Monday, January 18, 2010


Facebook is going to charge (fill in blank with price) for using its service starting (fill in blank with date)! If you join this group, my father/mother/brother/sister/dog will stop smoking/shooting heroin/voting the wrong way and/or some unidentified person or group will donate some unidentified amount to some unidentified party in aid of the hapless Haitians/their daughter/sister/neighbor with cancer/cancer/cancer. It's all TRUE, hurry up, the sky is falling!

Okay, none of it is true and the sky is only falling a little bit. Relax.

Why don't people do the teensiest tiniest little research before they jump onto the bandwagon that's tipping over into the quicksand? It's so easy! There are reputable sites that bust urban myths and demystify hoaxes. I like Snopes ( despite some minorly annoying popups. Check out as an example of the tug-on-heartstrings scam (the first part of the page shows the various versions of an email that went out over a period of years, after which you may read what the real situation was and what became of the scammer). Here is a general hoax roundup: . To find more hoaxes, just search for "hoax." This result most closely matches the Facebook charge hoax, though it isn't among those mentioned: There are sites other than Snopes, too; in addition, one can always Google the specifics of whatever one has heard.

Apart from all that, common sense seems to be a rare commodity. HOW will joining a specific group send money to Haiti? What PROOF has a group got that Facebook intends to charge? Can it quote a legitimate FAQ, email or article? When you look outside and upward, do you see the sky falling, and if not, do you see any secondary indications that it might be? No? Then RELAX. DON'T PANIC.

(And for God's sake, don't pass it on to everyone on your email list!)

Gaming on Facebook

I've been frittering away my time. I have a good excuse: I am chronically ill and my various types and levels of energies allow me to do only so much, and of only this or that, at any given moment. However, I also happen to enjoy roleplaying games, AKA RPG, and have enjoyed them since discovering Ultima (in JAPANESE, yet!) on Gameboy, some eons ago. I can't help myself.

For a few years I eschewed Facebook involvement, even though I dutifully made a page, populated it with whatever MySpace (totally icky IMNSHO) had asked, to avoid rethinking stuff that hadn't changed, and then pretty much ignored it. I found an old college friend, some people I thought were old friends, turned out not to be and wanted to be Facebook friends anyway, and lots of "friend"-collectors. I was baffled and uninterested.

Recently, though, I've returned to Facebook to find more old friends, current friends, relatives, There friends and WebRing friends... and games. GAMES! Some of them are downright annoying. I am too blind and too laggy to play shooting games, which I don't enjoy anyway. I like the idea of farming, zooing, cafe-running, but can't bear the gameplay in any of the games of those ilks; they afford no actual control to the players over elements that matter most to me (for example, the recipes, or the crops). The farm and zoo animals are, in addition, unbearably cute. I have a low tolerance for "cute."

The first game I enjoyed playing was School of Wizardry. Happily for me, I am almost completely unfamiliar with the Harry Potter phenomenon, so I am not bothered by its association therewith (and possibly, for all I know, plagiarism therefrom/copyright violation thereof -- I am not in a position to know but I have my suspicionsm and if they turned out to be founded I WOULD be bothered); I don't read the actual text. I just "take" the lessons (by clicking), decide which ones to take when, bank or spend the gold, duel, buy "school supplies" or properties, deal with the intricacies of all that per game instructions, increase my order and advance along the pretty rigid lines of the game. I have no idea why this should afford me any satisfaction; there is no story apart from the one I'm ignoring and that is barely a story at all. Yet I do rather enjoy the small decisions that go into playing School of Wizardry.

Unfortunately, the makers of SOW have also produced a few SOW clones, identical in gameplay and differing only in decor and superficial details. Some of them are insulting. World War is SOW in darker colors, with no female character for female players to use (I chose to look something like Martin Sheen as President Bartlett from "West Wing" but would rather have been Mary Robinson or Golde Meir). Pet Wars is just plain obnoxious; it barely even qualifies as cute, but rather strikes me as downright ugly. (Does anyone on Facebook know what a real animal looks like?) City Life: Girls in New York is offensive for its sexist assumptions. I don't spend my energies trying to outwalk fashion models on a runway, and if I had the funds, youth and health my cartoon counterpart had, I would not squander any of it on the activities the makers of this game seem to think females consider the ultimate thrill (I can't remember any of them now; I think an awful lot of them involve lunch at classy New York landmarks, which in itself would not displease me -- I do eat! -- but isn't the be-all or end-all of New York life). Godfather is the Mafia version of SOW and is to me the LEAST offensive, because most people admit they don't actually admire gangsters; this is just acting out, which is in its way healthy.

Treasure Madness does not pretend to be RPG, and involves clicking on squares on different maps, to collect gold, nourishment (for the points to continue playing) and (the object of the game) treasures, in the form of artifacts which can be collected and "secured" in a museum. When a treasure is found, its identification and acquisition must be earned by the playing of a short (timed!) action game, at most of which I am miserably inept. I am not too bad at the memory game but the ones that involve fast mouse clicks to pop little pearls or dissolve stones are only barely doable, and the Tetris and Bejeweled clones too hard. Sometimes I can do the fruit swappy thing (sorry that I don't have this open at the moment to tell you the exact names). Still, I can do enough of them to collect some treasures and feel some satisfaction from the game itself. I don't go there often.

(I should say that because of School of Wizardry, in which the number of one's order members is crucial in winning duels, and which requires that order members first be Facebook friends, I have acquired almost 500 Facebook "friends," with some of whom I have become friendly for real.)

By far superior to any of the above is an almost-real-RPG called Dream World. I only say "almost" because the storyline is so rigid. (Ah, I do miss Might and Magic(s) six through nine!) However, there is a lot to it, especially compared to School of Wizardry and its clones. One chooses a character (one's own photo is the icon, which does not appear as a moving character) and a class (using guns, swords or magic) and proceeds to accept quests from a succession of locations, to which one acquires access as one fulfills the major quests. There are, as with Treasure Madness, puzzles involved, but one need not do any of them to progress (it helps; in Treasure Madness, no game, no treasure!) and they involve thinking rather than just fast clicking. Some of them even involve mathematics and/or logic! There are trivia questions as well. Some measure of humor is buried among these procedings, and best of all, Dream World appears not to be a clone.

All of the abovementioned prevent players from frying their brains too badly, through the device of making one wait from half a minute (Treasure Madness) to six minutes (Dream World) for energy/health/whatever they call them points (without which one cannot make a move) to refresh. Of course anyone determined to roast those cells can do so by playing as many games as possible simultaneously, to avoid waiting, but then this actually exercises said cells, so (hopefully) one breaks even.

There is a Facebook game called Realm of Empires which is even more compelling than any of these and it deserves its own post, so stay tuned for that! I have to go attack an enraged succubus, duel a SOW member who isn't in my order, click a map square in hope of being confronted with a game at which I don't excel, and... you'll see.

Magic Jack

This is a simple math question. How does $1.70 a month times ANY number of months end up as ANY number ending in a five? The good news is that the annual cost announced is LOWER than $1.70 times 12. The question (apart from the math question) is which one is the consumer actually charged? Is Magic Jack offering a discount for paying for a year in advance, and simply forgetting to mention that discount, or is Magic Jack either bad at math or trying to deceive the consumer, or...? Does anyone reading this actually use Magic Jack and if so, what do you actually pay? And have I used the word "actually" enough yet?