Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Computer Gaming Concerns

Recent events have caused me to have “video games” front and center in my attention – and by that, of course, I mean computer games (and gaming). I play games on my computer: chess and spider solitaire (and occasionally mah jong) daily (I like to think it keeps my mind sharp); but I also – being a big kid at heart, I guess – also sometimes play those “violent video games” you hear about.

Because computer gaming has been on my mind, I decided to go back and look at what I have written on the subject. Below is the very first article I wrote on this topic. Written 4 years ago, I think it is just as appropriate for today (maybe.. more so?) and I suspect you may have missed it, so …

Gaming: a confession, a warning

When I first started writing Tech–for Everyone way back on the 8th of June (56 1,461 articles ago), I wondered how long I could go before I talked about computer gaming. I think I did fairly well at delaying the inevitable. Two things triggered this post: a user with a pre-teen boy, and my mood. I’ll look at the latter first.

This week I got into a foul mood. I became short-tempered, irritated, antsy. I was definitely ‘out of sorts’. I was not a Happy Camper. Part of this was due to the fact that I had several back-to-back days of too-much-to-do/too-little-time (can anyone relate?). I felt a bit less than “in control”.
I managed to keep up with demands, and my time-spent was successful. I not only kept afloat, but I succeeded. However, this didn’t lighten my mood.
Finally, by staying up a little longer than I should, I was able to take a break and play a conquest map of Age of Empires III, The Warchiefs (naturally, I won). Amazingly, I was calm, refreshed, and happy. I was a Happy Camper again.
Why? I realized that it had been several days since I had played a game, and I had subconsciously “missed it”, like a smoker during a long flight, or a dieter walking past the bakery. And that once I got my “fix”, I was returned to a normal psychological state. This realization has caused me to wonder if I (me! myself!) wasn’t developing a gaming “addiction”. Wow.

There have been several news stories about computer gaming; ranging from the couple who suffered financial ruin by devoting their lives completely to the online game World of Warcraft (a couple of nut-jobs, if you ask me), to the medical ramifications (carpal-tunnel) of too much controller/mouse/keyboard use … especially in children.

There is a real belief in “gaming addiction”, and there’s a doctor who’s gone so far as publicly stating that as much as 40% of all WoW players are clinically addicted to it. (Read the article) Consider that there’s at least six and-a half 11.4 million people subscribing, and you realize that that’s a LOT of people … and that’s just one game. It is my belief that these news stories will only increase in number; that as our society becomes more and more of a shut-in society, and more of our interactions take place online, topics along this line will only grow. Google “World of Warcraft+divorce” and you’ll see 747,000 6,450,000 results. WoW!
If your friends are telling you you’re an addict, please … don’t take it as a compliment. Take a serious look at yourself, before you lose everything.
[Update: I understand the ‘hot new thing’ is a yet-to-be-released Guild Wars 2..]

That said, I do play computer games; and if you’re curious, I like the WW II FPS titles (Call of Duty, Medal of Honor), air combat simulators (Lock On, Il-2, Microsoft), and civilization games  [update: for some reason, I haven’t played any of those last in years] And good-old Solitaire. I play a couple of games a day, to “unwind”. I think I’m alright… I haven’t, as yet, spent real money on ‘magic armor’.

The second topic I mentioned was the lady with the pre-teen son. She keeps having “weird pop ups”, and her machine is “always so slow.” I had installed a security suite, and the full gamut of protections onto her machine, and yet she keeps having these issues. She asked me, “why does this keep happening?”
I asked her several questions and looked over her logs and histories. She told me she has a 12 year-old son, and that as soon as he gets home from school he goes straight to the computer to “do homework” … that he spends quit a bit of time on the PC. Well! I was once a 12 year-old boy, and I remember well how much time in the afternoon — freshly released from scholarly confinement — I spent on homework. None. Zero. Nada. (At least, not willingly.)
Sure enough, a look at IE’s browsing history (read how to do this here) did not reveal any instances of National Geographic, The History Explorer, Encyclopedia Brittanica, or “math help” (or anything else even vaguely homework-related), but revealed endless explorations of Flash games, online games, and “cheat codes”.
I looked at his download history and found plenty of “demo games”, magic swords and shields, and other “bonuses” he’d earned playing his online games. Could one of those ‘magic swords’ (or demo-games) have contained spyware??? Does spyware slow down your machine? Cause pop ups? Well … (duh) YES!

Tip of the day: Here’s the thing most folks fail to fully grasp — when you let your child run under your User Account, he’s running with full administrator privileges and can install programs unrestricted and when you click on “download this file”, you’re bypassing your protection. (It has to be this way, or you’d never get anything done) You are telling your anti-malware apps, “it’s OK. I know what I’m doing.” A 12 year-old boy, caught up in the excitement at having just “triumphed” and earning himself a +2 Sword of Sharpness, probably doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he will click “download your prize now!”
98% of the time, it’s harmless fun. How can you tell which demo game or ‘magic shield’ is safe, and which one’s contain spyware? You can’t. Sorry. Like I said, 98% of them are safe.

If you missed my series on protecting your kids on the Internet, you can learn how to remedy this — creating a Limited User Account, and cranking up IE’s security, etc. — by clicking here.

Internet News: Massive Phishing Attack Hits Tumblr

Users of the Tumblr microblogging service have been hit hard over the last few days with a phishing attack that steals user credentials.

Other gaming news: If you have a Steam account, you can now get Team Fortress for free.

And, oh, yeah. There is a $1,000,000 Call of Duty tournament

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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July 1, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, Internet, kids and the Internet, News, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Retrospective Wednesday

June is the month I started posting Tech – for Everyone articles. 2007 was the year. Today I am re-posting one of the articles from that first month.. four long years ago now. I hope you enjoy this ‘blast from the past’.

People Google The Darndest Things

I suppose I’m not alone in this, but I am a stat-watcher. It is a way for me to learn about you — the reader: about what topics you’re interested in and which ones you don’t bother to investigate (“you” in the broad sense). I love to get into all the statistical details, and sincerely believe that a fella cannot be presented with too many informational statistics — and I always want more. I hope Word Press brings back the Feed Stats, and does it soon.

I am fascinated by “keywords” that catch your eye: a great ‘for instance’ is that this blog is for the most part a ‘how to’ and is almost always posted in that “category”, and yet only one “view”, so far, has been linked from there. (What is that telling me???) It surprises me sometimes that my “catchiest” titles have the lowest number of views, and that I would get a lot more Google Search “hits” if I simply titled a post “System Restore”…as an example. [Now I don’t want you to think I’m ‘hit-desperate’, and would start resorting to such tricks. I’m not. Honest. But it does make one think…)

I am fascinated by which of my “Today’s free links” get used and which one’s don’t so much. It says nothing about which one is more useful than another, but it does tell me some things. For instance, apparently my readers already have anti-spyware tools or just aren’t concerned about malware, yet a large number just as apparently delete files they’ld like to get back. Curious. At least to me it is.

But the most interesting statistic is the Search Engine Links, which shows not only how many people found my article via a search on Google (Yes. I know. There are more engines than just Google.) but what words they used in their searches. These “search terms” have been the source of ideas for posts I’ve written, and will continue to be so. There is one inescapable factoid that becomes quickly obvious when reading these search terms, and that is: I am not as poor of a speller as I thought I was…by comparison. Of the many people who googled ‘system restore’, not one spelled it correctly. The folks at that outfit are doing a terrific job of not only deciphering our gibberish, but doing it in micro-seconds, and I for one am grateful for it. They sent me one spelled “sistim restro”…amazing!

Tip of the day: If you are like me and need a helping hand spelling a word every now and then you probably (like me) hailed the “built-in Spell Check utility” as the greatest thing since sliced bread. And you’ve probably learned over time (like me) that they miss far more than they catch, and cannot see the difference between they’re, there, and their, and generally aren’t much help at all. The one here on WordPress is terrible. You simply won’t be doing yourself any favors if you rely on spell-check, and I don’t care whose it is.

Instead, bookmark an online dictionary like Merriam-Webster and enter your word into their search box. Unlike a real dictionary, you don’t have to know how to spell the word to find out how to spell it. Enter “sistim” and the top choice of spellings/words is “system”. It gives definitions, so you can make sure it is the word you’re thinking of. And it has a thesaurus so you can find words with the same or similar meanings. Online dictionaries are great resources, and I hope you will find them as useful and handy as I have. I couldn’t write this post without one…

Let’s just have some fun with Today’s free link: offers free puzzles of all sorts (crosswords, soduku, jigsaw, etc.) and games like checkers and chess. Fit for the whole family.

Orig post: 6/24/07

Today’s quote:If at first you don’t succeed, do it like your mother told you.”  ~ Unknown

Making the world a better place department: If you have ever driven more than 6 miles with your left turn blinker on? Don’t ever drive again. You are causing accidents, I guaranty. (Show this to the guilty you know.)

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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June 29, 2011 Posted by | computers | , , | Leave a comment

Soggy Holiday musings

Technically speaking, Tech–for Everyone is still on vacation. But I think today that I will jot down a few thoughts on the state of computer gaming, football…and maybe publish a new free link. For those of you who would prefer to see the re-posted prior Tips & Tricks article (one you may have missed) which I would normally have published here, click here. Again, I sincerely hope you are all having a safe and a happy holiday. My online Tech Support business is open as usual.

I am a guy. And when I say “guy”, I am basically saying, “a big kid”. Because I am a guy, I like football and I like video games — as Loyal Friends and True already know. So I was delighted when Santa delivered to me the latest release of my all-time favorite FPS, Call Of Duty 4 from Infinity Ward (and released by Activision).

As happy as I was to get this new game, and as much of an admirer of the good folks at Infinity Ward as I am, I was disappointed when I actually played the game. This latest installment exemplifies the direction in which games are evolving, and I think the gaming companies should take a second look at some of their decisions.

First, let me say that I was not disappointed enough in CoD 4 to tell you not to get it. That’s not what I’m saying. CoD 4 is (to me) a “must have” if you’re into the combat genre. Its graphics are impressive and it’s a blast to play. But. (Have you ever noticed, in life, how many unsaid “but”s there are?)
Let me preface this transitional thought here with a reminder that I am a computer geek: I play my video games on a PC, and not a game “console”. I have a ‘souped up’ computer to play these games on (although it is getting elderly, and by that I mean it is about a year and-a-half old) — it has plenty of RAM and dual 256MB graphics cards. Please keep the PC angle in mind when considering my critique.

1) Is it just me, or can everyone complete a new game in less than a day?
This is my biggest disappointment in Call of Duty 4, specifically, and the new games in general. I have been playing computer games since their inception (Star Trek on a teletype terminal) and I think this progression will state my case clearly enough: It took me about a month to get to the final scene in Duke Nukem 3D (1996), and to this day I don’t believe I have found all the secret locations: It took several days — almost a week — of intense sessions to get to the final scene in the original Call of Duty (2003): and it took about 5 hours to complete Call of Duty 4 (2007).
Quite a bit less “bang for my buck”, wouldn’t you say? And over far too soon.

2) Too durned big. Call of Duty 4’sinstall required 6 GB’s of hard-drive (six!), and is the first game that required so much effort from my dual graphics cards that I found myself accepting the relatively mild defaults (such as 800 x 600 dpi) to keep up a playable frames-per-second. Typically I can crank up the resolution and turn on every special effect (every “bell and whistle”) to its highest setting. My system is no slouch. This means the average person, with an average PC, simply cannot play CoD 4 (..and for those of you who are wondering, I have dual 7600 GT’s).

3) There are glitches in CoD 4 because it seems pretty clear to me that there’s been a major shift in the way games are being written (I could be wrong here). It used to be that games were written for the PC and then “ported” to run on the various consoles, and that now the reverse is true– a new title is written for one, specific game console and then “ported” for other platforms. If I’m right, this is a colossal mistake in strategy (which will ultimately hurt sales).

I believe all these things are due to a desire to make the graphics in games as “realistic” as is technologically possible. In the past, this has a been a “good thing”, and because of it we are no longer looking at two-dimentional Ms. Pac Man-type graphics…

but are can wander through very realistic ‘virtual’ environments that are quite impressive in their ability to make you feel like you’re there.

But I think too much is being sacrificed to attain this level of “realism”, and I for one, would rather have more maps/levels, secret rooms, and a longer game than a short game with accurate shadows. (For instance, there is no ‘level’ in CoD 4 where you get to drive a tank, a feature expected from earlier releases.) And, yes, I know, it is this evolution which has pushed the development of other PC technologies… but.
As a point of reference, I have developed a new sense of admiration for Far Cry (2004) from Ubisoft, which seems to be the perfect blend of reasonable realism and (seemingly) endless maps and challenges.

And now to football:
Having been born and raised in SF Bay Area, it is only fitting and proper that I am a 49ers fan.
Man… what can I say? It a job that it is getting harder and harder (and harder) to do.

It is somewhat comforting that there seems to be only two really good teams this season. But (there’s that “but” again!) something has changed in football, and it hasn’t been for the better. The refs are changing the outcomes of games more than ever before. “Parity” is a joke. Certain “football fundamentals” seem to have vanished from the scene. It seems — to me — that football has become “entertainment” and not a Sport. There has been… some sort of vague decline which I cannot put my finger on.
Perhaps I am just becoming an old fart… but I haven’t been enjoying watching football (for some years now) like I used to, and it is not simply because the niners aren’t the “Dynasty” niners any longer.. it’s something else.
There..enough kvetching for one day. Anyone else thinking these things… or am I all wet?

Today’s free link: for those of you for whom the Ms. Pac Man screenshot brought back nostalgic and happy memories, or for those of you who prefer arcade style games, download Mega Mario. Featuring the Mario Brothers — first introduced in Donkey Kong — this classic arcade game works on all versions of Windows.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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December 29, 2007 Posted by | computers, Gaming, hardware, PC, tech, Windows | , , , | Leave a comment