Friday, January 27, 2012

Improving the Country Through Rural Wi-Fi

I heard about the introduction of "Whitespace Broadband" in Wilmington, North Carolina this morning on NPR and then saw an article about it when I got to work.

This is a GREAT thing!

I grew up rural. We had four channels: the big three and PBS (my wife had two with occasional PBS). By the time I got to junior high, we had a fifth channel broadcasting syndicated shows in the UHF range. We couldn't get cable - unless we paid to lay it - and satellite was just coming into vogue - albeit with a huge metal receiver dish that would make the NSA proud.

Over the years, I have spent most of my life in a rural/semi-rural environment. Without government subsidizing electricity, water, phone, and road infrastructure, these folks would still be living the life of Russian serfs. One of the last areas that has been built up to a decent level is internet access. The use of the old analog TV radio frequencies for this is a HUGE step forward. Access will improve and (more importantly) speeds will improve.

Why is speed important? Currently, most rural internet users live in 1996. Dial-up is the rule, not the exception (note - yes, there is satellite and microwave internet, but they are both prohibitively expensive and each has it's own issues). My in-laws have dial-up. Most ISPs advertise access speeds above 56Kbps, yet the lines and equipment used for transmission is sixty years old (or older). This may allow downloads in the 24-36Kbps range and uploads about 14Kbps... OK, most rural internet users live in 1994.

My internet access at home is in the 7-10Mbs (7000-10,000Kbps) range with uploads in the 2-3Mbs range. I can email a document (conservatively) eighty times faster than they receive it. I can download webpages almost 200 times faster... Loading video on dial-up is prohibitively ssssssslllllllloooooowwwwwwww on dial-up... let's not even go there... Whitespace Broadband is apparently faster than my Cable Internet, but I would like to see the numbers from Wilmington.

An effect of this - less education about what is going on in the world around you. Yes, you have your satellite TV. Yes, you can keep track of what is going on from the point of view of the news channel you choose to watch. However, you don't have access to the Khan Academy, foregoing one of the best learning institutions on the planet. You don't have access to the Weather Channel info about your specific location, foregoing information about the hurricane, tornado, or blizzard bearing down on you..You don't have access to all of the news sources the world has to provide, foregoing the opportunity to learn about opposing viewpoints and the chance to be a better informed citizen.

If this isn't inequity, I don't know what is.

I am not trying to suggest, as some are, that the Internet is a human right. I am suggesting that the better educated the populace, the better the country. Expand Internet infrastructure cheaply and efficiently and your people will reward you. But first, they will have to get in line behind the residents of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Other articles on this:
Network World
PCMag - with explanation of how this works and it is not really 'Wi-Fi'
PC World

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

D&D&Kids: It Works!!! (*phew*)

OK, call me vindicated... and greatly relieved!

We had some time a few weeks back and thought, "What the heck!" I pulled everything out and set up, printed off a couple of things, and set it all into motion. And I apologize now for no pictures. I forgot in the excitement...

Having read the comments of others, I tried to stick with the 3 S's:
  • Keep it Simple, 
  • Build a Story, and 
  • Give him some Support.
Keep it Simple
I kept it simple by going with AD&D 2.0. He picked up pretty quick that he has to roll a D20 for James (His PC) to hit, and a D8 for damage (long sword). I roll initiative at the start of battle and let it go. Using DM's discretion keeps it moving when it needs to move.

Build a Story that Gives the Player a Reason to Play
For the younger player, create something that gives them some buy-in, a reason to think what they do is important, and the belief that there is a sense of order to what happens. This works well DMing for older players, as well, now that I think of it...

There are some articles I have read on this (see my earlier post listing some of these) that suggest letting the player(s) choose what they want to do, what kind of characters to have, and how they go about it. In the words of Bill Lumbergh, "I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there."

My experience is that, when given these choices, younger kids (5-8) don't have a framework in which to create anything from the D&D 'verse. They may know some fantasy tropes, but may just as well go for the Pirate King and the Fairy Princess go to rescue the Care Bears from Barney the Dinosaur (not that anyone should be left in the clutches of Barney).

Take some control. Make decisions. Take their desires into consideration, but don't make it a free-form, "Everybody is a Winner!" cakewalk that gives no sense of effort required  to earn the reward.

Our World (and its Cast of Several)

I am using the country of Karameikos in the Mystara world for this adventure. This allows for lots of good background material as his character progresses (and he gets older). His character, James, grew up in Creekfield. This is a small (made-up) town about 40-50 miles west of Verge. Essentially, this allows a nice, backwoodsy, wilderness area in which he can adventure. His mom, a retired warrior (L9, half-elf fighter), is the town sheriff (and the as-of-yet unneeded deus ex machina savior from an inevitable bad ending). His dad, now deceased, was an elf, thus allowing James to be a half-elf (as he informed me he wanted after I finished getting him set for being human).

He also has some friends with whom he can adventure. They are the rogue, cleric, and mage to his warrior (I am soooo glad he does not know the terms "Tank" and "Meat Shield", much less "caster" or "healer"). They keep him out of trouble and also serve as ideas of what else is out there in the way of classes. As with lots of MMO or non-MMO RPGs, starting out as a warrior (to cut your teeth, if nothing else) is recommended to let the player understand some of the basics.

The town, itself, is in a quiet backwood. It is adjacent to hills, forest, and mountains (lots of good adventure material there). There are fields, sheep, and cattle in the area and most townspeople are farmers. Just over a half-day's walk through fields and hills is a logging/forestry village on the edge of the forest. I have dropped some light hints, but the cat is not yet out of the bag that the folks in the camp are true lycanthropes - undead and were-'s go with the territory in Karameikos.

I initially created some ideas for some different locales in the forest:

  • A cave in the woods that has been the camp of some bad guys,
  • A abandoned ruin of a fort nestled on the edge of the mountains, 
  • A small camp used by the loggers, and
  • A small druid hovel.

Between these locations and some random encounters, we have started to play some short adventures (he still calls them missions!). The local kobolds now know to run. We have learned of an apparent plot by some gnolls and goblins to start trying to move in and cause problems. The cleric is of great help fighting skeletons - skeletons that may or may not be somehow part of the gnoll/goblin plot. We have also learned that ogres are stupid but may carry nice things on them.

I will talk more next time of some of my steps to prep for all of this nonsense and how I set up and tear down within minutes. Hint: Not having to worry about Doritos and Mountain Dew is a big part of that!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Football, Political and Otherwise

Between yesterday and today, I am becoming more sure in my belief that both the NCAA BCS and the selection of a party presidential candidate should be done as loser-out tournaments, a la the NCAA BBall tournaments.

No drawn out, months-long attempt to find the dirty laundry or wait for the goofy picture or verbal gaffe in a debate. No argument about the coaches' and writer's opinions overriding the computer calculations. No need to try to comprehend how a competitor, whether in cleats or a blue suit, could possibly be considered seriously at this point. 

What else should be in a bracket?