Thursday, 29 July 2010

OpenArena, VenomScape, and Fiber-Optics


I know it's been a long time since I made a post here or anywhere, and seeing as I've nothing to do right now, here's another trio post.


I don't talk about it except when asked, but the only video game I play is OpenArena.  It's described all over the internet like this:

OpenArena is an open-source content package for id Tech 3 source licensed under the GPL, effectively creating a free stand-alone game.

I prefer to call it a free, open-source first-person shooter. Nowadays, it's rather loosely based on the Quake 3 engine, but the similarities are still really evident. If you've ever played Quake 3, for instance, learning OpenArena will probably take a minute (maybe two). If you've never played Quake 3, know that the learning curve is not all that strong. There's no tutorial or anything - if you so choose, you can start multiplayer right away and get dumped into the midst of a raging deathmatch. I don't recommend that.

The engine running OA is the ioq3 fork of the aforementioned id Tech 3 engine, which was released as open-source in 2006. Quake 3 came out in 1999. Lots of people still play that - at last check, there are well over 3500 servers online! So the game engine is pretty solidly built. OA isn't the only game based on it, but it's the most similar to Quake 3 (minus the price and lack of customization).

The reason I play OpenArena so much is because it's fun. There is no lengthy character development, no tutorials or "beginner" stuff, no confusing storyline (indeed, no storyline at all). It's a game you can "just play." And it's highly tweak-able and customizable - most of the servers I play on run custom mods make by members of the OA community. Some are really good, some are never played, and some servers are too far away...but there's something for everyone.

I tend to frequent CTF servers, although I play deathmatches as well. Not too often, mind, since a lot of beginner players go there (so I use a handicap). I use a custom configuration that took a while to perfect (and I still think I can make things better). That's another thing - OA runs on just about any computer and/or OS. Things work a little differently with each, but the download contains Windows, Mac, and x32 and x64 Linux executables, all of which will run the same game. There's also a FreeBSD port if you use that.

Computer requirements aren't too demanding at all. The computer I play on has 2GB of RAM, a 3.0GHz processor, and a 128MB dedicated memory 3D/OpenGL graphics card. OA needs about 512MB of RAM, 350 MHz of processor power, and roughly 64MB of graphics memory to run. And that's not too bad gameplay, either.

You can play over any kind of internet connection. No registration for your non-existent account or anything, either.

If you want to see some screenshots of gameplay, you can search the web - or if you just want to see some of my scores and such, I have an imgur album. :P

So - if you download the game (there is a list of mirrors on the official site) bear in mind it's about 300 MB (and there is a 40-ish MB patch as well). Any questions relating to the game or anything about it are welcomed on my clan's forums!


Just thought I'd say that. About time everyone knows what I do in my spare time...!

While I'm plugging stuff on the net, I should probably also mention that "Venomscape" still exists. People still post there.

It's a general chat forum used by a lot of my friends, as it has been since February 2007. I created it, I maintain it, but I don't exactly administrate it since there isn't much to do. If you see something interesting there, and you're likely to, then please go ahead and register so you can contribute. I'm trying to keep it running/growing so I don't feel bad about all the work I put into running it in the past!


The main issue I've been dealing with in real life for quite some time now is my terrible home internet connection. It might sound strange or silly, but as an adult (and oldest of 4 kids) I feel as though I ought to look out for the rest of the family.

Currently, we have 6 functional computers in the house. We usually have 7, but I have yet to figure out how to fix my brother's laptop.

This isn't a problem; actually, it's a convenience. If almost everyone has their own computer (my youngest siblings share one), then productivity and leisure time don't have to compete from person to person, and aren't dependent on anyone else's wants or needs. We have a wireless network that gets internet to all but one of our computers (my Linux machine is supposedly tethered), and besides that, they are all connected and sharing files is easy (if you know the passwords).

But here's the thing that frustrates me to no end: we still use aDSL.

aDSL stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. It's a protocol by which data is transferred over ordinary copper phone lines, reaches a modem, and is transferred to a CAT cable which then goes into a computer (or in our case, an AirPort router). There are two types of traffic on phone lines: voice and data. Voice traffic is a low-gain signal that goes into (and comes out of) phones. Data is further divided: faxes need a dedicated line because they are also low-gain and will interfere with phones. And there's also internet, which is a high-gain signal, meaning it won't (or shouldn't) interfere with phones.

After reaching the box at our house, the phone line passes through a microfilter (inside the wall outlet) and runs through an extension cable over to our modem, which then sends the internet signal to our router, which gives us internet access 24/7. Sounds great, right? A well-constructed system?


Problem 1: the extension cable. Copper lines are thin to begin with. They are not heavily insulated. They don't need to be. As I said, phone signal is low-gain. Not much is going to interfere with your standard copper-line home phone service. However, long phone cables are often flat insulated wires containing four copper lines running parallel to each other instead of being wrapped around each other, a method of reducing interference. A high-gain signal running through a weak wire like that isn't dangerous or anything, but it is kind of stupid. Ideally, there should be NOTHING between the box and the modem other than a direct, wrapped copper phone line. Everything and anything extraneous will cause a decrease in the strength of DSL uplink and, consequently, your internet speed.

Where we live, the big guys are Verizon and Comcast. We've been Verizon people since before they were Verizon (remember Bell Atlantic?) and they currently provide our home phone and aDSL service. We pay for what they say is their "high-speed internet" package, meaning a theoretical 1 mBit/sec downstream and 300kBit/sec upstream. According to our modem, we get 864kBit/sec downstream and 160kBit/sec upstream. According to, the actual speed of the internet our computers get is 753kBit/sec downstream and 134kBit/sec upstream.

Bottom line: We get less than 75% of what we pay for. According to these tests, we actually get 60% of what we pay for.

Did I mention what we pay? $24 a month. I'm not paying two hours' wage to spend a whole day downloading a software update!

Enter FiOS.

Verizon's FiOS service is the highest-rated and fastest internet service around. By that I mean around here. NC Numericable S.A and SpeedyLine LTD are exceptions to the "speed limit," but they also aren't in America. FiOS is a dedicated fiber-optic internet service, meaning they run a fiber line right to your house, whereas cable internet is spliced off your neighborhood's lines and therefore isn't your own connection at all.

FiOS is 25 times faster than what DSL claims. Bear in mind they're provided by the same company.

The package I've been trying to get for some time now is a 25mBit by 25mBit internet plan including home phone service. Since Verizon is already our home phone provider, we get a discount. Without going into too much detail, shall we just say - we'll spend $29 less every month should we upgrade.

That and our internet will not crawl anymore. If one person is on the internet that's fine. But if two people are on? Oof. Mystified complaints of "Why is the internet so slow?" turned into "Jimmy, why is the internet so slow?" and that eventually got to me - now, I just say "Because it's DSL" and let 'em fume about it. Not my problem they're still getting gouged for ancient technology.

I've done all I can to convince them. My parents have often told me that in order to remember something, I need to be told over and over and over. That's only true in some cases, but apparently, it doesn't apply to them (despite the fact my mom's brain works a lot like mine). If I press the issue with her, she just gets irritated and tells me to "drop it already." At least she likes the basic idea. -.-

My dad's advice for getting a job included something about making frequent check-up calls after applying or going for an interview. Basically, he wanted me to pester people, only in a benign way, to prove that I really really want the job. Sounds reasonable, right? Well...somewhat, but it does work. I doubt he rose to his position by being passive.

But should I push the upgrade issue with him, he gets downright pissed off and declares the conversation "over," much like Prince did the Internet. My mother told me that I ought to put everything about FiOS down on paper, and include things like why we should upgrade, why DSL is so bad, etc. So I did. In the space of a few empty hours, I put together a 7-page "report" on why we need an internet service that isn't aDSL or cable because it's FiOS. Then, I gave it to my parents.

My mom took several days to get around to actually reading it, and even then I don't think she read all of it. My dad, as of yesterday, hasn't gone past the first page and continues calling it "Vaios" (like the Sony laptop) and asking the same stupid questions over and over.

This is a guy who didn't know how to make folders on his desktop and after that had no idea you could have folders inside folders. He acted genuinely awed. I wanted to believe he was kidding. My dad is not stupid. That's why I'm frustrated - here's a guy who uses multi-thousand dollar medical equipment every day to monitor a patient's vitals, and he can't figure out an iMac? I've seen those machines in hospitals - they're more complicated than any computer out there, with more interfaces than one person can use at once. Like I said, I highly doubt my father rose to his position by being passive.

"Does Vaios phone go out when there's a power outage?" I've heard that one every day since I first told him we need it. "My colleague says it does. I need to be available in case I get called in!"

1. You have an iPhone. You get service at home. Even in a power outage, I have a battery pack that will give your iPhone (or iPod, any) an extra 6-10 hours of battery life.

2. You have a pager. People page you when you're needed in the hospital. So if you're paranoid about your phone battery, keep it off until you're paged.

3. FiOS comes with free installation, including a free router and a free 8-hour battery backup. That means that when the power goes out, your phones will still work for 8 hours, except the 4 cordless ones and the answering machine.

4. Did you even ask your colleague what he does when the power goes out?

5. How many times in a year do we lose power? Twice, maybe? And remember those several times when we lost phone service as well?

"I'm sorry, I haven't read it yet. I will tonight."

I've heard that for about a week straight. I've all but given up on him. It's hopeless. Nothing will convince him, because I guess he can't remember anything I say. He remembers to play Wolfenstein 3D for hours, but the rest of the day he has important work. Even at home. "I'll read it in my free time (tonight)". I hear the Wolfenstein sound effects until 10 at night, at which point he goes to bed. I don't even know where my pamphlet is. He put it in his pile of unread mail and crap in the kitchen, and now it's probably towards the bottom.

So full of shit. I can't win. I really can't.


Am I being selfish? Do I want FiOS so I can download more? So I have a lower ping on "that goddamn game you always play"?

Downloading software updates (and software, and music, and other stuff) is nice and all, but not exactly a pastime of mine. Having a low ping on OA servers would be cool as well, but I do just fine with ~150ms, thank you very much.

Newsflash: FiOS isn't for me. It's not a dedicated fiber line to my bedroom, it's to your house. It's not a tool to make me better at video games, it's to make you have a better overall internet experience. It's not so I can host a faster VPN tunnel in my room, it's so your network will work better for you and your kids when I'm away at college and can't be fixing all your stuff!

I'm sick of it. Sick of all of it - the  "Why is the internet so slow, Jimmy?" The "Stop downloading stuff, Jimmy" "I'm not, dammit!" The "I'll read it later" and "I haven't gotten around to it yet, I don't have any free time" *ratatatatat*. The "If Vaios is more than $24, it's not worth it" "It's a better overall deal, for crying out loud, you're getting robbed with this crappy DSL!" "It's fine for what I do." "But it's not fine for everyone else!"

I'm thinking of the family here. I'm going to college. I won't really use our FiOS at all. I wish I had brought this up last year. We might be getting somewhere by now.

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