The Prescription Costs HOW MUCH?!

HNCK1569 Please take a moment and study the picture of the cute kitten. When you’re done reading, you’ll probably have steam coming out of your ears as you swear at the monitor/mobile screen, so take some time. His name is Monty, and he is very cute.

I’m blessed in my life that I have great health insurance that covers pretty much everything I could need from a medical perspective. I realize how insanely lucky I am that this is true. My doctor is incredible, my pharmacy knows me and looks out for me, I have very little to complain about.

I do, however, have a deductible, and at the beginning of each year I have to pay out of pocket until that number is reached. It’s not a massive burden, and I’m again blessed that I can afford to do it. But each January I get dragged back into the reality of the millions of un-insured or under-insured people in this country when I see the raw, unfiltered numbers that represent the insane costs of medical care.

I won’t give out a lot of information on specifics, as blogging about personally identifiable medical issues is generally a bad idea. Suffice it to say that I take certain prescription medications each month that dramatically improve the quality of my life. I might very well be able to live without them, but not anywhere near as well as I can live with them, so I and my doctor consider them necessary. One of those medications – just ONE – was over US$300. I cannot imagine how I’d be able to deal with that kind of monthly expense without health insurance that covered the majority of the cost for the majority of the year.

The medication is question has no generic – not because it’s new (it’s well over 15 years old) or because it’s some massively proprietary formula (it’s a combination of other medications), but because the formula in question is patented by a pharmaceutical giant who has managed to maintain the patent for an inordinately long time. Since the combination works significantly better than the two components alone, this is the best – and considered by many doctors to be the only – possible medication. This company has created a monopoly, and is charging what I can only describe as a certifiably insane amount of money for a one-month supply. If I wasn’t as lucky, as blessed, as I am. If I had to choose between this medication and food, I don’t know what I would do. For those of us who use it, the decision is that important. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if I had to choose between that and food not just for me, but my family, or children, or anyone under my care.

Suddenly, I faced the frightening reality of millions of Americans. I understood the literal life-or-death decisions that un- or under-insured people must make on a daily basis. I realized why some hedge-fund millionaire douche hiking the prices of a drug by 700% is a horrifying thing. This is real, this is happening, and now I understand why it is simply unacceptable in a civilized society.

Pharmaceutical companies should be able to make a profit. The old adage of “the second pill costs pennies, the first one costs billions” is true. I do not begrudge them and their shareholders from making a very good living from the insane amount of brain-power that was required to make these drugs in the first place. But there has to be a breaking point, where the out-of-control greed of the pharma companies combined with legal loopholes that let them set whatever prices they want results in a literal life-or-death situation for their customers. There must be a point where compassion and finance can meet at which allows people to have the medicine they need *and* the company can make a profit, and it is a LOT less then US$300+ (and I’ve seen some that were much higher) for a one-month supply! Come on, millions of people will use the stuff, companies can make an ungodly amount of cash charging a lot less.

Then there’s supply and demand. Artificial scarcity caused by patent laws that have spun totally out of control has created this situation. They can charge whatever they want because there is no competition, and there will be no competition as long as they hold the exclusive legal right to produce the medications in question.

Finally there’s the scourge of fake internet pharmacies shipping who knows what and labeling it as life-sustaining medicine. I’m not talking about narcotics or ED medications, I’m talking about heart and blood pressure treatments, medications for chronic conditions, or critical antibiotics – things that people literally cannot live without. Of course, in desperation, people without sufficient insurance will use these online scam artists to save the thousands of dollars every year that the legitimate pharmacies are forced to charge for the legitimate medications and many have died as a result.

There must be a better way to do this.

I know there’s little one person like me can do about it. I know I have no political capital to spend or clout to throw around. But I promise, I will not forget the shock I felt seeing that total ring up, and realizing that had I not been as lucky as I am in my life, I may have had to make a devastating choice that day – and that millions actually do.

Now, go look at Monty again. Hug your friends and family, get back to your lives, but never forget that many may be making the decsion right this moment to risk their lives because they cannot afford the medication they need. Not because it doesn’t exist, not because it’s in such short supply they cannot get hold of it, but because they simply cannot afford it – and for no good reason that I can figure out.

Cloud Condensation

Photo Credit: PicJumbo
HNCK7272I made a prediction a couple of years back, and we’re beginning to see signs that it might just come true, a bit sooner than I expected, but still coming true.

The public cloud market is getting more and more crowded, to the point of saturation of the marketplace by hundreds of players of various and assorted sizes. Massive media attention has brought thousands of customers into those cloud platforms, at all different levels. The result is a highly segmented, nearly fractured, industry that cannot hold in its current form. The logical conclusion of this phenomenon – to use a term coined by a co-worker of mine – will be “Cloud Condensation,” and we’re already beginning to see it.

Cloud Condensation is the phenomenon of public Infrastructure as a Service cloud shrinking and creating two types of fallout:

1 – Through mergers, acquisitions, and corporate collapse; fewer public cloud companies will exist, and

2 – Companies who had begun to move resources to public cloud will reduce the amount of resources they place there, and in fact will begin pulling back many of those resources into private datacenters and/or traditional co-location facilities.

This is not to say that cloud itself will disappear – far from it. The cloud principle is strong and will continue to grow and expand over time. Cloud Condensation simply refers to the mind-shift of moving from public cloud to private or on-prem cloud platforms. There are also a lot more types of cloud platforms than just IaaS, and public SaaS and PaaS continue strong growth.

We are, however; seeing the beginnings of Condensation in public IaaS, and there are a few strong indicators that it’s happening:

– HP dropped Helion Public Cloud late in 2015. While they will continue to focus on HP Enterprise Cloud (their private cloud offering), they began to realize that public IaaS cloud was too crowded a sector.

– Citrix sold off Cloud Platform just recently. OpenStack and CloudStack are still strong, but both are designed for hybrid clouds and converged architecture. Cloud Platform is the tool for managing public clouds in their portfolio.

– Several smaller public cloud players are being acquired by larger players. This is pretty normal in any business, and only points to Condensation when combined with other factors.

– Verizon is winding down its public cloud offerings

– Several other traditionally public cloud platforms are beginning to focus more on managed services

Taken together, there is an industry push to private and on-prem IaaS cloud, and away from public cloud. Once again, this is NOT a death-knell for cloud at all, just a shift in how the cloud looks in the modern world. I suspect we’ll continue to see more of this consolidation and contraction in the market, with larger public clouds taking over market share from smaller shops – absorbing them or driving them under – and the rise of services and platforms designed for private and managed clouds taking the fore. My revised estimate is that we’ll see Condensation kick into high gear within the next 8 months, and extend out for another 12-18 before we have the new paradigm.

Cloud – in all its forms – is here to stay. I just suspect (and we’re starting to see some indication) that we’ll see many companies moving to managed, private, and on-prem cloud platforms.

Time to update to El Capitan

Photo Credit: PicJumbo-Viktor Hanacek
IMG 6838While I typically wait a few months before updating to the latest major release of any OS, the time has come to start using El Capitan (OS X 10.11). The OS itself seems to have stabilized well, with the first and second major round of patching already complete an out in the wild. Additionally, there’s another pretty big reason to finally bite the bullet and upgrade:

Recently, a few apps I’d like to use have abandoned support for Yosemite (OS X 10.10), leaving users with little choice but to move to the newer version of OS X if they want to keep using the app. Since the apps in question are distributed through the Mac App Store, they simply won’t install on older versions than the developer specifies. In truth, the MAS won’t even let you purchase them on any Mac running on the earlier versions of OS X, entirely blocking you from getting the apps unless you jump into the latest OS X version.

I don’t see any major reason not to upgrade, however. The platform is getting rave reviews, and the battery life improvements will mean longer run times on my MacBook Pro. Some of the new cross-platform (OS and iOS) features are also impressive. I’ve used handoff and other tools between my Mac and mobiles since I jumped into Yosemite, and the ability to get caller ID and alerts on the Mac when I get a phone call is a nifty thing. Having the ability to send and receive both iMessage and normal SMS messages on all devices/computers is also very useful, as it means I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and grab another device just because a txt came in.

All in all, there’s no real reason not to go ahead with the upgrade, and now there are more and more reasons while taking the plunge is the best idea.

Fallout 4: Is the Brotherhood of Steel Evil? (Hint: No.)

Photo Credit: © Zenimax


BoSVertNow that we’ve had a chance to talk about the background of the Brotherhood of Steel (BoS), let’s discuss their appearance in Fallout 4 (FO4) and the morally grey storyline they bring to the table.






*****SPOILERS AHEAD!*****


The BoS that you meet in FO4 takes two forms. One that you meet up to the mid-point of the main quest, and another that makes their appearance in Act II.

Prior to the end of Act II, your only interaction with the BoS is Paladin Danse, Scribe Haylen, and Knight Reese; the only remaining members of a BoS Recon Squad sent to investigate the Commonwealth. While they’re not the first to visit the Commonwealth, they are the most successful recon team to date, having established a foothold in an abandoned police station and started operations.

The team was sent from the East Coast BoS group (headquartered in the Capitol Wasteland – formerly Washington DC), and is charged with scouting the Commonwealth (formerly Boston and the surrounding area in Massachusetts). So far, they’re not doing great. Multiple members of their team have been killed in feral Ghoul and Super Mutant attacks, and the three of them are all that’s left. To make matters worse, they can’t create a strong enough signal to establish radio contact with The Citadel – the BoS headquarters located in the ruins of the Pentagon in the Capitol Wasteland – to call for support. What they have done, however, is found a strange signal that can’t be explained yet, but definitely points to powerful and advanced technology being used in the Commonwealth… somewhere.

Danse then recruits you (if you agree to it) to recover a powerful transmitter component – introducing you to the Institute (by reference) and their Synths (who crash your search party) along the way. This initial introduction leads to a series of radiant quests that allow you to discover the Commonwealth and learn more about the Brotherhood as you go. At the end of that mission, you’re given a chance to join the Brotherhood as a provisional member if you wish. If you agree, eventually you are given a quest to find out what happened to the last recon squad that came to the Commonwealth, and then you can continue radiant quests until you get to the mid-point of the main quest, where things change.

The BoS shown by the recon squad gives some major hints that things have changed for the Brotherhood since FO3. The recon squad is extremely mistrustful of outsiders (except for one member), and is hell-bent on killing every non-human they come across. Half of the radiant quests require you to go out and obliterate every mutant, Raider, and Ghoul you come across in a specific area. The BoS Recon members also wall themselves off from the rest of the Commonwealth (quite literally), and while there is an interest in cleaning up the area, helping civilians doesn’t rank high on their agenda.

Danse and the others also hint at the fact that the East Coast BoS is no longer under the guidance of Elder Lyons, but very little of who is in charge is revealed until after the mid-point of the main quest itself. All you know when you are given the opportunity to join is that they will help the civilians of the Commonwealth, but only as a means to their own ends of acquiring any and all pre-war technology and destroying all non-humans out there. At this point, their stance on sentient (non-feral) Ghouls is somewhat murky. They do not actively seek to destroy them, but neither do they want anything to do with them or go out of their way to help these former-human mutants.

OK, one last warning, ***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

At the mid-point of the game’s main quest, the player (known as the Sole Survivor) encounters a scripted event showing the Prydwen, a giant rigid airship that serves as a mobile base of operations for the Brotherhood in the East. Surrounded by, and launching, Vertibirds (Vertical Take Off and Landing craft that resemble helicopters with their blades on wing-pontoons) it flies into the Commonwealth skies and takes up residence at the ruins of Boston Airport (patterned on the real-world Logan Airport). Your radio then picks up the newly-boosted broadcast (thanks to your assistance in obtaining the transmitter) ordering you back to the police station, where Danse escorts you aboard the Prydwen to be introduced to the rest of the Brotherhood.

It’s here that you meed Elder Arthur Maxson, a direct descendent of the founder of the BoS, and current leader of the East Coast Brotherhood. Maxson informs you (and the rest of his BoS troops) that the Brotherhood has established a base of operations in the Commonwealth to wage a war on their greatest threat to date – The Institute. Since the BoS quarantines all pre-war and/or advanced technology, and the Institute is a massive hive of such technology, they must either contain or wipe out the Institute itself – and anyone who is helping them or their creations.

This is where the BoS starts to feel evil. Synths are possibly sentient, artificially intelligent androids. While feared by most of the Commonwealth, synths can easily be seen as semi-human, no different than non-feral Ghouls, and those who have left Institute control seem to be productive members of society (for good or bad). By this time, you have also met an earlier generation synth who is not only a good guy, but an active and valued member of one of the largest human communities – Diamond City. He’s definitely not a tool of the Institute, and certainly wouldn’t be considered a threat to anyone but those who make him their enemies first.

You may also have discovered the Railroad. Based on the Underground Railroad that helped ferry slaves to freedom in the Civil War era of US History, these humans and synths altruistically work to get synths away from the Institute and out of the Commonwealth where they can lead normal lives. The synths working for the Railroad certainly appear sentient, and definitely are working for what could be considered the greater good. At any rate, they are not controlled by the Institute in any way – far from it, they want the Institute destroyed and all synths freed.

Finally, if you played FO3, you may have met a synth who not only became an upstanding member of society in the Capitol Wasteland, but ended up being a trusted member of law enforcement to boot. For all intents and purposes, that synth is indistinguishable from any human being – and in fact remains undiscovered unless you purposely help to identify them. Even on identification, you find that this synth doesn’t even know they are a synth – the new memories and identity given to them by the Railroad makes them completely oblivious to the fact they aren’t human in the first place.

So the BoS waging an all-out war against the Institute *and* their synths means potentially wiping out a sentient race that had no say in their creation, but has shown themselves capable of independent thought and – in many cases – a desire for freedom beyond their programming. Maxson explains that destroying the synths is critical, as the Institute (based on the fact that synths escape) clearly has no control over their creations; and that those who have not broken from the Institute have even infiltrated human societies as undercover spies. The short story there is that a Generation 3 Synth is a biological machine, indistinguishable from a human being even when “taken apart” and therefore able to be physically altered to look, speak, and act exactly like a living human, who’s place they then take. The unfortunate target of this process is kidnapped to the Institute, and held indefinitely or (it’s hinted) killed; replaced by a synth double with all of their memories, mannerisms, and identity.

On top of this, the Brotherhood also tasks you with (optionally) commandeering farms and their produce to feel and fuel BoS operations. This is a radiant quest given to you by one of the BoS commanders on the Prydwen, and is not a mandatory part of your BoS membership. The problem is that, even if you don’t partake in that activity yourself, others are doing it on the BoS’s behalf.

Finally, siding with the Brotherhood in the main quest-line can result in being forced to wipe out other factions. Some of these factions may have become close friends over the course of the remainder of your gameplay, so it’s a decision not to be taken lightly; and one the BoS will not allow you to get out of.

It’s a moral grey-area all around, and made many players perceive the BoS as an evil force, or at the very least chaotic-neutral. The argument has some solid ground to stand on, but I’ve always seen it another way. The BoS is the best chance the Commonwealth has to survive.

I base my opinion on several facts:

– Without the BoS, there isn’t really any faction that can – or would be willing to – bring order and prosperity to the Commonwealth. The Railroad is interested only in saving synths, they don’t seem to really care what else is going on. The Minutemen are great as an idea, but have proven they cannot remain a coherent force for long before the organization collapses. The Institute? Well, they sabotaged the closest thing to a unified government the Commonwealth ever saw post-war, and are actively developing Forced Evolutionary Virus weaponry and kidnapping/replacing humans to meet their own goals. The BoS maintains that part of its charter is to remove those threats from the Commonwealth, even if they’re no longer anywhere as altruistic as their FO3 rendition.

– The BoS is a strong military force. Like it or not, the Commonwealth is a brutal, unforgiving wasteland. Super Mutants, feral Ghouls, Raiders, mercenaries like the Gunners with no moral compass, and dozens of other threats run rampant. Without manpower, weaponry, and a command structure to deal with those threats; it’s unlikely that Commonwealth will ever re-form society.

– Elder Maxson is not completely unchangeable. While he remains a xenophobic zealot, there are several points that show that he does, indeed, recognize that not all synths are equal. There’s two major examples of this: 1 – He doesn’t order that your synth companion(s) must be destroyed. 2 – When a major member of the BoS itself is found to be a synth, Maxson can be talked into allowing that person to live. They’re exiled from the BoS, but not executed. Combined, it shows that the Elder is at least willing to admit that some synths are not Institute slaves, and while not being ready to trust them, he (and the BoS as a whole) is willing to tolerate their existence.

So, for me, the BoS is not evil in Fallout 4. They most definitely are xenophobic technology hoarders who have very little interest in making the Commonwealth a better place overall, but their intentions are working toward a better life in the wasteland. Yes, their morality is most definitely grey; and their methodology can be extreme; but they’re a force that will help bring order to the chaos of the Commonwealth in the end.

Notes:
Most information is taken from either official Bethesda/Zenimax sources, or from the Fallout Wiki on Wikia. Both are worth a look!

Fallout 4: Background on the Brotherhood of Steel

Photo Credit: © Zenimax

PowerArmor Ah, the much argued about and maligned Brotherhood of Steel in the Fallout series. From game to game across the years, few factions have been as argued about and bickered over; and few have ever been so important to the games as a whole.

So, let’s talk about them in previous installments of the series!

****Spoilers Ahead!****

The Brotherhood of Steel (BoS) was created when a group of soldiers, shortly after the Great War, discovered a secret military installation that was working on biowarfare projects, including the Forced Evolutionary Virus (FEV). Based on their discovery, and the fact that most of civilization had been destroyed by the war, Roger Maxson took his men, declared them all outcasts from the government and military, and commandeered the FEV laboratories to ensure that no one would ever be able to actually use these biological weapons. This departure from the military formed them into a new group “forged in steel” that would never forget what pre-war technology did to the world, and the BoS was born.

About a century and a half later, the BoS reluctantly aided both the Vault Dweller (FO1) and the Chosen One (FO2). During this era in the game timeline, the Brotherhood had become a well armed and armored paramilitary organization with a strong mandate to obtain and quarantine any and all pre-war technology to ensure that it never fell into the hands of anyone who would use it to wage war and/or harm the human race. They tended to be highly xenophobic, vowing to wipe out Super Mutants, Ghouls, and pretty much everything and everyone that wasn’t “human” by their own, very limited, definition. Taking pre-war military Power Armor, tactics, and weapons; they set out to hoard every bit of pre-war technology they could get their hands on – ostensibly to keep civilization safe from another nuclear annihilation event.

While some members were more open to the idea of post-human sapient beings (like non-feral Ghouls), the majority wanted nothing to do with anyone who was not a member of the BoS, and would shoot any non-human on sight whenever encountered.

Skip ahead nearly 50 years to Fallout 3, and we find that a group of BoS members was dispatched to the East Coast to determine the state of the former US Capitol (now the Capitol Wasteland). Along the way (according to games which were developed by not launched, or otherwise quasi-canon sources), the Mid-West chapter of the BoS was founded and remained in the Chicago area, while the remainder of the party went further east to Washington DC. The Mid-West group was more open to outsiders, and even willing to tolerate Ghouls and other non-human sentients – though they remained untrusted in the eyes of the Brotherhood.

The Capitol Wasteland branch of the BoS changed even further from the Mid-West group, adding to their mission the need to protect civilians and help rebuild society. They continued to collect and hoard pre-war tech, but now defended outposts and minor cities, and were much more tolerant of outsiders and non-humans. Super Mutants were still shot on sight, of course, but Ghouls were afforded warning shots and simply kept away from BoS facilities, not actively hunted. The local Elder (leader) – Elder Lyons – committed his forces to studying ways to make life livable in the Wasteland, even supporting and defending a massive clean-water technology project (codenamed Project Purity). Additionally, they actively attacked and attempted to destroy the Enclave – a group of pre-war scientists and politicians hell-bent on maintaining the old-world government. Their fight against the Enclave was not new (it was seen in FO2), but their desire to rid the Wasteland of the Enclave in order to save the civilian population was a new effort on their part.

Here’s where the pundits and fans get upset. The BoS was (in earlier installments and in the game’s canon), nearly completely disinterested in the affairs of anyone but their own group. They would actively dissuade – often at gunpoint – any outsiders from interfering in their plans; and would only ever work with such outsiders when their goals aligned with the BoS goals perfectly. In FO3, the Brotherhood was transformed into an altruistic group that would help the civilians of the Wasteland to survive, actively using technology to do so. This was “hand waved” by saying that the East Coast chapter had split itself from the BoS at large after the West Coast BoS was nearly annihilated by their fighting with the New California Republic (a nascent democracy in California and surrounding states). The split was so dramatic that some members of the East Coast chapter split themselves from the main group, forming the Brotherhood Outcasts who continue to operate under their original mandate.

Fans decried this change, saying that the Brotherhood was – and should remain – a group keeping themselves apart from the rest of society. Basically xenophobic war-mongers hell bent on keeping their technology safe and separated from everyone else, and attacking non-humans with no mercy. The radical departure from the BoS of previous games kept online forums and message boards burning with flame wars and other heated discussion. Fans of this “new” BoS did exist, but they were outnumbered by others who were livid that the BoS could be so radically re-defined and converted into a stereotypical “good guy” role in the Capitol Wasteland.

Fallout: New Vegas (FNV) saw a return of the old-school Brotherhood, hostile to everyone who wasn’t part of their group and maniacally intolerant of any non-humans whenever they encountered them. Fans were quite pleased with the return to the BoS’s roots, and applauded the decision. Much like in previous games, the player character (The Courier) could only join the BoS after going through several trials and quests to prove their intentions to aid the Brotherhood, and would otherwise simply be shot on sight.

The Brotherhood in FNV had only recently been nearly destroyed in a set of battles with the NCR, culminating in a last-stand event at a power station. Routed at that event, they retreated to a bunker complex in the desert and planned what to do next. They did, however, maintain patrols and intelligence gathering missions, and continued (on a smaller scale) to hoard technology to keep it away from the general public. The Courier can either help the BoS and foster a truce between them and the NCR, or wipe out the few that remain by destroying the bunker.

Which brings us to Fallout 4, and the interactions of the Brotherhood of Steel on the Commonwealth. Next time, we’ll delve into the current view on the BoS, and if they’re truly as evil as they seem at first blush.

Notes:
Most information is taken from either official Bethesda/Zenimax sources, or from the Fallout Wiki on Wikia. Both are worth a look!

Keep your Mac from falling asleep during restore

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/

Restoration from a Time Machine backup can be a lifesaver, but restoring the whole system after booting into Internet Restore can cause some serious issues – especially if that restore takes an extended amount of time.

Normally, the process would be to simply hold down CMD+OPT+R after the BOING and until the spinning globe shows up on the screen, this automatically starts Internet Recovery Mode, and allows you to connect to WiFi or a physical network jack and begin the restore process.  You select “Restore from Time Machine Backup,” select the appropriate image, and away you go.  When the process is finished, your Mac is back to the way it was before your unfortunate incident, with very few exceptions (if any).

There’s a catch though.  Jumping into Internet Recovery Mode also loads the default set of Power Management options, and restoration of a full Mac system these days might take several hours.  Those two factors add up to one massive headache.  Unless you keep the system awake by tapping a key or moving the mouse now and then, the system will go to sleep in about 10 minutes, and start shutting down spinning disks about 10 minutes later.  This means that your – presumably external – Time Machine drive will also get spun down, crashing the restore operation and forcing you to start all over again.

Obviously, it’s just not practical to sit there and keep the system awake for the 6+ hour restore you’re in for if your Time Machine is on a USB 2 disk and is over 500GB or so.  There is, however, a way to force the system to never sleep, even in Internet Recovery Mode.

 

First, boot into Internet Recovery Mode and wait for it to start up.  That will bring you to a screen with a window offering you the basic choices of reinstalling OS X, restoring from Time Machine, etc.  Go to the menu bar at the top of the screen, and choose Utilities, then Terminal.  This closes the first window and brings up a command-line interface (the BASH Terminal) where you can enter these three commands:

 

pmset -a sleep 0

pmset -a disksleep 0

pmset -a displaysleep 0

 

Then quit Terminal via the menu, and walk through the standard restoration operation.

Here’s what you’re doing:

pmset is a function of the underlying OS that handles setting parameters for Power Management options.  In each case you’re telling OS X to set the named Power Management option (system sleep, disk sleep, display sleep).  The “-a” tells OS X to set that option for all power profiles – while you’ll probably only use AC Power during a restore, it’s a good idea to just tell the Mac to use it for all of them.  “0” sets the time-out to zero, in other words never sleep.

The result is that the Mac will never dim the display, got to sleep, or stop the spinning disks until you a) re-set those options or b) boot into another OS instance. Since you’re going to boot into a new instance when the restore is done, you don’t have to worry about changing them back later.

Simple as that!  Open Terminal, type those three commands, and then quit Terminal and walk through the restore process from your Time Machine backup with no interruptions.

There is no justification

Mike talon jesuis

Today, in Paris, journalists, editors, writers, and artists of the satirical magazine Chrarlie Hebdo were gunned down in a cold-blooded, murderous, senseless attack. At the time of this posting, 12 have died, 4 more are critically injured.

The people who did this shouted religious phrases. The claimed responsibility railing that it was in retribution for the printing of materials they believed denigrated their religion. They have made many claims, offered justifications, spouted rhetoric.

There is no justification.

They have killed innocent civilians outside of a war, outside of legal sanction, outside of all the requirements that every major world religion – including the one who’s phrases the attackers shouted as they gunned down their victims – strictly places on the taking of a human life.

Murder is murder, regardless of if you are a Muslim, Christian, or Jew.

Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct”

Let us be crystal clear as to who the victims were. They were not the government. They were not the enemy of these gunman any more than they were the enemies of anyone and everyone they have lampooned over the many years their magazine had been in publication. They’ve been called bigots, assholes, morons, and many other things – but they were not criminals, or killers, or soldiers at war. Their job was to say the things you don’t like, to speak words you may not wish to hear, to make fun of those who hold themselves above reproach. These same people made light of both the politicians who wanted to ban scarves and those who protested the law.

These attackers have committed cold blooded murder, and there is no justification.

I have been a journalist. I have pissed off people in my career, sometimes in print. I have lampooned many things in many ways. Neither I, nor anyone, should ever fear their lives for the words they write in satire, for the things they say in jest. Sometimes we are wrong, politically incorrect, bigoted, biased, or a thousand other transgressions – but never is there justification for murder because of these words. Sue us, call us to task, lampoon us right back as hard as we dished it out to you; anything but taking our lives!

The second worst part of this travesty – second only to the fact that 12 people lie dead – is nearly equally chilling and wrong. Some say that this will cause journalists to be more cautious in their prose and drawing. That we must respect the beliefs of other cultures and hold them above satire, humor, debate. That there are topics that are out of bounds, topics and people so high above us that they can never be brought down.

To those I say, there is no justification.

JE SUIS CHARLIE!

Dragon Age Inquisition – First Impressions (No Spoilers)

I’ve been a fan of Dragon Age from Bioware/EA for quite some time now. Dragon Age: Origins was a stellar game that I played over and over – attempting to see the differences in different starting stories and playthrough choices. Dragon Age 2 was less spectacular, with a much weaker style overall, a lot of repetitiveness, and enemy mechanics that were just plain bad. Still, DA2’s storyline was enough to get me through a playthrough just to see how it would play out.

Dragon Age: Inquisition returns to the depth and immersion of Origins and adds so much more. Everything players loved from Origins – from multiple races and origin stories through companion characters with 3-dimensional personalities) – is back in this installment, and I am happy to say it does not disappoint.

Initially, I did not yet have an Xbox One, and therefore purchased DO:I for the Xbox 360. That was a major mistake. We’ve reached the point where games designed with the more powerful XBOne and back-ported to the 360 just cannot hold up under the strain. Diablo III performed really well on the 360, but that was the last game I saw available on both platforms that could say that.

After seeing the horrific graphical quality and the 3-minute loading screens (I actually timed it at one point), I realized it just wasn’t going to happen on the trusty 360. It was time to take the dive into the next-gem consoles. So, one XBOne later I was ready to actually play the game.

First Impressions:

Any of the starting races/classes is a fun playthrough, and I found myself re-starting just to see what the others offered. Note that the storyline itself is relatively the same no matter what you go with, but little details through the story change based on your race and class. For the playthrough I went through the game with, I chose Human Mage.

This is a good point to note that you should at least try the Mage class. For those not familiar with the DA universe, magic is feared and mages (without giving anything away) are very closely monitored and controlled. The way they introduce your character makes this believable, a trait which carries through the entire solo campaign.

No matter what class you choose, you’ll step through a tutorial Prologue (a mainstay of the DA games) and learn the slightly different control layout for DA:I in comparison to the other games of the series. This is important, as several things on the controller have moved around to make room for the fact that – for the first time in a DA game – you are not on rails, can go just about anywhere in the various game sandboxes, and can JUMP. Granted, for DA newbies that doesn’t mean a lot, but for us that have played the series, the fact that a 2 inch ledge no longer poses a significant challenge to your character is big news.

The controller layout itself is pretty easy to master, and the fourth talent slot on each “page” (toggled with the left trigger) means that we console players finally get eight talents mapped to the controller. Still not the same as our PC brethren, but not bad. You’ll have a mini-map – with the full map accessible by pressing left on the d-pad) and the usual quest text and party health on screen.

After the tutorial, you get to dive into the game for real with the training wheels off, but for the most part when played on Casual or Normal, the game won’t frustrate the hell out of you. Different sandbox areas will tell you the recommended level you should be at before entering, and enemies tend to not spot you until you get close, so that you can check to see if they’re too high for your team.

Speaking of your team, you are – as is usual for the DA games – given several NPC companions to choose from. Unlike previous games in the series, they’re very well spread out between Mages, Warriors, and Rogues; and across many personality types; allowing you to put together a team that won’t continuously hate you for the choices you make, but that has all the necessary classes to keep you alive. While I won’t get into the companions until I do a spoiler article later, here’s the breakdown of the classes (including for your own player character:

Warriors are tanks. They hit with sword and shield or a giant two-handed weapon and tend to swing much more slowly than a Rogue. Their benefit is that they can taunt enemies off other party members very effectively, and they can soak up a TON of damage by wearing heavier armor than any other class and using guard abilities that give them extra damage bars that have to be whittled down before their actual HP suffers. Warriors can also bash special items (some walls, rocks, etc.) to destroy them, a talent unique to their class and very helpful in many quests.

Rogues are damage dealers and also the only class that can pick locks. They can specialize in either bows or daggers, and use either very effectively. While they wear medium leather, they get several talents that let them move out of danger or disappear entirely – often while damaging nearby enemies at the same time.

Mages are magic users who can dish out damage and control the battlefield by freezing, stunning, and otherwise making enemies lives a living hell; and can summon the forces of the Fade to build bridges and remove obstructions during some quests. Unlike previous games in the series, there are no healer mages in this installment. All mages can acquire Barrier spells (think of it as shielding or the biotic barriers of Mass Effect) that give team members extra health bars much like the Warrior’s guard ability.

Pick a race (Human, Dalish Elf, Dwarf, or for the first time Tal-Vashoth Qunari) and a class, then dive in and have fun! This game is definitely worth a playthrough for anyone who likes Dragon Age: Origins, or likes the fantasy adventure genre.

Critical Mac Security Update

For those of you who keep an eye out for weird pop-ups and messages, you most likely noticed a Notification or Growl message that “A critical security updated has been applied.”

When I saw that, I had a moment of panic, as I had – up until now – told OS X that I wanted to manually install patches, updates, and fixes. So this message out of the blue was a bit of a shock. After some online research (and with help from some great Twitter friends like @UberBrady ) I was able to get to the bottom of it.

First things first, if you upgraded to Yosemite from earlier versions of OS X, most of your preferences came over – but one very important one was added and is turned on by default. OS X starting in Yosemite includes an “emergency update system” that automatically downloads and applies any patches that Apple believes to be extremely critical security fixes. They have, to date, only classified one such patch in that category, and this was it. This critical update system is ENABLED by default, and frankly you should leave it enabled. But if – for some reason – you need to turn it off, jump over to Apple Menu| System Preferences| App Store and you’ll see the settings for auto-updates, including the relatively new one for emergency patches labeled “Install system data files and security updates”:

Screenshot of the App Store preferences

Even though this would appear to be for a lot of patches, note that you’ll still have to download and install “optional,” “Important,” and other patches manually if you do not check the other two boxes.

Now, onto the particulars of the update:

Apple recently announced a fix for a Network Time Protocol (NTP) system in OS X. The bug could allow an attacker to take control of system resources (which is a bad thing) with relatively little effort (which is a HORRIBLE thing). This means un-patched systems are vulnerable to attack and need to be patched immediately. Luckily, if you haven’t changed the defaults, Yosemite will patch it automatically as described above.

A more detailed explanation of what the vulnerability is can be found on Apple’s Site.

So, have no fear, the unexpected Notification is not, itself, and attack. Rather, it’s a new feature in OS X designed to help protect against attackers, and was just rather well hidden – and never before used – up to this point.

Stay Safe!

Get DownWorthy… now.

Bullshit

Photo Credit: Ben Brown

All of us have seen the headlines:

“Man finds literally the most amazing thing ever in his attic. Find out what!”

We all know perfectly well that this will not lead to any amazing thing at all, but just yet another filler story designed to get us to read the five thousand advertisements jammed into the fifteen individual pages that make up the “story” on some website out there. It’s frustrating, unavoidable, and – because there occasionally IS an interesting story on the other end of the link – something we do even though we know it won’t end well.

Like going on blind dates.

For those who don’t know, LinkBait is the pseudo-technical term for using sensational language designed to get people to click on an otherwise boring story just to get their eyeballs glued to dozens of ads. While helping with the blind dating situation is a bit out of my wheel-house, there is something you can do to make the LinkBait crisis a little less annoying.

Alison – a.k.a. Snipeyhead or just Snipe – has created a browser plug-in that will change the sensational into the hilarious. While the plug-in can’t totally remove LinkBait from the net, it can make dealing with it significantly more humorous and more fun to deal with. In short, the plug-in replaces words like “literally” and “most amazing” into other words like “figuratively” and “boring.” You’ve no doubt seen this done with other plugins that replace single words with other words (*cough* CloudToButt *cough*) but this one has a much broader library of specifically LinkBait-ey words to bring a little more laughter to your otherwise maddening net-surfing experience.

Give it a go at downworthy.snipe.net – and send @snipeyhead a thank you. She’s made it freely available for anyone to use and remix, and I think we can all be AMAZINGLY thankful for her Literally changing every Incredible One Weird Trick that can Go Viral as it blows your mind in a way You Won’t Believe.

Go ahead, grab the plug-in and then re-read that last bit with it on and off.

You’re welcome.