Today I am Going to Fly

Some men are born posthumously. ~Nietzsche

Minimum wages?

Posted by penuruloki on December 12, 2013

 

“If it weren’t for my horse…” ~Louis Black

So apparently fast food workers are trying to organize strikes to push for $15/hr wages, and this has people talking about low wage jobs and minimum wages. I don’t normally delve too deeply into those debates, but then I saw something that pretty much blew my mind, and I needed to process it and respond, for the sake of sanity if nothing else. At least I didn’t have an aneurysm.

First, lets point out the obvious. A picture should suffice: http://www.political-humor.org/this-is-a-fast-food-worker-on-15-minimum-wage.shtml

Yes, raising the minimum wage will cause those jobs to be eliminated. The fact is that wages are part of the profits that come from creating wealth (goods and services used to sustain and enrich life). The wages paid for any given job are going to be limited by the wealth created from peforming that job. If those workers are not creating wealth with (sufficiently) more value to customers than $15 for every hour spent (plus the compensation of contributing efforts), then no one will pay them $15/hr to perform that task. That task will cease to be performed by wage labor. This has always been the part that the political left fails to fully acknowledge.

I expect as much from the left. Their failure to accept reality does not surprise me. No, what blew my mind is something I read in a right-wing publication.

“As mentioned above, the evidence suggests that many long-term unemployed workers are “scarred”​—​their lengthy spell out of the workforce is making it difficult for them because firms view workers who have been unemployed for so long as risky hires. Why not reduce the risk associated with the hire by lowering the minimum wage for long-term unemployed workers? A firm may not want to take a $7.25 per-hour risk on a long-term unemployed worker, but might be willing to take a $4 risk. If we lower the minimum wage for the long-term unemployed, then we’ll need to supplement their earnings with an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit or some other government funded wage subsidy.”

Ok, lets be clear about something here. Working a job for minimum wage (at the current level) DOES NOT PROVIDE ENOUGH TO PAY A REASONABLE COST OF LIVING. Minimum wage is fine for a first job as a teenager, or as a second job if you’re saving up for something. No sane person would expect such a job to actually support someone as their primary source of income. In fact, we don’t. People stuck in those income brackets are typically subsidized by government support programs. What he is trying to promote (inexplicably from some kind of “conservative” angle), is more government subsidies, for work that already doesn’t produce as much wealth as is consumed by the worker (it would pay their bills if it did).

You would think, by his logic, that the point was to create work, that the problem to be solved is that we just don’t have enough to occupy us and that we’re in danger of having nothing to do. NO! In fact the object of any economy is to create WEALTH! We don’t need more busy work that produces less than the worker consumes, we need more good jobs that result in a net increase in wealth (and pay the worker their fair share of the profits). If “a firm may not want to take a $7.25-per-hour risk on a long-term unemployed worker,” then the problem isn’t that companies are exposed to too much risk, it’s that companies don’t see sufficient potential of increased economic output, and they have too many applicants available to fill their ranks without giving those workers a chance. The problem of “long-term unemployment” is really just a problem of regular unemployment. The supply of workers looking for jobs is too high in comparison to the number of good jobs available. With lower unemployment, the “long-term unemployed” would have a much better chance of finding a decent opportunity (as companies would have to work harder to fill their open positions).

Friedrich Hayek (idol of conservative economists) tells us that markets are a product of government (stability and accepted rules of exchange being required for any market), and so a dysfunctional labor market should signal interference from a dysfunctional government, but the problem is not the minimum wage (which is unsustainable for primary economic activity without subsidizing it by redistribution of wealth). The more likely problem is all the rules and regulations that add unnecessary costs to the process (e.g., “rents”, legal bills), and prevent producers from entering markets against entrenched competition (permitting and licensing regulations; patent law). I find it telling that the author came up with government subsidized lower minimum wage as an answer instead of lowering barriers to independent entry into the market.

Others seem to be caught in a similar thought process, though for different reasons. In fact, most discussions of the economy seem to take place from the frame of “we need more jobs.” Many leftists seem to support such an ideal from their interpretation of Marx’s theory of abstract labor. Other sources seem to treat work as a means of control; keep people busy for 8-12 hours a day so they don’t have time to complain/agitate about the problems developing in the world around them. This is all madness. The only reason to perform work is the material contribution it provides. Pumping resources and energy into work that doesn’t provide a net contribution to the surplus of wealth is a recipe for decline and collapse. Spending resources on a net consumption of wealth is the definition of leisure, not labor. The fact that the worker does not desire or enjoy the activity doesn’t make it any more beneficial to society as a whole.

At the very least, if a worker can not contribute to the surplus of wealth in a meaningful way, they can at least minimize their consumption of wealth by avoiding the extra expense that comes with commuting and other costs incurred simply to join the workforce. In a more ideal form, we should be encouraging those who can not currently contribute to society to spend their time improving their own human capital so they can contribute more in the future. There are numerous online and local learning resources (available at minimal/no extra cost) that they could use to such an end. Why on earth are we advocating subsidies for the net destruction of wealth as an ideal worth pursuing? I’m normally very sympathetic to the moral hazard that comes from living without contributing to your own welfare, but is avoiding that individual moral hazard sufficient reason to engage all of society in the equal moral hazard of endless, meaningless busy work?

The “fast food worker at ~$15/hr” in the picture linked above should represent a triumph of civilization, the efforts of proud engineers, managers, and technicians, that allows all those workers currently doing little more than flipping burgers the chance to contibute something more meaningful to society. Why do we fear it? Why would we want MORE of those jobs? Minimum wage is fine for part time work that puts a little extra into the pockets of those who get their main sustanence elsewhere, but if we’ve sunk to the point that we see the existence of a minimum wage as the obstacle that prevents us from harnessing the full power of our society, then we’ve lost our way.

I don’t believe that government intrusions into markets provide satisfactory solutions to our problems, but it’s worth noting that we’re more likely to promote the creation of wealth by raising the minimum wage than by lowering it. We do not need, and should not want, the producers of our society to be driven into jobs where they will need to be perpetually subsidized to survive. What we have now is depressing, but what some people propose is pure madness.

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“Demography is Destiny” ~Auguste Comte

Posted by penuruloki on November 8, 2012

It’s normal after an election for the defeated party to take stock of the situation, figure out what went wrong, and figure out what changes to make. Too moderate? Too far to the left/right? Paying too much or too little attention to one segment of the coalition or another? This year’s immediate response among Republicans seems to split in a different fashion than I’ve seen in previous years. There seems to be a strong split between those who take an almost sporting approach to politics, and those who take an ideological approach to politics.

The sportsmen of the party are already discussing “the bench” for 2016, how to shake up the playbook (which issues to abandon; which new positions to take), and who they want to recruit onto the team. They’re looking for a new formula for victory.

The idealogues are focused on the fact that even with as poorly as the country is doing, as unfavorable as the status quo is going into the election, and much compromise and effort they already made, the voters sent the same people back to work. Under conditions about as good as Republicans could hope for, they could not convince voters to support a change. Given that, there is now a serious question about whether there is now any chance for a real victory; that is, is it even possible any more to preserve a future for the country that is recognizable to the center-right coalition that forms the base of the party? If winning elections involves abandoning the ideal underlying the platform, then why bother?

Much of the explanation for the election results has been derived from the Comte quote above. The electoral divide along racial, ethnic, and gender lines has generated a shifting electorate as the demographic mix has shifted. We usually discuss this in terms of immigration, the people entering into the country. The new, less optimistic discussion now taking place, is broaching the subject of emmigration; now we’re talking about the people who will leave it.

There’s been a great deal of talk in the past few years the situation in California, and its impact the country as a whole. California is a now a single-party fiscal basket case. Cities and towns are cutting services to the bone to pay debts and pension promises. They voted against a Republican with business experience promising fiscal and economic reform in 2010 (a wave year for Republicans) and embraced their liberal socialist path. The state has lost population since 2005 (vs a net increase of ~10 million for the previous 20 years), as people leave to find jobs and get away from taxes and overregulation. The only solution to the state’s problems offered by politicians in the capital is to raise taxes on the rich.

There is a very real possibilty now that California represents the future of the country as a whole.

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Budget Battles

Posted by penuruloki on July 13, 2011

We’re about two weeks into our state government shutdown here in MN, and there’s a lot of talk flying around nationally about the debt ceiling issue. So how does it look from the ground level?

As long as Republicans hold firm, things look fine. See, they were elected by private sector working class voters to reign in government. The hardship stories dug up by the local liberal media are mostly of government workers missing their full-sized paychecks. You can likely add to them the prospective lost dues of their unions (I have no idea how dues are handled, or if unions are still collecting them somehow; I doubt it). In other words, the people suffering through the shutdown are liberal constituents.

Dayton chose to have a shutdown. The legislature was willing to pass what could be agreed upon, and was willing to use temporary measures while the rest was sorted out. Dayton was the one that insisted on an all-0r-nothing deal with no exceptions and a full shutdown. He’s trying to hold workers hostage to get the deal he wants, but his hostages are his own voters!

The workers who are struggling weren’t voting Republican before, so their anger costs Republicans nothing! Dayton is the one with votes to lose here, and he’s doing a fine job trying to alienate his supporters. The Republicans can afford to let the shutdown last as long as it has to. There’s no reason for them to give up anything to get a deal now! Avoiding a shutdown would have brought benefits, but post-shutdown, the Republicans can only lose by granting concessions.

Nationally, things are more complicated. No one wants a default, but it isn’t clear there needs to be one. There are other means of raising revenue than issuing debts (selling assets for example). Even if there is delayed repayment (the .gov would repay debt with interest when the matter does get resolved) and higher interest on new debt, are Republicans likely to be up in arms? Tea Partiers want less debt and less spending. Making it harder to borrow really doesn’t scare them. They want it to be harder for the government to borrow (hence the ceiling).  It’s the Democrats that want to preserve big government that should be scared of debt problems. Republicans have already made it clear that they will not accept higher taxes in a debt ceiling deal. Trying to force a crisis to get what they want isn’t going to work. The fact that the public is already rolling back liberal power in the face of total failure on economic issues only makes that more clear.

The bottom line on both issues is that the Democrats have a lot more to lose by pushing things to a crisis than the Republicans do. Republicans just need to stick to their positions and not let Dem tactics get them unbalanced.

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Comments on Cata

Posted by penuruloki on February 16, 2011

It’s over 2 months in, so it’s time to comment on Cataclysm. I haven’t leveled all my alts, but I think I’ve gotten enough of an impression to put my feelings into words.

I’m not thrilled. I’ve been feeling disappointed in the changes since 4.0.1 went live in October. The one caveat was that it was balanced for 85, not 80, so we were told to judge it at 85. I’m not any happier at 85, really. The numbers and balance is different, but the core issues haven’t changed.

Details

Cata is essentially a failure in low-level design. The basic goals were simple and elegant:

  1. 1)Boost survivability in pvp to combat burst.
  2. 2)Nerf aoe and buff trash mobs to bring Crowd Control back to pve.
  3. 3)Boost tank Effective Heath, lower tank avoidance, make high-thoroughput healing more costly to place more emphasis in healing on mana management instead of dealing with damage bursts

They have, in fact, largely accomplished these goals. The problem is that so many details came out so clunky, the game often ends up becoming frustrating than fun.

Tanking

I didn’t get a beta invite, so I didn’t know what was brewing before 4.0 launched. Knowing that CC was coming back, I turned first to see how the game handled my biggest issues with CC in TBC: tanking around CC’d mobs without breaking CC.

Even running the aoe-friendly Tankadin, I always marked for CC if it was available. It reduced healer mana use, and it gave the dps something to do while I pulled, positioned and build aggro. Tankadins were unusual in TBC for their reliance on reactive damage. Losing aggro not only meant using your (long CD) taunt to get it back, it meant you were in trouble on holding it for the rest of the fight. If it stopped hitting you, you stopped building threat, while the healer (and possibly dps) were still generating their threat. Even waiting for it to run back could be enough to lose aggro again. Your only constant source of threat was consecrate, an aoe that broke CC on anything nearby. It was a positioning nightmare when you were dealing with casters that wouldn’t pull.

Patch 2.4 made an important change to Avenger’s Shield that seemed to have passed to all multi-target (hits X mobs) abilities. It would choose from among all non-CC’d mobs available before it would break CC looking for additional targets. I tested most of them in 3.3 and they seemed to be using the same code. Repentance one mob in a group of four, and AS,HotR.Cleave, etc. would all ignore the CC’d mob and hit the other three instead. I was reassured that tanking with CC should be painless, needing only to watch the situation so you didn’t use an ability that hit too many targets, and picked up mobs as CC ran out or broke. A few adjustments to some tanks would make things easier, but should be, strictly speaking, unnecessary.

Instead, patch 4.0 made Cleave much harder to use (rage starvation), HotR became an aoe (while they nerfed consecrate into near-uselessness). Druids lost the ability to spam swipe, and received no good multi-target ability to use (just the suddenly more expensive glyphed Maul). Only DKs came out ahead here, getting a 3-target HS with the changes. Guess which one I leveled to tank with.

The Wrath system of tanking was actually _better_ for working with CC than Cata, where CC was supposed to be coming back! All that needed to happen was a reduction in aoe damage (especially for dps so they wouldn’t want to use it so much), and instead they screwed it up.

Blood

So having noted my disappointment with tanking in general, I will now discuss the tank I did level to 85 and gear for heroics (not yet for raids). Blood spec is now the only tank spec for DKs. Dual specs has superceded the old model of tank/dps in any tree. That makes sense. I miss Glyphed Howling Blast for tanking, but I can live with the compromise there. Once again though, they screwed up important details.

Blood used to have a talent that turned your Frost and Unholy runes into Death Runes (can be used as any rune) when used by certain abilities (Death Strike and Obliterate). In Wrath, this made sense. Blood DKs did much more damage with two Heart Strikes (BB), than either of the other abilities (FU for either one), so it was a dps/threat gain to get those Death Runes, aside from the flexibility. In Cata, Blizzard addressed issues with damage spikes on DK tanks by giving them an absorb shield, much like what Druids have. Unlike Savage Defense though, which has a chance to proc on any crit, by any ability, Blood Shield has a 100% chance to proc off _1_ ability, Death Strike. From a survivability standpoint, that means you want to use DS(FU) as much as possible, not HS(B). You no longer want to turn FU runes into B runes. You want them as FU runes! Couple that with recent changes to make diseases more important (FU to apply both when Outbreak is on CD), Bone Shield and D&D using Unholy runes, and the Death Rune scheme becomes counter-productive. You don’t want FU runes to become Death runes anymore, only now the ability is automatic when you choose Blood Spec. That’s right, one of Blood’s “features” is effectively designed to trick inattentive DKs into getting themselves killed by burning FU runes on HS and missing their shield ability! /facepalm

Why does Bone Shield need an Unholy rune anyway? None of the other tanks’ 1min CD abilities have a resource cost, only Bone Shield. The obvious answer is that DKs have a 1min CD ability to turn a B rune into a D rune. Bone Shield cost an Unholy rune simply to burn this ability so it can’t give you a rune to keep up your DS rotation. Stupid.

One last note. In Wrath, HS was designed to be a straight replacement for Blood Strike. They both used B to cast and hit one target, but HS did much more damage. In Cata, HS isn’t a direct replacement anymore. HS hits three targets, while BS hits one still. Thing is, sometimes you don’t want to hit three targets (breaking CC for example). Guess what, BS is still less single-target damage than HS. Using BS instead of HS to avoid hitting addition targets also means a dps/threat loss on a single target. In a small way, this continues the design of assuming aoe is ok, when we’re supposed to be using CC and single-target dps instead of aoe. It’s an easy enough problem to fix, but I’m not going to hold my breath for a change to the HS talent to bring BS up to the same level against a single target.

Holy Power

Paladins got a new resource in Cata, called Holy Power. It acts like combo points in that certain abilities give you one, certain abilities spend them. They exist on the Paladin rather than the mob though, and only stack to 3. Yep. Some abilities even require exactly 3, or scale such that using less than 3 will reduce effectiveness. I feel like I’m in a Monty Python sketch. “And the number shall be 3, no more, no less…” Add in some randomness to HP gains, and it something more that needs to be watched and tracked. It has an important role in healing, but it’s nothing but a nuisance to distract Ret and Prot Paladins from their jobs. Even after more than 3 months of dealing with it, it still chafes. Too clunky, too high maintenance, too random; too important to ignore. Ugh.

I did note that it plays an important role for Holy. Basically, it provides the mechanism to fix the FoL problem. Spamming FoL was always too cheap and too easy for Blizzard to allow Healadins to rely too much on it. With Cata, they replace it with a rotation. Pre-Cata FoL spam -> HS/WoG/HL mixture. They accomplish the same task, but the added requirements of mixing HS (6s CD) with WoG (HP ability that costs no mana) and HL (cheap but slow and small) allow Blizzard to give it a little more bite. In practice, it’s not much harder than FoL spam was before, but it’s more engaging and a definite improvement.

The problem with Holy is how they adjusted regen. Paladins were getting out-of-control regen from Int stacking + Divine Plea, Divine Illumination, Seal of Wisdom, and somewhat from Illumination (though this was nerfed in Wrath). All healers get their SP from Int now, so all stack it to some extent. The rest of the equation got kneecapped. Illumination is gone entirely. DI got replaced with a haste/crit CD ability. Divine Plea and Seal of Insight got their regen slashed. No other class lost so much (or any, really) active or class-based regen. Paladins went from OP regen to pretty much no active regen overnight. That isn’t a direct problem. It just means that their mana usage has to be balanced to require much less mana to accomplish the same tasks. This comes primarily from the above noted rotation. Therein lies the danger. The low cost of their HS/WoG/HL cycle has already caused issues where good raiding Paladins end fights with a nearly full mana bar, just from not needing to use their expensive spells. Shift the numbers too much though, and mediocre Paladins start running oom before any other class (in likewise mediocre hands), simply from lack of tools to recover from a crisis. Paladins are once again the outlier on regen, as with every other expansion. Blizzard’s track record of dealing with these outliers isn’t very good. We’ll see if they do better this time. They’ve already nerfed the cheap healing  rotation, and made it less fun as a result.

Not Playing the Game

No, I’m not quitting yet. Just scored our first kill on Magmaw, actually. If you read through the above complaints, one theme seems to stand out. It’s a familiar cry to anyone who’s healed in this game (or any game like it). See, healers all experience the same frustration as the play the game. A large part of their job requires watching health bars, not monsters. The fundamental flaw of MMOs, is the tendency for play to shift from playing the game, to playing the _interface_. As the game gets more complicated with more CDs, more different types of resources, and more procs to watch for, gamers spend less and less time enjoying their character moving and acting in the world, and spending more time adjusting, modifying, and fighting with their UI trying to get something done. Watching HP, Runes, Mana bars, Rage bars and Health bars is UI management, when most players really want to watch their toons, their enemies and the environment around them. It’s been a healer complaint forever and instead of trying to fix the issue, it seems to be spreading in WoW.

In the beginning, the challenge was finding info and gear. Game changes and the web community changed that. Then the challenge was learning fights. Now we have youtube videos. Blizzard seems desperate to keep some difficulty and mystery in the game to keep people engaged, but their latest efforts seem to be focused on forcing player to monitor more UI elements and making abilities more difficult to use (properly or at all). This is not a positive direction. People want to be engaged in the game around their toon, not the UI. We want to play the game

Fishing

It’s trite, but I have to mention it. Blizzard made fishing a success in wrath by making it easier and more worthwhile to use. In Cata, their choice of balance is to have basically 3 grades of fish. Good fish has a low catch rate from fishing any appropriate water. Mediocre fish have a 100% catch rate from pools, and poor fish have a high catch rate in any appropriate water. Poor fish, thus are basically vendor trash. They give no buff when cooked, just heath and mana. Worse, the recipes cost tokens from the cooking daily just like buff food. Who wants to spend tokens on a recipe that gives no buff? You can _buy_ food to accomplish that without wasting your time. Clearly they felt that a high catch rate made it too easy to stock up on the most desirable fish. I understand that, but they could have at least made all the fish useful! Make the more rare fish produce the best primary stat food (90 each), the pool fish the best secondary stat food (90 each, but the stat is haste/crit/etc, instead of Agi/Str/Int/Spi), and make the common fish produce the lesser foods (60 each stat instead of 90). That would at least have made all fish useful, allowing you to use up your common food on trash and easier 5 mans and saving the best stuff for raiding. They could have made the common fish produce no buff food, but made the recipes trainable, so you could level up with them and then buy the recipes you want with tokens. No, they had to make the most frustrating decision possible. They made the common case junk, literally for one fish for the first two months. The common saltwater fish had no recipe that called for it from 4.0.3 (Cata release) to 4.0.6 (first full patch). Even now, the recipe isn’t worth buying. Why put more junk in the game? Makes no sense to me.

The whole issue is just one final, trite, but simple demonstration of how they could come up with all the right ideas on a macro level, and screw up the details, much to our frustration.

I still want to like Cata, but I’m not having nearly as much fun as I did in Wrath. I’ve already switched mains from my Prot/Holy Paladin (main since I started almost 4 years ago) to a Fire Mage. Less responsibility, fewer obligations, less impact if I decide to back out more. I have leveled a Blood/Frost DK and Resto/Enhance Shamen to 85 and geared them for heroics, but I feel far less enthusiastic or optimistic than I did in Wrath. Burnout? I don’t think so, just frustration.

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Election Storm Clouds

Posted by penuruloki on November 3, 2010

It’s supposed to be a triumphant year for Republicans, but I can’t ignore what I see some storm clouds on the horizon as well. I didn’t talk much about politics before the election this year, so I think a recap is appropriate.

1) California is essentially done. Republicans put up two accomplished business women at the top of the ticket in a wave year where the economy is the top issue, and they still lost. There’s no way around it. Cali is now so deep in the liberal stranglehold, there’s really no chance for Republicans to make it there. Thing is, Cali was already the “Greece” of the United States. Problems with public deficits and debt, high unemployment, and strangled by public unions. Last night was the civilized equivalent of the riots in Greece over austerity measures. For entrepreneurs and capital in California, the message is clear: time to look for a warmer climate. Expect Cali to get worse, and maybe collapse before there’s any chance of fixing their problems.

2) Dayton in MN. It’s my neck of the woods so it matters more to me than others, but I’m still shocked he was on the ballot, much less won (I see no chance of finding 8k more Rep votes in the recount in a blue state). By his own account, he was a terrible Senator. Why did people elect him Governor? It seems even more mystifying when you realize that they bucked the 2006 Dem wave to keep Pawlenty around. To top it off, voters gave both state houses to the Republicans, yielding an exact reversal of the status quo (Rep Gov & Dem Congress -> Dem Gov & Rep Congress). I understand the appeal of divided government, but the final outcome here baffles me. We’ll see if the Rep Congress can hold the line as well as Pawlenty did. I can’t say I’m too optimistic about the immediate future for MN.

3) Tea Party loses key senate races. There’s no doubt that some people will be looking at NV, AK, and DE and thinking that establishment candidates could have won those races. They may even be right. The two questions going forward for the TP movement are A)”How much can the TP influence the Republican agenda in Washington,” and B)”Can the TP maintain their momentum into the 2012 races” (where there are many more opportunites for Republicans to gain than in 2010 anyway). Even with several nice victories under their belt, those high profile losses will hurt their chances to influence the agenda. That, combined with the limits on what they can do with just the House may increase the difficulty of holding onto their momentum. This is an issue for the party and the country.

4)The House. Lets talk about what control of the House actually means. For the next two months, we’re relying on Senate Republicans to hold together and filibuster any last-minute liberal adventures (I have no doubt they’ll try to get something through, however small). In January, that duty passes to the Republican House. The House must also originate any spending bills, which should put an extra damper on the Dem’s ability to spend  more taxpayer money (debt of course, not cash). That’s really all the power they have at this point. There will be no rollback of Obamacare. You’ll not likely see the Bush tax cuts extended either. This is Dunkirk. The losses have been stemmed, but there’s no great victories to be won yet.

Economically, once Republicans take over in January, their ability to hold back Dem’s liberal adventures will give businesses a chance to take stock of the situation, assess the numbers, and finally move off their cash stockpiles and start hiring again, although not in the numbers people would like to see. This could actually hurt Republicans in 2012 if things pick up enough (both sides will take credit for a recovery caused by doing essentially nothing), but the country needs a breather pretty badly right now, so it’s a good thing no matter what the cost politically.

5) The Senate. There are some finding a silver lining in not gaining the Senate, in that it becomes harder to paint an obstructionist congress as simply a problem with Republicans. What gets missed is that the Senate ratifies treaties and approves judicial appointments. Those are huge opportunities for Dems to use to keep moving their agenda forward. They’re farther away from 60 votes for Cloture (to stop Republican filibusters), but they still have the ball here, and Republicans still have to play defense. That stings a bit. Opportunities were always limited in the Senate (this was class of 2004 up for reelection, while 2006 and 2008 were the big Dem years with vulnerable freshmen), but control here is a big deal, and the Dems still have control.

 

Overall, the night was good news, in that we’re moving toward a better alignment. Despite the headlines and heady predictions though, the work is just beginning, and there’s still a lot to be nervous about.

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Apple Fail

Posted by penuruloki on July 9, 2010

If users are going to have to manually select the correct version of iTunes to download themselves, the least you could do is make the selection obvious, and not bury the correct link in small print half way down the page.

Update: Nevermind. Apparently Apple is another one of those vendors who’s choosy about which users they support. Attempting to use their software at all was a pointless exercise.

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alt.update 7/10

Posted by penuruloki on July 6, 2010

I plan a more serious and personal post later, but jumping back in always seems easier if you start with a lighter task. I posted nearly a year ago about the status of my alts in WoW (I’m a notorious altoholic), so it makes sense to post a brief (yeah, right) update about them.

Ahlora

My lowbie has grown up. My +hit tactics worked well until ~70, when I started dabbling with Protection spec and running dungeons in addition to questing. She hit 80 in February. I still consider her my little bundle of blind rage, even though she mostly tanks now. She’s been my tank of choice in heroics, and has even gotten a few ToC boss kills in. I’m very tempted to level her first in Cata, but I’m waiting to see how the next expansion develops before I make my decision. It seems a little late in this expansion to bother with a tanking comparison, but I might post one anyway for posterity.

Valruan

My last healing class to level, I hit 80 on Valruan just before Christmas. Like the tanking comparison, I may add an update to the Healer comparison for posterity, but it’s too late in the expansion for it to be useful information. I specced him Disc/Holy once I hit 80 (Shadow was ok for leveling, but I hate running it in dungeons). I mostly heal the occaisional heroic in disc spec. I have a hard time motivating myself to gear up yet another healer, when I 3 already (2 of them good enough to run ICC). I mostly satisfy myself that I can run him and let him sit idle.

Ugart/Ahlmarra

Ugart is no longer Ugart. I server/faction transferred him to Boulderfist so I could run with Sam and his buddies if the chance ever arises (it hasn’t yet). The big surprise was that I did end up getting to run him/her, in some guild heroics on Velen, and later pugging on Boulderfist. I’ve been running Desto spec for runs, and doing decent with it. I kept Demonology as a dual spec for soloing.

Korus

My neglected mage. Korus is the only alt from the last update that is still not 80. I recently hit 72 on him. The lack of progress is partly a lack of time, partly lack of interest in leveling through Northrend for the 10th time in 18 months, partly lack of need. The addition of the glyph to give a permanant water elemental pet to frost made leveling much smoother, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve come to terms with my mage. I have no idea if he’ll hit 80 by Cata. Doubt it, really.

Ahlana

New since my last update, my last serious alt (I have many more on Boulderfist and other servers that don’t see much effort or attention). Ahlana is my rogue, the last class I hadn’t played to high level. Currently, she’s at ~52, mostly from Recruit-a-Friend leveling. I like the rogue takedown strategy, and melee classes come more naturally to me than ranged; like the mage however, I don’t need her, and she’s crossing territory I’ve crossed so many times. I use her for questing quietly when I’m bored, but don’t care to make myself available to the guild for runs (I’m usually up for a run with friends, but that’s what RealID is for).

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It tolls for thee

Posted by penuruloki on November 9, 2009

I’m used to the fact that many of those around me don’t want to listen to my political rants, and probably regard me as a crackpot alarmist. Depending on the time line of the prediction, I usually get a grudging admission later that I was right. It’s frustrating sometimes because I don’t really want to be right. I want the warning to be useful, but it rarely is.

I’m not right about my predictions because I’m smart, or psychic, or lucky. I’m right so much of the time simply because I’m careful about what I say, and I’m usually paying attention. If you really look around, dig up the appropriate information, and suspect anyone who tries to hide their sources from you, it’s really not that hard to figure out what’s really going on, and you don’t have to resort to conspiracy theories to make sense of developments in the world.

People who were paying attention last year during the campaign remember when Obama promised AGW inspired legislation that would bankrupt the coal industry and drive up energy costs. This isn’t something worked out by looking at his proposed policies, this was a stated goal in a political speech.

Right now, his cap-and-trade bill, the centerpiece of this policy, is making its way before the Senate. It was forced out of committee by the majority Democrats over a Republican boycott. I could talk about what this policy will do to America, but I don’t have to sound warnings about the future this time. It’s too late for me to sound any warnings about what this bill represents for the future.

The future is here. Right now.

For those not paying attention, I’ll summarize where we stand. Our economy is driven by energy. When you limit energy, you limit the ability of our economy to do work. When you kill power plant construction, you cut off productive industry, and industry closes its doors. Jobs are lost, less work is done, and society loses the fruits of that labor. This time it’s an aluminum plant. What’s next?

The environmental movement has spent the last 40 or so years killing off any expansion of our energy supply. They fought power plants using nuclear, coal, and even wind and solar power. They fought against both oil refineries and biofuels when they started to look effective. They have been fairly successful. Now America’s largest Aluminum plant has closed. Consider it the first of many. The question isn’t if we were warned. People have been raising the spectre of energy shortages for decades, but obviously we haven’t been paying enough attention.

The lesson here is simple and obvious, but many will ignore it. I still expect things to get worse before people finally get motivated to make a real change. Odds are, this isn’t your job lost, it’s someone else’s. It is, however, a sign of things to come. Your turn may yet come. If you’d like to be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem, I have one small suggestion:

Start Paying Attention!

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Gear Resets and Checkpointing

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2009

When dealing with class balance issues, Ghostcrawler is fond of the phrase “all other things being equal,” but they never really are. That’s actually the point of progression, to move across the equality gap from those who wipe to those who kill. We all want to be in the group that kills enemies, but we don’t want everyone to be in that group or it means that the content is easy enough that we haven’t accomplished anything. That isn’t from an elitist perspective. I’m not a hardcore progression raider myself, and my guild still wipes on “easy” content. Sadly, at this point I still expect half the raid to die on Heigan during a Naxx10 run (though we won’t wipe on the fight). There  has to be some kind of reward to justify effort (basic human nature).

Some people look to gear as a reward. Some people like to experience the content. Some people just like performing a social activity with friends. There’s the thrill of (virtual) conquest, proving yourself against competitors, etc. We all have our own reasons for venturing out at all, but we won’t be out there fighting if we don’t see some kind of reward. For the reward to have value, it must be earned. For it to feel earned, there must have been a challenge involved. For there to be a challenge, there must be evidence that someone else has not attained the reward. For social rewards, the fact that people want to play with you and not others is reward enough. It doesn’t matter if your gear isn’t as good, or if you haven’t seen all the content. For progression raiders, downing content that others can’t is the reward, even if you have to partner up with the anti-social dregs of MMO society. Everyone chooses their own reward, and feel satisfied when they achieve it, even if it isn’t what they are expected to want. That’s why wanting something that not everyone else has isn’t really elitist. We all want that, but the “something” in the equation is not always the same, so the people who don’t have it, don’t necessarily miss it. We can all feel superior about something, without requiring others to feel inferior for their lack.

At the center of the storm over content tuning is always the gear debate. Gear is a reward, a trophy, a tool, and sometimes a weight around your neck. It had a status associated with it in olden times in Azeroth, because good gear was difficult to obtain, and very bad gear abounded (spirit on a warrior set? that drops in a dungeon?). Getting gear gave status. It also checkpointed your progress. If you didn’t have the gear, you simply couldn’t advance. That meant that gear wasn’t simply some one’s focus, it mattered to everyone on some level. Some people haven’t yet adapted to the changes that have happened since those days.

With the coming of TBC, Blizzard made a decision. They actually wanted people to see the content they worked so hard on. That meant it had to be accessable. Basic MMO theory requires you to checkpoint content however, so that people will have to spend time playing to get through it. Their initial offering was the badge system, with better and better offerings over time, so that if you missed out on (or couldn’t handle) the raid earlier, you get handed better gear to catch you up and get you in to see content. You still have to grind to get it, but it’s running easier content repeatedly rather than wiping until you get drops. Progression raiders have to raid the content at its hardest to open the next tier earlier than anyone else, but eventually others have a route to catch up and see it too before it’s gone. That keeps the raiders raiding to stay at the bleeding edge, and more casual players grinding to catch up when the opportunity presents itself.

They made a second change however that complicates the matter. They changed how they design encounters to make them move involved. There’s more to do, with more specialized roles within the raid. You might still be a dps, but now you’re also designated to click a cube at the proper time, or kill a certain type of add at the correct time and place. They also reduced raid sizes so there’s less room for error. As a result, raids have stopped being checkpointed checkpointed by gear, and become checkpointed by “skill.” I put that in quotes because skill isn’t a monolithic quality. There are many skills involved in any fight, and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. People with skill in some areas still struggle with certain fights, or raiding in general.

And despite gear resets and how easy it is to get gear, it doesn’t help anymore. Blizzard’s strategy to get people to see content is compromised by the content itself. Don’t believe me? Gevlon put together a crew that raided Ulduar in all blue gear. I know people in our guild that struggle in Ulduar 10 with badge gear comparable to Ulduar 25 or ToC. Think that Heigan reference above was incidental? There is no way to outgear the dance. None. You either learn it or you die, and that’s only the most obvious case. Some fights let you get by with a few people underperforming, but for the most part, if you want to down bosses, you have to learn to play. Gear resets and procurement options haven’t made raiding accessible, because they no longer can. Variations in skill affect outcomes far more than variations in gear.

Gear just doesn’t matter as much anymore. The easy of obtaining it may make those angry that view it as the reward for their efforts, but the irrelevance is also starting to irritate raiders who view their efforts as opening up the content. Not only can you get to the content without putting in the wipes anymore, the wipes and gear grind aren’t really doing all that much to help you get through the new content either. Hard modes are an invitation to face a greater challenge for better gear, but the better gear really isn’t needed anyway. That makes the effort pointless unless your personal reward is to beat challenges that no one else can. If that’s not your bag, then you may as well skip it and do the “easy” normal mode a couple times, get bored, and quit.

There’s a more insidious side yet though. Remember those who can get gear just by grinding the easy heroics? All that grinding gets them epic gear, but doesn’t offer comparable training for high end content. Gear resets help those who have developed the skills to catch up quickly after a break, or gear alts, but all that gear won’t get those who struggled with appropriate level gear through the content. The badge grind is a waste of time for those people. Worse yet, they think they should be able to handle the harder content because they have the gear for it, so they wipe endlessly against an “easy” fight because they’re out of their league no matter what their gear says. I’ve seen it happen. The gear reset is a red herring. It deludes people into chasing gear when they really need experience. Right now the game doesn’t care much what your gear looks like (within reason). If you know what you’re doing, the gear will come quickly enough. If you’re struggling, all the upgrades in the world won’t help much.

There’s been a lot of discussion about gear resets lately, but very little about the current relation of gear to progression. If we’re going to have gear resets to get people into content, gear has to matter enough to be a checkpoint, so that the reset actually matters. That’s not where we are yet. Cataclysm has the opportunity to change that (as I alluded to with the potential for boss expertise), but it requires a conscious decision by Blizzard to have gear negate skill, so that seeing content when it drops requires a very skilled group, but seeing it after a reset can be done with gear upgrades. That would mean bringing the “M&S” closer to the performance of skilled players than some may like, and exacerbate the effect of gear differences on pvp combat. I’m not necessarily advocating the changes, but if that’s not what Blizzard intends to do, then gear resets are pointless anyway.

If they do want to keep the current system, where skill trumps gear, what line should they walk? If they want to balance gearing up alts and newcomers to match their skill level with putting people into appropriate raid based on their experience, Wrath launched with almost the perfect system. The tiered badges was a good idea, but Blizzard made a slight mistake with it. Badges should drop that buy gear a tier higher than the drops themselves. For example, they could have dropper iLevel 200 gear in heroics, 213 in Naxx, 226 in Ulduar, but made Heroic badges buy 213 gear, Naxx badges buy 226 gear, etc. The net effect would allow skilled players (newcomers or alts) to catch up faster (because the badges for your current run level buys gear for a raid two levels higher), allow less skilled players to get a small edge in gearing for the raids they’re ready to run to ease them into raiding, and the system is sustainable with no true gear resets to obsolete your efforts overnight.

It’s Blizzards game, and it’s their design decision. They have options, but they will have to address the system eventually, because the current model has problems, and makes less and less sense as the game continues.

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Chill of the Throne

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2009

So for all the talk about avoiding another Sunwell Radiance style debuff in Wrath, Blizzard just announce that Icecrown Citidel will have one. For the most part, I’m glad it will. I spend most of my time healing, and nothing irritates me more than having bosses kill tanks in 2 hits. Nothing like looking back at the logs and seeing a tank go from 100% health to dead in 1.5 seconds. I also don’t like spamming my biggest heal all the time, even if my Paladin healers are among the best prepared to do so. Most of us understood, long before the Dev conceded the point, that the problem lies with high avoidance. Tanks are supposed to take damage, and we’re supposed to heal it. The more often the boss misses, the more damage he needs to do when he does land a hit. That’s fine with a sufficient heath buffer, but health pools haven’t scaled nearly as much as damage has in Wrath, so the buffer for the big hits is gone. So either they needed to buff tank health tremendously (and risk a pvp imbalance that some of could care less about), or they needed to nerf avoidance and have fewer, smaller hits. They chose the nerf. If that makes for more predictable, more managable damage, I’m all for it. There may be some balance issues between classes, as I’ve noticed my Paladin’s avoidance scaling better than my Druid’s (currently the Paladin leads by ~10% with slightly worse gear). The Druid should benefit from a slight armor advantage to offset this, but I’m not sure he does anymore with all the nerfs that have come down the line.

While it’s evidence of poor planning, it does foreshadow the future of tanking after Wrath in Cataclysm. A few days ago they began to speculate on the Cataclysm tanking changes over at World of Raids. Something I missed is that removing defense from gear also removes avoidance. I should have realized that sooner, since I’m in the habit of adding the ~5% miss boost my Paladin gets from defense that my Druid does not when comparing stats. Ghostcrawler has also been talking about adding expertise to bosses, so that your avoidance scales downward as you go to higher grade raids (i.e. the additional avoidance you get each tier is offset by increased boss expertise). That means that tanks will be treading water on avoidance, scrambling each tier just to get upgraded avoidance … so they can get hit just as much as before. That would let Blizzard smooth out the damage spikes though, without resorting to a last minute debuff that wipes out a good chunk all at once. It would also restore the relevance of gear to the game (but more about that in a later post).

A lot of the Mastery information discussed in the article can only be speculation at this point, but it does make sense to replace non-scaling stats (+def rating, +hit rating) with a stat that doesn’t cap and can scale with gear (Mastery). Until we actually get to see Mastery in action though, I don’t think there’s much that can be said about it.

Lastly they mentioned the block changes. Changing block from a value to a percentage is something I have mixed feelings about. They had a choice here. The current system is broken because the tanks that block have a flat damage reduction from it, while those that don’t get a scaling damage reduction. There were two ways they could go to fix this. They could either give a flat damage reduction to all tanks in some form (and they did this for Druids with Savage Defense) or they could move block to a scaling damage reduction (as it looks like they will for Cataclysm). The benefit of the former option is that they gain more control over increases in damage reduction. If the bosses in the next raid hit for 2k more per hit, you can just add 1k to the tank’s block, and count on the healer to 1k more out of their gear. The math is a lot simpler. Apparently concern over trash mobs makes too much block too powerful, and Blizzard decided to go the other way and make it all scaling. So block will become the equivalent of an occasional armor boost. Non-blocking tanks (hopefully Druids too and not just DKs), will likely get a slight armor advantage that sits midway between the hit and block amounts.

Overall, the changes for 3.3 and on into Cataclysm might be a bit demoralizing for tanks that get to watch their stats drop and lose some of their power on packs of mobs out in the world, but it’s better for the healers, and good for the game at large.

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