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Open Beta for Steam on Linux

Brief look at the Steam platform as it exists on Linux as of 22 December 2012.

A welcome, if expected surprise, Valve opened up their Linux beta of their Steam gaming platform, along with the Linux version of Team Fortress 2 in time for the end of the long count of the Mayan calendar (sorry, I know everyone’s made and heard enough Mayan calendar jokes already, and I’m even late to the apocalypse, but with it being the busy-busy holiday season I didn’t have time to get by the joke store to restock).

It takes a little administrating to install if you’re not on their preferred platform of Ubuntu. On Debian it’s mostly down to version number discrepancies between Ubuntu and Debian (eg, Ubuntu might have a specialized version number for a package that’s based on Debian’s, but different). The biggest pain is that you basically have to either rely on a private repository or disable apt-based updating (typically by commenting out the repository in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/[specific list]) to avoid complaints every time their package changes.

This is okay for the short term, but will need to be fixed if they intend to support multiple distros in the long term, possibly by looser depends specifications, or maybe by working with distros to have a steam metapackage that their package can depend upon.

So I finally played some Team Fortress 2 again. I’ve played it a bit under WINE, but had stopped some time back (I believe around the time of the release of the Pyrovision update) for various reasons. This was the first time I saw the Man v. Machine game mode (or MvM/Cooperative as it might be referred). It seemed fun except for having to return and upgrade after every wave of machines had been rendered nonfunctional.

That has to be my biggest peeve about the direction Team Fortress 2 took, or any game for that matter: don’t make me weigh so many options. Do I want to spend that much time deciding what weapons I scrap and which ones I add nametags? It just gets silly, having to manage hundreds of items, or not wanting to switch classes during MvM because I bought upgrades for a different class.

Maybe it’s just the gaming generation I came from, but it used to be you got random upgrades, and you liked them, dammit!

The Steam service runs well so far, as does Team Fortress 2. It will probably take a few months before other Source games are available, and the roadmap for non-Valve games isn’t clear yet, but the first piece of the puzzle is just about there.

No discussion of Linux gaming is complete without another look at graphics drivers. In any general thread about Steam on Linux, you’ll see them brought up, with people lamenting performance, stability, and closedness of the drivers. My experience with nVidia has been decent performance with near-satisfactory stability. That is to say, I do have some stability issues with the graphics driver, including things like my virtual terminals occasionally being rendered as artifacts in X (little 10-20 pixel squares), and sometimes my browser (Iceweasel, which is GPU-accelerated) will flicker all-black while playing games.

I’d imagine the troubles are at least this bad for AMD-based graphics, as in the past I used their cards/drivers and had problems as well.

Intel graphics and drivers are probably the smoothest except for performance. I say probably, as I don’t have any direct experience there.

It is the hope of the community that Steam will push all the graphics vendors to fix their problems, but even if that happens, that’s short of the true best outcome: completely open, performant drivers.

Getting the Most Out of Your New Internet

A sideways response to Anil Dash’s essay, “The Web We Lost.”

I can remember back when CD players first began appearing in new motor vehicles, they carried over a tradition that they had started with tape decks. They would include audio media with the vehicle, supposedly explaining the capability and the indomitability of the beast you have saddled. They would also throw in a disc of elevator music to demonstrate the sound system, if the salesman lacked the dexterity to elicit a liked genre so as to engage the customer more directly from a personal library.

Anil Dash: The Web We Lost, an essay mentioned in numerous blogs and aggregators of late, attempts to paint a picture of the web with various insidious facts of nature undoing the best of man’s works. Facts like turf battles between the Facebook/Instagram alliance and the Twitter syndicate. Facts like the monetization of hyperlinks via reputational dependency.

The problem with that analysis: it conflates the hope of the web at the time with the web we had then. We didn’t lose that web. We never had it. The real need for a better web defends perfectly against any retrospective fondness for the early Twenty-Aughts (or where we hoped it would be today).

Yes, Microsoft Corporation wanted to be the digital passport. Google desires being pulled from your pocket and used to buy everything from Abba-Zabbas to Zoot suits. But neither wants to pay any taxes. In the latter case, we should feel small if we replace the credit card oligopoly/trust with a handful of providers from the likes of Google and other giants. But that possibility arises out of the ineptitude of our current governments, too senile to draft and ratify a digital supplement to the Uniform Commercial Code.

In the case of sign-on, that story fell flat then as it does today. A system like Mozilla Persona must supplant the idea of site sign-up, much less walled single sign-on. That system allows multiple identities, including pseudonymity. It did not exist in the web of yesteryear.

Maybe people uploaded to Flickr five years ago, but it never allowed decentralized sharing as suggested by Media Goblin. Increasingly we feel the need for federated and decentralized systems, as we continue to recognize the pain of being subject to a single provider’s whim. That’s as true for one-off game servers as for the monoliths: Google Corporation, Facebook Corporation, et alia.

The Internet we make versus the Internet today versus yesterday. We will never be given the Internet. Not by corporations, and not by governments. We must defend her. We must build the services and mores that serve us best. The governments grew from an age where monarchical decrees came from gods. The corporations arrived as successful market manipulators.

Corporations brought you those promotional discs trying to instill a post-purchase, post-hypnotic suggestion of your potency and fairness if you continue to buy their products.

The Compact Disc Digital Audio System offers the best possible sound reproduction – on a small convenient sound-carrier unit. The Compact Disc’s remarkable performance is a result of a unique combination of digital playback with laser optics. For the best results you should apply the same care in storing and handling the Compact Disc as with conventional records. No further cleaning will be necessary if the Compact Disc is always held by the edges and is replaced in its case directly after playing. Should the compact Disc become soiled by fingerprints, dust or dirt, it can be wiped always in a straight line, from center to edge) with a clean and lint free soft, dry cloth, No solvent or abrasive cleaner should ever be used on the disc. If you follow these suggestions, the Compact Disc will provide a life time of pure listening enjoyment.

— Text from early Audio CDs

Idea being that an early adopter shelled out a dear price, give them a pat on the back. Fluff their mane a bit. King of the audiophiles.

Encouragement comes from Dash’s admission that the problems will erode over time. But the interim holds a lot of discouragement. Even great projects like Wikipedia do not offer data feeds of pertinent information. Hail to the Data.gov initiative, but when you look for a specific bit of data you may be stuck with an Excel spreadsheet or worse a PDF document.

How will augmented reality become if we fail to have an augmented web first? Services like Google Search and Wolfram Alpha possess their own data banks, but, again, reliance on a single service provider regularly proves fraught with pain and subject to lawyers’ whimsy.

No, we did not picnic the Internet of yesterday. The Internet of tomorrow, we shall paint red.

Today’s Headlines

Looking at the toxic celebrity media.

Today I’m going to examine the current top headlines on Google News, not so much for what their covering as for why they are covered.

I’m viewing the site without a Google Account, though they still may be applying location data based on my connection’s IP address and/or other tracking being done. Let’s start with some basic numbers:

  • 34 headlines
    • Six in Top Stories
      • Three of the six related to tragedies surrounding Celebrities
      • Four related to death and sickness
      • Two related to political struggles
    • Five in World
      • All five about Leaders of factions, nations, etc.
    • Five in U.S.
      • Two related to death and sickness (one historical)
      • No leaders or celebrities directly mentioned
    • Two in Business
      • One about an investigation into corruption
      • One fluff piece about a famous/historical restaurant
    • Five in Technology
      • Of the seven companies mentioned in Technology (not including the names of the companies hosting the articles), two are mentioned eight times (three times and five times), with the rest being mentioned once each.
    • Two in Entertainment
      • Both heavy on the Celebrity, of course
    • Five in Sports
      • Two about trades/hires
      • Two on future success chances
      • One about a labor dispute
    • Two in Science
      • One on a company selling flights to the moon
    • Two in Health
      • One on fighting childhood obesity, the other on treatment for depression
  • Ten mention someone of Celebrity in the headline

Ah, the news. The soap opera of our world. Teaching us that if you want more than your immediate family to take interest when tragedy or success comes your way, it’s either got to be weird or you’ve got to be famous.

Celebrity is a problem. Whether it’s a member of some cultist royalty, a political leader, military leader, sports star, musician, or just a yokel elevated to celebrity status by a hyperactive media, it’s a problem.

It’s even a problem in the open source/free software community, when people like Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman are given heightened attention not for what they say, but for who they are.

I don’t care where Guido van Rossum (inventor of Python) works, though I’m very happy to use the language. I hope his life is good, but no more than anyone else.

When Stallman talks about an issue (such as the recent Free Software Foundation: Blogs: Richard Stallman: 7 December 2012: Ubuntu Spyware: What to Do?), I’m not concerned about his past endeavors or opinions. I read that essay with the goal of evaluating the ideas. Now, knowing something of his background helps to charitably parse his argument. But that’s the general case of having a feel for an individual’s ideas.

The problem comes when people feel one way about the man and therefore automatically gravitate to one side of an argument. The problem comes when people confuse success with merit (eg, in admiring a political, religious, or athletic figure). If Michael Jordan is the best damn player in the history of the National Basketball Association, I’d better get his shoes.

Celebrity is toxic. It lets us look past the character flaws of a leader, for no good reason. If a leader behaves badly in one way, they aren’t necessarily unfit, but their achievements do not absolve them.

The news media (both mainstream and niche) focuses on celebrity. It does this because it’s an easy sale. If someone walks into your delicatessen and you offer to sell them some exotic meat on some exotic bread, they might try it. But you’ll do the bulk of your business with standards like the BLT and reuben on rye. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry ice cream. Cheese pizza.

There are vegetarians and vegans, but at present there aren’t really any celebrity-free news junkies or sources. You can’t get political stories without the (R) and (D) plastering. Technology to the media means gossip about a small number of high-profile firms.

For most of the news, my answer hasn’t wavered in years: no thanks, I am not hungry (for that). I’d rather eat ideas than celebrities.