reputation would fail this hard on launch day. I doubt I would have bothered to blog here at all if the servers were still up. I guess this means it’s time to go to bed. As Blizzard’s”Temporarily Unavailable” Diablo 3 website states; “We’ll be back soon”.

Note that the site was quickly reworded to say that it’s “Down for Maintenance”. Riiiggghtt. . .



Dragon Age DONE!

Dragon Age II is complete! Dragon Age was a mix of some interesting storytelling with bland gameplay. While I respect the challenge developers have at making skill selection quick and fun on the console, but the combat felt like a dull button mashing disaster. As I mentioned before, the storytelines were intriguing, performing sidequests often gave you more quest options further along in the game. One problem I constantly bumped into regarding this is that there were simply too many characters and plotlines to keep track of. Quite often, a character would approach me and start yammering about I-killed-his-mother this and I’m-seeking-vengence that. That’s cool and everything, but I did that sidequest 8 days ago, I have no idea who you are. A lot of the impact of these recurring minor characters is diminished because there are just too damned many of them, also, most of them want to kill me.

RPG Madness

With Mass Effect 3 coming out soon, a friend gently reminded me that I only remember bits and pieces of the Mass Effect 2 story.  I also have lingering regrets about not picking a love interest and holding out for Kaiden. I think because you have the option of killing off Ashley or Kaiden in Mass Effect 1, Bioware really can’t reintroduce either character in the subsequent games in any way but a cameo. I’ve determined that if I don’t pick a new lover for Sheapard, she’ll be forever alone.  Additionally, I’m a little tired of being the do gooder Paragon and I want to try out being a badass Renegade. That said, I’m already committed to two different RPGs already.  I am mid playthrough in both Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Dragon Age II. Additionally, I’m playing Minecraft and League of Legends here and there but their natures allow them to be forgotten and picked up at will. Before Christmas I felt like I really didn’t have anything to play, now I’ve got a new job and too much on my plate. I know I got a late start on Skyrim and Dragon Age II, but I was waiting for their prices to go down. Now I want to play Mass Effect 2, but juggling three RPGs really seems like a stretch.  I ought to be disciplined and complete Dragon Age II before I start a Mass Effect playthough. Additionally, everything has to be done by the time Diablo III finally gets released. Life as an overcommitted gamer is rough.  #FirstWorldProblems
Dragon Age II

Anti SOPA propaganda

Unless you haven’t been using the internet for the past few weeks you have no excuse to not be aware of the SOPA/PIPA legislation in Congress and the Senate. If you haven’t, please click here for Wikipedia’s fully entry. In a nutshell*:

  • Kills streaming. If any single streamer plays copyrighted music (or alt tabs into a movie or other owned content) on their stream, there is a significant risk of the entire streaming service being taken down. In some cases, it could even result in criminal penalties for the streamer.
  • Threatens independent content creation. Services we all use to create and share League of Legends related content, such as YouTube, Reddit, DeviantArt, streaming websites such as Own3d and Twitch, and more would be at risk of shutting down or greatly restricting the scope of legitimate content allowed on their sites.
  • Attacks our community. Aspects of our service such as the official forums and potentially even in-game chat, could be taken down or have their features reduced based on user behavior.
  • Other harmful effects. SOPA/PIPA undermine established intellectual property legislation like the DMCA, raise serious constitutional free speech issues, and could even compromise the basic security infrastructure of the internet.

These bills crush the freedom of the internet as we know it. This is an overreaching and irresponsible approach to tackling online piracy.

Here are some examples of small freedoms that would be taken away.

  • Aspiring pop singer can’t do their mediocre cover and post it on youTube
  • No modified or cut up collages from movies such as this
  • No Fan made Thundercats movie trailors
  • Frorums would likely disable inserting images into posts to avoid liability
  • Posting steams of copyrighted videogames
  • Looking at my own blog I see some in game screen shots that may be suspect according to this new law
Given the evilness of this legislation who is supporting it, you might ask? The answer is a lot of big companies and big money; Coach, Motion Picture Association of America, NBA, NFL, NBC, Sony. These are just a few. As you can imagine, there has been an internet backlash against the legislation and you can help! Please join the rest of the internet and sign your support.
*Credit to Riot Games for list


New round of D3 Beta invites out

The good news is that a new round of Diablo III invites went out this week. The bad news is that the server’s apparently cannot handle the influx of new players. I’ve been able to level a monk to 6 with some friends, but that’s about it. The beta invites went on on Wednesday (12/7). I think they must have at least doubled or tripled the previous number of beta testers, because the influx of new people is apparently keeping the servers permanently crashed. I’m positive they added a lot more people since I went from knowing one person with a beta key borrowed from a friend to three new beta testers. From the small amount I was able to see, D3 looks like everything we’ve come from a Diablo title and from Blizzard. The title screen music and graphics are gorgeous. The gameplay is smooth and move executions are satisfying.

I’m very encouraged that the game will be out next month. Keep your eye on the Spike VGAs tonight for the release of what I believe is the opening cinematic for the game. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we get a release date.

This is pretty cool. It makes me realize how successful female Link cosplayers can be. Maybe I should try it someday

Some people complain that link is female and isn’t left handed, but COME ON She wanted to do the video and can’t change her genetics on a whim. I do have one complaint though, it doesn’t even come close to looking like she’s actually playing the music. She’ just kinda flailing about with that instrument. Also, I would have been able to fall for this a bit more if one violinist wasn’t pretending to play the part of an entire orchestra. A single violin recording would have been more charming imo.