Wednesday, February 24, 2010

There's Stupid, and then there's 'Stoooopid'

For those of you who've been following my posts, you know that we got bad news about my sister, Kate, having cancer a few weeks back. The good news is that she was able to come home from the hospital just 2 days after her first chemo treatment, and her voice, which was being affected by the cancer, was dramatically better from all the medications she'd started receiving to shrink the tumors. She was tired, but she looked pretty darn good for someone who'd been in the hospital for 2 solid weeks going through a battery of tests that almost make giving birth a sprightly dance in the park on a sunny afternoon. Almost.

When hubby, the kids, and I went to see her last week for her daughter's sweet-16, I learned more details about her transfer to Northwestern hospital. I knew there were some difficulties getting a bed there because the oncology unit was packed full. I also knew that at some point, the oncologist (who shall remain nameless, because if I really knew his name, I'd have to report him to the state board for Complete and Utter Stoooopidity) had actually suggested that Kate check out of the hospital she was at and go to Northwestern's ER. Northwestern wouldn't be able to turn her away then, and he thought that might be a good way for her to get a bed.

What I didn't know until my niece's party was that this Complete and Utterly Stooopid doc had said to my sister, "you should check out of the hospital here, drive 30 miles to Northwestern, go into the ER complaining of pain and shortness of breath, but don't tell them you've been in the hospital or that you've been diagnosed with cancer."

Mind you, this is after she's had a surgical biopsy, has a 4 inch long incision in her chest, bruises all over her arms from all the tests, the arterial line they put in for the surgery, and the IVs, and A CHEST TUBE HANGING OUT OF HER CHEST. Hello, McFly!!!!!

Imagine this conversation once Kate arrived at Northwestern ER following Dr. Stooopid's suggestion:
ER doc: I see you've come in for pain and shortness of breath. I suspect this 4 inch surgical incision in your chest might be part of your problem. How did you acquire that?
Kate: I had a bit of a kitchen accident. It happens when your husband tries to stab you with a butcher knife.
(David's eyes pop out, he faints, causing a concussion, and is promptly wheeled into the next ER bed for treatment, followed immediately by cops with some handcuffs)
ER doc: Hmm, that can be problematic. Would you like to explain this chest tube in your chest?
Kate: Oh, I saw that on an episode of ER. I figured I had some bleeding going on, and decided it might be a good idea to put one in myself to keep my lung from collapsing. I just happened to have a chest tube set in my federally-recommended Disaster Preparedness Kit. My kids helped me sew it in. Aren't they talented?
(ER doc writes an order for a psych consult)

Fortunately, the nurses at the first hospital saw the Stoooopidity of this 'doctor's' recommendation. They made arrangements to get Kate a bed the intelligent way--by calling Northwestern to, (imagine this!) EXPLAIN the situation and ASK for a bed. The fact that Kate had a very rare cancer, and thus was of Great Interest to the oncology department, probably didn't hurt, either. It took an extra 24 hours, but she got a ride in an ambulance and door-to-door service. God bless those nurses.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ubisoft's DRM decison: 'so bright, you gotta wear night vision goggles'

Cartoon about copyright and the internet made ...Image via Wikipedia

Timbuk3 once released a hit called 'The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades'. Ubisoft's business decision to require constant internet connection in order simply to play their games is so bright, you gotta wear night vision goggles to find the dim light of the single brain cell that was responsible for creating this moronic policy. Their latest digital rights management (DRM) scheme is nothing short of insane.

PC Gamer Blog had a story yesterday about Ubisoft's plan to require constant internet connection in order to just play the game. This is not just 'authenticate when you begin playing the game' or 'authenticate when you begin each play session'. It's 'authenticate constantly, and if you don't have an internet connection, you can't even load the game, and if you lose your net connection in the middle of a play session, you're screwed, the game is shutting down, and all progress since your last save is lost'. Never mind the fact that there are a lot of us who game on laptops (something I do, say, on airplanes, where we don't have net connection), or for whatever reason don't have reliable net connections due to bad weather or such. In some places around the world, they don't always have internet or even electricity 24/7. This doesn't even begin to address what would happen WHEN, not IF, Ubisoft's servers go down.

This server issue happened just 2 weeks ago to Electronic Arts and Bioware when Mass Effect 2 came out. Everyone who pre-purchased the game rushed to play it on release day. I can understand this, Mass Effect is a lot of fun, and people wanted to play ME2 as soon as it came out. Bioware had also released some new download content (DLC) a few days prior to that for their other recent major game release, Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware's servers were overloaded with so many people trying to get online to play both ME2 and DA. I couldn't log in that day, but I played offline anyway. What I didn't know was that you lose access to all your DLC if you're logged out, AND you don't get it back when you log back in. I had the 'joy' of having to replay 6 hours' worth of Dragon Age: Origins to get to an uncorrupted savegame. However, while annoyed at this issue, I was still able to PLAY the game, even while logged out. With the new DRM Ubisoft plans, I won't even have that option.

Here was Ubisoft's reasoning, as reported in another of PC Gamer's posts:

"We are aware that there is a lively discussion with regards to our new online services platform that will be included in most of our upcoming PC games, and which gamers are currently discovering with the Settlers 7 beta.
As there are a lot of question out there, we thought you might appreciate some of the following clarification:
Ubisoft's number one goal is to provide added value that will facilitate and enrich the gaming experience of our PC customers. The Settlers 7 beta version is enabling players to discover that this platform empowers them to install the game on as many PCs as they wish, to synchronize saved games online so that gameplay can be continued from where they left off (from any computer with an installed version of the game) and frees them from needing a CD/DVD in order to play.

The platform requires a permanent Internet connection. We know this choice is controversial but we feel is justified by the gameplay advantages offered by the system and because most PCs are already connected to the Internet. This platform also offers protection against piracy, an important business element for Ubisoft and for the PC market in general as piracy has an important impact on this market. Any initiative that allows us to lower the impact of piracy on our PC games will also allow us to concentrate further effort to the creation and expansion of IPs for the PC - our goal is to deliver the best gaming experience to our customers, anywhere, anytime."

Ubisoft, be honest. Your goal is to make money for your owners and shareholders, and piracy means lost revenue. We gamers who actually buy your products aren't idiots. We get that you need to make money to stay in business. That's why I buy my games instead of stealing them from you and other developers by torrenting free copies from The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites. I'm willing to pay for my games, just like a lot of other people are, because, shockingly, we want you to stay in business and make more games for us. It's rather hard for you to make more games if you're bankrupt.

Telling me that you're giving me the 'best gaming experience anytime, anywhere', though? That rings hollow with this new DRM you're instituting. Please explain to me how losing access to the game I paid for when your servers or my computer is offline is going to give me the 'best gaming experience'. It's going to give me 'no gaming experience'. Here's a Clue for you: "no gaming" and "best gaming" are not the same. They are not even remotely related, just in case some smooth-talker in the PR department tries to convince you otherwise. Do I care that my in game achievements can be listed on your site? No. Do I care that I can upload my savegames online? No, I'd rather have them on my own hard drive where I can get to them offline, thank you. If I really want to have them online, I can do that with other free programs. Do I care that I can play the game on any computer anywhere? I can do that already with Steam and Direct2Drive, or with (gasp) my game disc.

So, here's what's going to happen. People will get the game on release day. They'll try to authenticate. Your servers will crash at least once. People won't be able to play, and they'll howl at customer service. You think dealing with angry hormonal teens is bad, wait til you have to deal with their parents who had no idea what was going to happen with this DRM. Furthermore, we all know that pirates are just as smart, if not smarter, than your programmers, Ubisoft. They'll have the game cracked and the DRM removed in short order--in fact, if there's a pool on how long it'll take, I might join and put in 4 days as my guess. It'll get posted so fast on torrent sites we won't know what hit us. People who can't play the games through legitimate means will look for alternate ways to get the game. I know my proxy from a .png. It's not going to be hard to get a bootlegged game up and running (N.B.: I do NOT advocate participating in illegal activities). On top of that you'll have people who are just salivating at the chance to get back at you for doing something this crazy by cracking it as fast as they possibly can. Explain to me, please, what the advantage is to buying this game, besides my overdeveloped sense of morality, instead of visiting my Swedish buccaneer buddies?

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LucasCast Episode 16 now available!

Check out our latest podcast about gaming and other fun stuff here!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My sister and thymoma

This is an x-ray image of a chest. Both sides ...Image via Wikipedia

No one ever wants to hear bad news, especially when the bad news involves cancer. Twelve days ago, we received simply dreadful news.

My dad called me that Saturday morning, and said "Are you sitting down?" If you've ever heard those four words, you can be almost guaranteed to receive Very Bad News, or find out that you're pregnant. My dad, being of the male persuasion, was not going to be pregnant unless God decided to do something Truly Bizarre, so that was out. He had just had a cat scan the previous day on his carotid arteries to see if there was any blockage. So, naturally, I assumed he was calling to tell me he was going to have surgery. Since I'm a doctor, this does not constitute Very Bad News in my book, although I will readily admit that unblocked neck arteries are far better than blocked ones, and carotid surgery isn't on my Top 10 List Of Fun Things To Do. However, it's not a life-threatening kind of thing. I continued pouring the morning coffee into my mug.

He said, "Your sister, Kate, has cancer." Those five words were indeed Very Bad News. I sat down. I set my coffee cup on the table because I wasn't sure how bad the shaking in my hands was going to get, and coffee burns on top of Very Bad News would have made my day even worse.

My sister is 3 years younger than me. Unlike me, she will readily admit she's 40. I still am in denial and state that I'm 29. Permanently. So it's not like we were expecting something like this in the prime of life.

Kate is an amazing woman, beloved wife of a pastor ('pastor's wife' being an unpaid full time job in and of itself, but that's a story for another time), fantastic mother of 3 terrific kids, and owned by this completely cute giant fuzzball of a sheltie. I say 'owned by', because Kate is so nice, she doesn't know how to say 'no' to giving the dog treats like, say, whole hamburger patties and the remains of last night's casserole. She says he makes these really sad puppy dog eyes at her, and it makes her heart break. The dog is now on special prescription low-calorie dog food because he's as wide as he is long, but I suspect a hamburger sneaks its way into the special diet food just the same.

It's been a long 12 days, not unlike riding a giant roller coaster, except not fun. The initial diagnosis was lung cancer or mesothelioma. There are several tumors in her chest cavity, including one wrapped around the major blood vessels as they enter and leave her heart. I despaired, because the prognosis for that, with as big as the tumors in her chest are, was Very Bad. 'Horrendously Bad' would have been the understatement of the century.

Then we got news that it might be lymphoma. More tests were done, including a needle biopsy and then a surgical biopsy. By this time, my poor sister had turned into a giant pin cushion. Good thing she had an air mattress in the hospital. The surgeon even told us a week ago after doing the surgical biopsy that he was pretty sure it was lymphoma, but, like everything else, we had to wait for the final pathology results. I told my pastor that you're in a really weird place in life when you pray FOR lymphoma, the alternatives being that much worse. We did a little happy dance at the surgeon's news, because lymphoma has something like a 70% cure rate, not just 'treat it until you can't see it on tests, and then treat it again in a year or two when it comes back'.

A couple days after that, we got bad news again on this down-up-down evil-coaster ride. The oncologist and pathologist thought some of the cells on the pathology slides looked like a kind of rare cancer called thymoma, rather than lymphoma as we were hoping. They decided to transfer her to Northwestern University Hospital on Monday so that she could get more advanced care because it's such an unusual cancer. After yet more tests, and some initial treatment with prednisone to shrink the tumors, they finally confirmed today that it is indeed thymoma (a type of cancer that starts in the thymus gland), and actually started chemotherapy tonight. The ideal treatment is to do surgery to remove all the tumors, but the ones she has are so big right now it would be too risky to do it. Of course, being a doctor, I immediately went to the National Cancer Institute's website to learn more about it. I also found the Foundation for Thymic Cancer Research, which I forwarded on, that being about the only thing that is within my power to do aside from praying, which I've been doing since we got the Very Bad News. Waving a magic wand is outside my sphere of knowledge. I work with eyeballs, and God has the corner on miracles. My sister is a woman of amazingly strong faith, but she's going through a rough time emotionally as well as physically. If you're the praying type, please put her on your prayer list. There's a verse in the Bible, James 1:2-4, that says "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." I told God, "I understand the testing, but perhaps a little less joy and perfection would maybe be OK?" God replied, "Yeah, right, I don't think so." I'm not sure, but He might even have rolled His eyes at that one. Nuts.

In the Ultimate Irony Category, I got a phone call tonight. It was from the American Cancer Society. They were calling for a donation.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

LucasCast Episode 15 now available

LucasCast episode 15 is here! Trusty Friends Darth Groovy and Rogue Nine actually trusted my fledgling Audacity skills and impressive command of SoCoGlish enough to let me edit it. Hope you enjoy.