Saving Money Quest: Light bulbs

Last year was a hard year for my employer. As a result it was a hard year for my wife and I also, as I lost 16 hours a week. While I quickly found a part time job to cover some of the lost wages it meant tightening the proverbial belt a little and reducing our expenses. So I’ve tried my best to reduce my bills doing things like: downsizing my Cable package and getting rid of the house phone; clipping coupons; signing up for a cash back credit card; doing some comparison shopping; etc. I’ve also kept my eyes open for and actively looking for bargains and today I found something worth sharing with everyone.

It seems that some electric company’s give rebates for updating your house or work with more energy efficient devices and lights. If you live in NH you should really take a look at:

NHSaves

Now while the LED light blubs are still very pricey the cost of the squiggly bulbs is incredible. Especially check out the prices on the TCP 14w SpringLamp and the 19w and 23w SpringLights.

If you don’t live in NH you should check out your local power provider they chances are they have an energy saving programs or rebates.

UPDATE TO: My experiences with Ubuntu 11.10 64-bit and XBMC v11.0 Eden Beta 3

Today after I got home from work I immediately sat down to work on my HTPC box again. Why because I’m stubborn thats why. So I just into Unity 2d open a terminal and out of habit more then anything I ran:

apt-get update
apt-get upgrade

Would you look at that XBMC v11.0 Eden RC1! So I fired up the new XBMC and immediately start a 1080p video and its seemless. Seems that maybe I was wrong and it wasn’t Unity after all.

Now to remove my video source and re-add it. /crosses fingers

this is an addendum to: update to this post

Real time update: So its been about an hour and 720p is tearing again. So that means back to the drawing board yet again.

Running XBMC as the GUI eliminates stuttering and tearing. Since I want to be able to drop to a desktop this is not a good solution. So I have installed XFCE for my desktop environment. This has fixed the stuttering and tearing. The new version of xbmc however has not has not fixed the library issue I have been having. I guess it’s time to post on the XBMC forums.

My experiences with Ubuntu 11.10 64-bit and XBMC v11.0 Eden Beta 3

Almost a week ago I finally got around to posting about the Ubuntu 10.04 32-bit and XBMC 10.1 Dharma machine that I put together. Yesterday I moved I finally got around to moving it to some new hardware and replicating some of my efforts. I wish I had taken a nap instead.

The old machine was an aging Asus P5E-VM HDMI sporting a dual core 3.0 Ghz processor with 4 GB DDR2 800Mhz ram, and a new GeForce 440 w/ 1gb that I picked up when I realized that the onboard Intel video card would always stutter during 1080p playback. It worked nearly flawlessly once I took the time to tweak settings, and get everything just the way that I wanted it to be. My biggest complaints were that I was running analog sound from the onboard card to the TV and the video output was over a standard VGA cable. You see I wanted to use HDMI for two reasons. 1. to reduce cord clutter. 2. Because the way my TV remote toggles between HDMI inputs is better than when I have to toggle between antenna and VGA port. It also makes sense to me that the simpler it is, the easier it will be for other people to use.

A friend and colleague gave me his old computer internals when he upgraded recently. I was originally going to use this for building my HTPC but was being cheap and didn’t want to pick up a video card if I didn’t have to. The parts are an Asus Maximus II Forumla motherboard sporting an Intel Core 2 quad 3.0 Ghz processor, 8 GB DDR2 1200Mhz ram, and a pci-e x1 [supremeFX X-Fi audio card] surround sound card that came with the board. Really it’s an old gaming mobo but who would complain? Not this guy that’s for sure.

So I made myself a checklist, made myself a back up, and shut the machine down. Carried it to my work bench (note: I do not have a work bench really, its just part of my computer desk that I routinely use for working on other computers. Maybe I should setup a work bench at some point.) I noted what sata ports all the drives were plugged into, disconnected everything and put the motherboard into the case. I re-attached all the power cords, the sata cords, etc. Fired it up and through the Ubuntu 11.10 64-bit disk I had burned into the DVD drive and installed 11.10 for the first time ever. I have been leery about upgrading because of the jump to Unity. Pretty much everything is worth a try at least once.

Installation went smoothly [although I must say I really prefer some of the older Linux installers that gave you a little more control over the default packages]. I did not experience any hardware or driver issues and must congratulate Ubuntu on their ease of installation. It even installed NVidia drivers albeit older ones (280.xx current its 295.xx). Once the OS was installed I had to use mdadm to re-assemble my 2TB raid5 array which was painless. Then I made it mount at boot also trivial once I figured out how to open a damn terminal window. For the sake of being thorough there are two relatively easy ways to open a Terminal in the newer Ubuntu you can either ctrl + alt + T, or you can use the Dash icon and type in “terminal”. If you are not familiar with the new Unity you should check it out. With that said I am not a fan of Unity at this time. Why? Good question and one that I aim to answer later in this article.

So with the installation and general setup done I got cracking on installing the new XBMC v11 Eden Beta 3. This installation was also easy. Then I restored my configuration, and got to work migrating some of the other applications I use and their configs. Once I was done a few minutes later I fired up XBMC. Everything seemed to be working fine. So I brought the PC back upstairs to my TV and plugged it in using HDMI instead of the analog sound and VGA cable and turned it on. The resolution was a little lower than planned so I changed it. I fired up XBMC for the second time and started testing. Low and behold there was no sound. After playing with settings for a few minutes sound was working over HDMI and 720p playing when I noticed that it was a bit… laggy with some minor tearing. So I upgraded the NVidia drivers with apt and TV shows were happy once again. Now came the real test, 1080p playback. This was hellish. It was worse than the 720p was before the driver update! So I went through settings in XBMC and checked NVidia’s site for newer drivers and the end result was nothing useful.

Nearly an hour later after pouring through the settings in the NVidia Control panel, and Unity’s video/screen options I gave up and started looking at it from a different point of view. Being new to Unity I was not familiar that there was also a Unity 2d which is a lower resource version of Unity designed for weaker and older systems. Once I found it I switched to it and noticed a dramatic difference in video playback quality, yet it was still far from perfect. Finally I decided to log into my HTPC utilizing xbmc as the windows GUI. This sacrifices the ability to drop out of XBMC to the desktop, but viola! Seamless 1080p video play back! My guess is that the overhead of Unity adds was the issue.

Time to enjoy some video right? Wrong. I’m not sure why but everything in my media library tells me that it is no longer available and asks me if I would like to remove it from the library. That’s just plain bizarre. All the files are there. Recently added works. Going into Video and trying to start things that way works. What the >censored

Realms: EHC 2011 rules changes

The 2011 EHC has come and gone. Here are some of the highlights. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Please head to realmsnet.net for a complete list.

Your official officers of the game are as follows.
Death Marshal: Jason Grey
Keeper of the List of Realms Magic Items: Neil Tozier
Event List Administrator: Ian Pushee
Players’ Meeting and Event Holders’ Council Organizers: Angela and Jason Grey
Omnibus Editorial Committee: Jay Bonci, Dave Hayden, Jake Valeri

The following proposals passed:

  • Add Bamboo to be on par with Fiberglass tubing for Weapons const
    • Bamboo or Fiberglass tubing may be used in place of PVC pipe for non thrust-only, melee weapons 5’ in length or shorter. Tubing should measure approximately ¾” in diameter.
    • Weapons constructed using bamboo or fiberglass tubing must meet or exceed all rules regarding PVC weapons. In addition, the following guides apply: The thrusting tip must be securely attached to the tubing; tape must overlap the thrusting tip and tubing, traveling the entire length of the tube’s circumference; a disk of closed-cell foam at least ¼” thick must be securely affixed to the thrusting end of the weapon.

  • Weapons should be used with minimum force necessary
    • Add to rule 10:
      Weapons (melee and missile) should be used with minimum force necessary to score a successful hit.

  • Calling flat
    • You may call “Flat of the blade” at any time, even in the middle of a fight. This form of attack deals no damage to armor.

  • Clarification on arrows = weapons
    • A bow is not considered a “weapon” for purposes of determining whether a spell fails; arrows are considered weapons and will cause some spells to fail.

  • Make the wordings around “off-target” shots consistent
    • If you are hit in these areas you may
      choose not to accept the blow, but you must call the location hit (e.g., if you are hit in the face, call “Face,” and keep fighting if you wish to).

  • Parrying with arrow breaks bow
    • If a weapon hits a wielded bow or nocked arrow, the bow is “broken” and may no longer be used in combat. Anyone can fix a broken bow by holding the
      bow with two hands, then counting to 200. You cannot actively parry with a bow or arrow.

  • Clarify whether potions can be thrown
    • Any potions must be directly applied to the
      recipient. They may not be thrown, dropped or remotely applied in any
      manner.

  • Line of Site vs. In Front of
    • A Ward spell affects creatures in front of the spellcaster (limited by a 180 degree hemisphere extending from shoulder to shoulder and outwards from the chest)

  • New caveat – Spell Failure due to weapon proximity.
    • Add the following to the list of caveats:
      Spell Failure

      Some spells fail to work if there are weapons within a certain proximity. Enter text from option chosen here

      Option A: If a spell fails due to weapon proximity the casting
      is lost.

  • Specify OOC safety for walking dead
    • Under Magical Effects everyone should know > Necromancy > Walking
      Dead

      * Move to the destination as directly as possible without taking an OOC unsafe path. If the only option is to move into an OOC unsafe situation, then the spell ends and the body falls to the ground.

  • Healer Path Update
    • 2. Heal Limb, Group Healing
      3. Raise Dead
      4. Call the Soul
      5. Combat Raise Dead
      6. Circle of Healing, Cry of Life
      7. Seed of Life

  • New Spell: Divine Aid
    • Divine Aid (Channeler 4)
      Uses: 1 – Verbal: Speak to EH
      Material: A sacrifice may be required
      Active: A quest may be required.

      This spell allows the spellcaster to send a request for aid to a higher power. The request can not be specific and the higher power may send whatever aid they see fit. This spell comes with no guarantee that the EH won’t simply listen to the request and say, “No.” This spell cannot create an effect that will last beyond the end of the event, other than for healing purposes. A spellcaster who uses drama and theatrics has a better chance of success.

  • Seed of Life Revision
    • Seed of Life (Healer 7)
      Uses: Unlimited, while spellcaster has MC handy
      Verbal: 30 words and an explanation
      Material: 1 tokens with the spellcaster’s name and the words “Seed of Life” on them.

      When cast on a dead body, this spell allows the recipient to regenerate once, after 120 seconds. The spellcaster must hand the MC to the recipient when the spell is cast. Once the spell ends, the recipient should return the MC to the spellcaster as soon as reasonably possible. Other than this, the MC is neither stealable nor transferable in any way. If the recipient is scalped, returned to life or raised as undead, the spell ends. This spell has no effect on the undead. See the Regeneration Caveat.

  • Soul Bane
    • Soul Bane (Assassin 3)
      Uses: 2
      Active: Scalp a dead body, following the final scalping blow the caster says “Soul Bane”.

      This spell alters the next Call the Soul cast on the target by making the black stone successful and the white stones unsuccessful. The caster must inform the Magic Marshal as soon as possible of who they scalped and cast Soul Bane on. The effect triggers the next time the target’s soul is called. The spell ends after the first Call the Soul, whether it was successful or not. Only one Soul Bane can be active on a person at a time.

  • Spell Failure Caveat follow-up proposal: Lightning Bolt Cleanup
    • There were several changes to this spell, but most were gramatical and didn’t actually change how the spell works. See realmsnet for the actual changes.

  • Editorial edits to the Weapons Construction section
    • This is a formatting change, and not a rules change. See realmsnet for the actual changes.

  • Grammatical correction re: Crossbows and Custom Arrow
    • Whether crossbows or custom-designed arrows are allowed is up to the individual EH’s discretion.

Lastly on the subject of Grandfathering:
You will be able to grandfather the spells you have, but you will not be able to change your Paths.

XBMC on Ubuntu: my ramblings and fix for video playback stuttering

Several weeks ago I decided to revisit creating a HTPC box. For those not familiar with the term, and because of the rampant over usage of acronyms in the IT industry, HTPC stands for Home Theatre PC. In theory this is a computer that resides in or near your TV that hooks up to your TV that you can use to store multimedia files (Movies, TV Shows, Music), and play them on your TV (or surround sound system). Additionally some HTPCs also have TV Tuners, and function like a cable box, DVR/PVR.

A while back I posted on Google+ that I was sick of paying “the Comcast tax”. My average bill was about $160/month. Which I suppose is about average for a utility bill. Since then I built my media center box and have cancelled my Comcast Phone, and scaled back my Comcast TV to basic service. This has reduced my monthly bill to about $80/month.

Part of my solution utilizes XBMC. What is XBMC? Well you can read all about it at their website xbmc.org. The short answer is that it is a media player and media library software. Originally I had gone with Boxee, but back on December 26, 2011 they announced that not only was v1.5 coming out, but that it would be the last version for the PC. This has effectively removed boxee as a viable software for my HTPC. This makes boxee nonviable pretty much across the board. I personally think that boxee has made a big mistake in alienating their community, but only time will tell.

During the course of my exploring and configuring and breaking… fixing, breaking, fixing, breaking, and fixing again. I came across a couple things that I thought might be helpful to others.

Occasionally after watching TV for a while the video would start to stutter. At first I thought that this was because I was using an old video card, or perhaps a XBMC memory leak. The more I used the system that more I noticed that it occurred more frequently after I used windows RDP to connect to the machine. Closing XBMC and restarting it didn’t fix the issue though. Rebooting the machine did, but that’s hardly a solution. So I SSHed into the machine and started top and left it running while I continued to watch TV, etc. Eventually the symptom arose again and I checked out what processes were utilizing what for cpu time. I didn’t actually expect this to be helpful, but figured that it was worth a shot. Xorg was strangely high. Higher than XBMC. So I did some googling… and found a post that said to try “killall vino-server”. Imagine my surprise when after I try this the video starts playing with out stutters.

If you are having a similar issue and run vino try this for yourself. If this fixes the symptoms that you are having like it did mine, it leaves a couple options for “fixing” it.

1. If you do not need to RDP into the machine (ie remotely control the desktop) you could uninstall vino server. This can be achieved by running “apt-get remove vino” or fire up Synaptic Package Manager and remove it that way.

2. If you need remote desktop access you can uninstall vino (like above) and install x11vnc. Directions can be found at: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=45565

3. You could setup a cron job that runs “killall vino-server” every hour or so.

4. Lastly you could try installing a different version of vino.

NEW SPELL: Oath of Peace (Healer 7)

Oath of Peace (Healer 7)

Uses: 1 – Verbal: 60 words – Material: A white sash with the
spellcaster’s name and the words “Oath of Peace” on it.

This spell puts the spellcaster into a state of pacifism. While in
the state of pacifism they may not wield any weapons and any hit that
successfully damages the spellcaster kills them instead. Additionally
when casting the Raise Dead spell the spellcaster may instead use the
verbal and active components, and description of the Combat Raise Dead
spell. If the sash is disenchanted the spell ends immediately.

UPDATE: Releasing a Magic Item at Your Event

Releasing a Magic Item at Your Event

* ORIGINAL *
An EH is permitted to create one non-event specific magic item (a “Realms Magic Item”) at each event for which he receives EH credit. Only one magic item may be released for each event, even if there are multiple Event Holders. Such magic items will retain their powers and abilities at all subsequent events at which they are pre-registered and approved. If an EH has not held a legal event during a calendar year, any magic items that he or she released will be considered effectively destroyed as of the EH Council immediately following that year. All magic items, including weapons, must have the responsible EH’s name, the date it was released and the words “Magic” and “Stealable” written on them. Magic items are released on the date of the event the EH is creating them for and must be submitted to the Keeper of the List of Realms Magic Items within one month of that event. The actual prop for the item does not need to be distributed to players at that time, but an EH that does not designate a magic item for an event within one month forever loses the opportunity to release an item for said event.

CHANGE TO:
An EH is permitted to create one non-event specific magic item (a “Realms Magic Item”) at each event for which he receives EH credit. Only one magic item may be released for each event, even if there are multiple Event Holders. Such magic items will retain their powers and abilities at all subsequent events at which they are pre-registered and approved. If an EH has not held a legal event during a calendar year, any magic items that he or she released will be considered effectively destroyed as of the EH Council immediately following that year. All magic items, including weapons, must have the responsible EH’s name, the date it was released and the words “Magic” and “Stealable” written on them. Magic items are released on the date of the event the EH is creating them for and must be submitted to the Keeper of the List of Realms Magic Items, or added on realmsnet within one month of that event. The actual prop for the item does not need to be distributed to players at that time, but an EH that does not designate a magic item for an event within one month forever loses the opportunity to release an item for said event.

RATIONALE

While it should be kept as an option to submit directly to the list keeper, most people add it on Realmsnet which generates an email to notify me.

SUMMARY

This does not change any game mechanics.

UPDATE: How Characters are Scalped

Under the section: “How Characters are Scalped”

*ORIGINAL*

The act of scalping is done to simulate the mutilation of a corpse to
the point where it cannot be revived by normal Raise Dead spells. In
order to scalp a body, you must strike 200 blows on the ground beside
the body of the character being scalped. More than one person may
scalp a body at a time. More than one weapon may be used to scalp a
body as well. This effectively divides the number of blows to be
struck between the number of participants and number of weapons used.
Some monsters and characters under certain spells may require more
scalping blows to completely destroy. If you strike 200 blows and the
victim says, “The job is not yet done,” then the scalping is not yet
complete. Some spells, such as Acid Potion and Eviscerate , may
accelerate the act of scalping.

CHANGE TO:

The act of scalping is done to simulate the mutilation of a corpse to
the point where it cannot be revived by normal Raise Dead spells. In
order to scalp a body, you must strike 200 blows on the ground beside
the body of the character being scalped. More than one person may
scalp a body at a time. More than one weapon may be used to scalp a
body as well. This effectively divides the number of blows to be
struck between the number of participants and number of weapons used.
Some monsters and characters under certain spells may require more
scalping blows to completely destroy. If you strike 200 blows and the
victim says, “The job is not yet done,” then the scalping is not yet
complete. Some spells, such as Create Potion (Acid
Potion)
and Eviscerate, may accelerate the act of scalping.

RATIONALE

There is no spell called ACID POTION.

SUMMARY

This does not change any game mechanics.